Development & Aid, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CUBA: Redefining Non-Alliance in a Unipolar Context

Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Sep 4 2006 (IPS) - As the fourteenth summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) draws near, host country Cuba is preparing to welcome 50 heads of state and government from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean with its vision of a revitalised bloc.

The Sep. 11-16 summit in Havana is expected to focus on strengthening the movement, which emerged at the height of the Cold War as an alliance of developing countries seeking an alternative to alignment with the Soviet Union or the United States.

Experts say interest in the NAM was revived under the presidency of South Africa (1998-2003) and continued to grow through Malaysia’s current term; at the summit, Cuba will take the helm of the 116-nation bloc.

“We carried on the work (to revitalise the NAM) that South Africa began. It is essential that we consolidate the common ground between our countries, because we all need to be on the same page if we want our voice to be heard,” Malaysia’s ambassador to Cuba, Zainol Abidin Omar, told the press in Cuba last week.

Cuba was the only country from the Latin American and Caribbean region represented among the 25 founding NAM members at the inaugural meeting held in 1961 in Belgrade, capital of the former Yugoslavia.

Although Havana went on to cultivate a close relationship with Moscow and the Eastern European socialist bloc, it maintained its membership in the NAM, hosting the sixth summit in 1979 and holding the rotating presidency for three years.

This was possible because the movement does not exclude socialist countries as such; Vietnam is also a member, and China has attended summits as an observer.

Not eligible, however, are countries that belong to multilateral military alliances associated with the major powers, such as the Warsaw Pact or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

The Warsaw Pact was established in 1955 as a response to NATO’s creation in 1949, bringing together Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union.

The Pact dissolved in 1991 with the break-up of the communist bloc, and the Cold War came to an end.

Despite their strong ties, the relations between Havana and Moscow were limited when it came to military aid. In the early 1980s, Cuba discovered that the Soviet government was not willing to come to its aid in the event of a U.S. attack.

Abelardo Moreno, Cuba’s vice minister of Foreign Affairs, says the NAM is a middle ground between capitalist and communist systems in name only. “In practice, the main purpose of the NAM has always been to serve as a mechanism aimed at applying the principles of international law,” he told IPS.

Thus, Cuba’s diplomatic policy posits a strong, cohesive NAM as more important than ever in the current international context, which Moreno described as “a unipolar world, where the use of force prevails, and there is a lack of respect for sovereignty and the right of nations to independence.”

In preparation for the Havana summit, Cuba drafted a special policy declaration proposal and submitted it for member review. The declaration states that “the absence of two conflicting blocs in no way reduces the need to strengthen the NAM as a mechanism for the political coordination of underdeveloped countries.”

This draft, pending modifications by the parties, will be adopted at the summit.

“Now more than ever it is essential that our nations remain united and steadfast and become increasingly active in order to successfully confront unilateralism and actions by any power aimed at imposing hegemonic domination,” reads the draft.

The text also calls for the movement “to promote peaceful coexistence between nations, regardless of their political, social or economic systems,” as well as “promote and reinforce multilateralism, and, in this regard, strengthen the central role that the United Nations must play.”

Experts consulted by IPS said that Cuba is taking over NAM leadership at an opportune time, as the movement currently makes up nearly two-thirds of the U.N.’s members.

Havana “has always wanted a strong and active movement, regardless of the context. But it is even more crucial in today’s unipolar world. If the NAM’s foundational Bandung Principles were properly applied, there would be no room for current U.S. policy,” one Cuban researcher, who asked to remain anonymous, told IPS.

The principles were established at the conference held in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, where 29 heads of newly independent Asian and African countries met.

The fledgling bloc was given a decisive boost five years after Bandung when 17 new countries from Africa and Asia were admitted to the U.N. General Assembly.

Playing key roles during this formative time were then-heads of state Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Ahmed Sukarno (Indonesia) and Josip Broz Tito (Yugoslavia), later considered the emblematic leaders of the non-aligned movement.

The Bandung principles include respect for human rights and the goals of the U.N. charter, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and non-use of pressure against other nations.

They also state that member countries will refrain from using force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country, settle all international disputes by peaceful means and promote mutual interests and cooperation.

The NAM’s membership includes 53 countries in Africa, 38 in Asia, 24 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and one in Europe (Belarus).

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