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ARGENTINA: A Cautious Return to the Non-Aligned Movement

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Sep 8 2006 (IPS) - Keeping a low profile, as if hoping its presence at the huge forum of the developing world will go unnoticed, Argentina is slipping back into the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which it left amid an uproar 15 years ago to embrace a policy of unreserved alignment with the United States.

But, of the three possible categories of participation – full member, observer or invited guest – the centre-left government of Néstor Kirchner chose the third, which involves the least commitment. It will be able to attend the opening and closing sessions of the NAM’s Sep. 11-16 fourteenth summit in Havana, but not the deliberations.

By telephone from Havana, the Argentine ambassador to Cuba, Darío Alessandro, told IPS that Argentina “is interested in being present at an organisation which represents nearly every developing country.” “It’s a first step, just being there, (and then) we’ll see how the movement develops,” he said.

“We think the movement is worth observing, and we know that being present is of some importance, but we have to see what decisions are taken there,” he said, cautiously. Alessandro will head the Argentine delegation at the forthcoming summit.

“The world has changed a great deal since the NAM was created,” the ambassador said. “When the movement emerged, the world was polarised between two super-powers, and the third position was at its strongest. That’s all history; the debate now is to redefine its new aims,” he said.

In effect, at the summit, some 50 heads of state from the 116 member countries will be discussing a document prepared by Cuba with a proposal for updating the principles and aims of the group in the new global context, in order to bring the movement cohesively together around a new agenda.

The NAM was founded in 1961 to bring together developing countries that were not within the U.S. and former Soviet spheres of influence, although later it adopted more flexible criteria.

Argentina joined as an observer in 1964, and became a full member in 1973, when the Justicialista (Peronist) Party was elected to power, after a series of military dictatorships.

In 1991, with the break-up of the former Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the administration of Carlos Menem (1989-1999) sent a reduced delegation to the NAM meeting in Ghana, and a few months later withdrew from the movement. “After the decline in East-West tension, the NAM made no more sense,” then foreign minister Guido Di Tella, now deceased, explained at the time.

Di Tella said on that occasion that Argentina could have continued in the bloc with a low-level representation, but instead chose to “break off sharplyàleaving no doubt where our primary interests lay” – in other words a firm alignment with the multilateral lending institutions and the United States.

Today, the Kirchner administration enjoys good relations with the United States but is not in automatic alignment with it.

An example of that independence in foreign policy was the confrontation between Kirchner and U.S. President George W. Bush over Americas-wide integration strategies at the last Summit of the Americas, held in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata in 2005.

At that meeting, Kirchner firmly resisted any progress towards the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a proposal launched by Washington in the mid-1990s which has been on ice since the Mar del Plata summit.

With regard to the multilateral lenders, Kirchner paid off the debt that Argentina owed the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in advance of the due date, with the declared intent of regaining freedom of decision over domestic economic policy, from the dictates imposed by the IMF on borrower countries. Buenos Aires also insists that the lending agencies need to be reformed.

However, this new style of international relations does not mean that Argentina is developing a foreign policy of general confrontation with the United States, nor that it is planning to become a leading member of the NAM.

“I find it inconceivable that anyone in the government could be thinking that Argentina can direct its foreign policy through an outdated instrument like the NAM,” Juan Tokatlián, academic director of International Relations at the University of San Andrés, told IPS.

“The NAM has faded away, not so much because of its members’ actions or omissions, but because its importance declined at the end of the Cold War. Non-alignment lost its purpose, and the group sank to an ever-lower profile. Nobody now invokes the NAM as a feature of their foreign policy,” said Tokatlián.

In his opinion, the movement “lacks the leverage and the homogeneity it used to have.”

The Cuban government, which is hosting the forthcoming summit, perhaps wishes to protect its revolution and exert influence on the international agenda by “re-launching” the NAM, but it’s unlikely that other developing countries are planning to make the movement the mainstay of their foreign policy, he said.

Latin America is seeking “more innovative” mechanisms of global integration, he noted, mentioning Chile as an example. Chile has joined the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, a bloc made up of 21 Pacific Rim economies.

Similarly, he indicated that Brazil has forged a strategic alliance with India and South Africa for economic and trading purposes (the IBSA Forum), and is also part of BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China) which brings together the largest economies of the developing world.

“Now these really are new instruments, looking towards the future, in which countries can benefit from alliances with their peers,” the expert emphasised. Tokatlián is the author of “Towards a New International Strategy” (“Hacia una nueva estrategia internacional”), which recommends that Argentina forge a foreign policy that is consistent and outward-looking.

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