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Sunday, March 08, 2015 - 1.45 GMT

Nonalignment's new relevance for developing world
Sri Lanka has a role of significance

By Lucien Rajakarunanayake


The current developments in international relations, with the emergence of new economic powers, call for a careful rethinking of international relations among countries of the developing world. These issues include the shifting of regions of interest of the once major powers, the rapid changes taking place in Europe, combined with and related to developments in Ukraine.

This brings into focus the importance of Nonalignment to face situations that have moved away from the end of the Cold War and the distinct clash between US and Soviet power. If the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago made many believe that a new age of international understanding will emerge, the new situations in many parts of the world show the rise of a new Cold War, or a similar clash of interests that can adversely affect or threaten the interests of the developing countries.

The important changes we see today, that can impact on Sri Lanka, as well as other South Asian countries, are the pivotal shift in US interests from Europe and the Atlantic to the Far East and the Pacific region, which is seen as the Obama Shift. This is related to the clear rise in economic power and emerging strength of naval and military power in China. Another matter for concern is the economic and military decline in Europe, despite the presence of NATO, which points to a continued dependence on the United States, demonstrated by the crisis in Ukraine.

Related to this is the policy of Russia towards Ukraine, its clear opposition to be encircled by member states of NATO, despite earlier understandings that such an encirclement would not take place with the unity of Germany, and the new relations being built between the Russian Republic and China.

Another area of concern is the battle against ISIS or Islamist Extremism led by a coalition of Western and Middle Eastern forces, that has brought together the western champions of democracy and the Middle Eastern proponents of Wahabism, who have been clearly promoting and funding terrorism - both of whom have been strongly against the Arab Spring of 2011, and the resulting reaction of Arab and North African states, where the United Nations seem wholly helpless.

Origins of Nonalignment

All of this points to the importance of Nonalignment in the policies of the developing nations today, taking us back in thinking to the time when Nonalignment emerged as a policy against the forces of a declining colonialism that prevailed in the 1950s, the rising threat of confrontations between the super powers of the United States and Soviet Union, as well as the clash that prevailed between the forces of capitalism and socialism at that time.
It is good to recall that Nonalignment had its origins largely in India's colonial experience and the nonviolent Indian independence struggle, which left India determined to be the master of its fate in an international system dominated politically by Cold War alliances and economically by Western capitalism and Soviet communism. The principles of nonalignment, as articulated by Nehru and his successors in India, were preservation of India's freedom of action internationally through refusal to align India with any bloc or alliance, particularly those led by the United States or the Soviet Union; nonviolence and international cooperation as a means of settling international disputes. Nonalignment soon became the policy of many countries emerging from colonial rule, where Sri Lanka did play a significant role.

The term "Non-Alignment" was coined by V. Krishna Menon in his speech at UN in 1953 which was later used by Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru during his speech in 1954 in Colombo, where he described the five pillars to be used as a guide for Sino-Indian relations. Nonalignment was based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence found in the "Panchsheel Treaty" between China and India in 1954.

"Panch Seela"

An underlying assumption of the Five Principles was that newly independent states after decolonization would be able to develop a new and more principled approach to international relations. They were emphasized by Prime Minister Nehru, in a broadcast speech made at the time of the Asian Prime Ministers Conference at Colombo just a few days after the signing of the Sino-Indian treaty in Beijing. Nehru said that: "If these principles were recognized in the mutual relations of all countries, then indeed there would hardly be any conflict and certainly no war."

The Five Principles were: 1. Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty. 2. Mutual non-aggression. 3. Mutual non-interference in each other's internal affairs. 4.Equality and cooperation for mutual benefit, and 5. Peaceful Co-existence.

These five principles were subsequently incorporated in a statement of ten principles issued in April 1955 at the historic Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, remembered as the Bandung Conference, which laid the foundation of the Nonaligned Movement. The meeting was convened upon the invitation of the Prime Ministers of Burma, Ceylon, India, Indonesia and Pakistan and brought together leaders of 29 states, mostly former colonies, from the two continents of Africa and Asia, to discuss common concerns and to develop joint policies in international relations. At the meeting Third World leaders shared their similar problems of resisting the pressures of the major powers, maintaining their independence and opposing colonialism and neo-colonialism, especially western domination.

The new relevance

Having come to the 60th anniversary of Bandung, there is a new relevance to Nonalignment as new trends in international relations poses dangers and threats to the developing countries. This could come in many ways, especially though new agreements the more powerful countries, especially those with rising economic power - enters into with smaller nations on areas as diverse as development, economic policy and investment.
Sri Lanka already sees these dangers as a result of the policies of borrowing and indebtedness followed in the recent years, where principles of nonalignment were ignored in the search for profitability that served a special class or coterie of influence in the country, as against the wider needs of the people. It is also seen in the readiness to concede national sovereignty and territorial integrity on projects such as the Colombo Port City, which is the subject of much political debate today.

Although we accepted Nonalignment in our foreign policy and relations with the world in the 1950s, there have been attempts to ignore it or in fact move away from it, especially during the period of the JR Jayewardene administration, when there was a major shift towards the United States. This in turn led to major concerns with our immediate neighbour India, and did play an important part in the build up of separatism and the forces of terror, that had support in India, the first proponent of Panch Seela and Nonalignment.

Sirimavo's courage

It is good to recall that Nonalignment was followed best in Sri Lanka by Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who did a very good balance of understanding with our neighbours, and the larger Asian nations of India and China. She arranged for a conference in Colombo to resolve a major issue between India and China. Nonalignment moved her to allow Pakistani aircraft to use Sri Lanka for refuelling in the fight that led to the breakaway of East Pakistan to form Bangladesh, although India was deeply involved in this issue, both politically and militarily. She obtained Indian assistance to face up to the JVP's fist insurrection in 1971, and also obtained Chinese support for this. She initiated moves for non-nuclear zones of peace.

It was her policy of friendship that saw the agreements with India on the "stateless" persons of Indian origin in the plantation sector and the ownership of Kachchativu by Sri Lanka being accepted in New Delhi.

With these examples available it is good to see President Maithripala Sirisena refer to Nonalignment in the major policy statements he has made so far on Sri Lanka's foreign policy and relations with the world outside. His reference to the "Middle Way" in the address to the nation on Independence Commemoration Day, and his underscoring of Nonalignment in his address to diplomats in Colombo, point to a understanding of the new importance of Nonalignment in Sri Lanka's current and future dealings with the world. This revival of interest in Nonalignment shows that President Sirisena's thinking is closer to the original policies of the SLFP, than of those who claim SLFP leadership today.

It is a policy of importance, especially in the context of the rapidly changing relations in the Pacific and Far East, with Obama's pivotal shift of interest to this region, the growth of influence of China, both in economic and military power. This is seen in the emerging unity of market forces in the Asian region, the reactions of Japan, Philippines and Vietnam to what they see as expansionism by China with the rising of new islands in the Pacific that are under Chinese control; and, the New Silk Route, that is a policy of key importance to China, and of much concern to India.

A Bandung revival

Nonalignment is also of increasing in our relations with India, fast emerging as an economic power in Asia, and the inevitable disagreements and even confrontations that could arise between India and China. With regard to India, it will be necessary to show our own commitment to the principles founded by Indian leaders, for the better interest of the developing world, even though the current leadership of India pays little heed to the importance of those leaders and their principles.

There is little doubt that as the international strategic importance of the Atlantic Ocean in fast receding, and the Pacific Ocean is rising in importance, we are also fast coming to a day and age where the Indian Ocean, with its many important ocean routes, is rising in importance. The strategic location of Sri Lanka in these ocean routes, makes it a matter or urgent necessity to reconsider our policies, with due importance to the Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean region. Among the best means to achieve such security is Nonalignment, with the active pursuit of its principles of non-interference and peaceful co-existence.

The approaching 60th anniversary of Bandung, will hopefully help bring Nonalignment to the fore once again in international relations especially as they affect the developing world.






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Last modified: March 08, 2015.

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