Context: The birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru and the 60th anniversary of the Non-Aligned Movement prompt reflection on Nehru’s major contribution to the field of international relations. 

  • The concept of not aligning a country’s policy with others can be traced to the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) when the neutrality of Switzerland, by which that country would keep out of others’ conflicts, was recognised.


The Non-Aligned Movement is a Movement of countries representing the interests and priorities of developing countries who didn’t align with any superpower during the cold war era. The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies, the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc, which began following World War II. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (also known as the USSR or the Soviet Union) consisted of Russia and 14 surrounding countries.

  • The NAM Movement has its origin in the Asia-Africa Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955. 
  • The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is a forum of 120 developing countries that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc. After the United Nations, it is the largest grouping of states worldwide.
  • The purpose of the organization was enumerated by Fidel Castro in his Havana Declaration of 1979 as to ensure "the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries" in their "struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics.
  • It has 120 members as of April 2018 comprising 53 countries from Africa, 39 from Asia, 26 from Latin America and the Caribbean and 2 from Europe (Belarus, Azerbaijan). There are 17 countries and 10 international organizations that are Observers at NAM.
  • The countries of the Non-Aligned Movement represent nearly two-thirds of the United Nations members and contain 55% of the world population.


  • In order to fulfill the aims of debating and advancing a strategy designed to achieve such objectives, the Bandung Asian-African Conference was held in Indonesia in April 1955.
  • This First Summit of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries was convened by the leaders of India, Indonesia, Egypt, Syria and Yugoslavia. 
  • On April 26, 1961, the Presidents of the Arab Republic of Egypt (Nasser) and Yugoslavia (Tito) addressed the Heads of State and Government of 21 "non-Aligned" countries and suggested that a Conference should be held to promote an improvement in international relations, a resistance to policies of force and a constructive settlement of conflicts and other issues of concern in the world.
  • By the end of the 1980s, the Movement was facing the great challenge brought about by the collapse of the socialist block. The end of the clash between the two antagonistic blocks that was the reason for its existence, name and essence was seen by some as the beginning of the end for the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries.
  • During the 14th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana, Cuba in September 2006, the Heads of States and Governments of the member countries reaffirmed their commitment to the ideals, principles and purposes upon which the movement was founded and with the principles and purposes enshrined in the United Nations Charter.



  • Non-alignment was the least costly policy for promoting India’s diplomatic presence.
  • It was a sensible approach when India was weak and looked for by both blocs (US and Soviet Union). It was the best means of securing economic assistance from abroad. 
  • Mahatma Gandhi believed in nonviolent solutions and spirituality, accorded well with Nehru’s desire to innovate in world politics and his conception of modernity. 
  • He proposed to keep away from the power politics of groups aligned against one another. It is for One World that free India will work.
  • Nehru saw world problems as interlinked; not a binary of right and wrong, 
  • Realism: But as a practical person, his instructions to delegates at international meetings were to consider India’s interests first, even before the merits of the case. This was the paradox of a moral orientation in foreign policy and the compulsions of the real world. 
  • Nehru was opposed to the conformity required by both sides in the Cold War. His opposition to alliances was justified by American weapons to Pakistan from 1954 and the creation of western-led military blocs in Asia. 

Reasons for failure of NAM

In essence, the Indian non-alignment idea began, lived and died along with Nehru’s idealism, though some features were retained to sustain diplomatic flexibility and promote India while its economic situation improved sufficiently to be described as an ‘emerging’ power. 

  • NAM’s failures: When Yugoslavia and Egypt became non-aligned convened the first Summit Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961, Nehru, became a third but hesitant co-sponsor, because in theory, a coalition or movement of non-aligned nations was a contradiction in terms. 
    • True non-alignment was to be non-aligned towards the non-aligned. Only two members, Cyprus and Ethiopia, of the conference supported India in the war with China. 
    • Could not prevent India-Pakistan wars and indo China wars: During wars NAM members adopted diplomatic approach. To begin with, during the 1962 War with China, Ghana and Indonesia – two of the co-founders of NAM, along with India – adopted explicitly pro-China positions. Ghana, which had developed close economic ties with China, even cautioned the United Kingdom against giving military aid to India since it might “aggravate the unfortunate situation”.
    • No coordinated approach: NAM was formed more out of political compulsions and friendship of leaders rather than for a concrete purpose. Members of the NAM have different political, social and economic structure which hinders any cohesive action each with their own set of interests.
    • Other failures were lack of collective action and collective self-reliance, and the non-establishment of an equitable international economic or information order. The Movement could not dent the prevailing world order.
  • Temptations for joining blocks: In the early years, there was economic dependence on donor countries who were nearly all members of western military pacts. 
  • India recognised one party in the two Chinas and two Germanies, and the Treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation between India and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of 1971, along with the liberation war of Bangladesh in view virtually pushed India into military blocks.
  • The difficulty was always to find a definition of NAM policy, which caused a credibility gap between theory and practice. 
  • Semi-alignment policy of India: The years following Nehru’s death saw his successors moved from pragmatism under Indira Gandhi and opportunism after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, to the semi-alignment of today. 
    • The current government’s ideology, inclination and threat perception, is inclined to greater alignment with the United States whether under the framework of the Indo-Pacific.

Longevity of organisations

  • Every international organisation has a shelf life, though many survive for years in semi-neglect. 
  • The League of Nations was given the farewell after seven years of inactivity only in 1946, even after the United Nations had come into being. 
    • The League of Nations was the first worldwide intergovernmental organisation whose principal mission was to maintain world peace. Founded on 10 January 1920 following the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War, it ceased operations on 20 April 1946.
  • The Commonwealth will last only as long as the British find it useful. 
    • The Commonwealth of Nations, generally known simply as the Commonwealth, is a political association of 54 member states, almost all of which are former territories of the British Empire.
  • It is hard to see any future for Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) or its various institutional offspring, given the state of India-China relations. 
  • The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has faded into irrelevance due to india-Pakistan rivalry.


  • Collaboration and Cooperation: Most of the NAM countries are developing or under-developed hence collaboration to end exploitation, war, hunger, poverty and disease on the earth can revive and make NAM more relevant.  The most important role for NAM today lies in framing a concrete economic agenda for a just and fair international order.

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