A movement aligns its sights in Tehran

Nuclear Politics and the Non-Aligned MovementAs the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) prepares to open its 16th conference in Tehran this Sunday, attention has focused on who will be attending (UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi ), who’s not attending (new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un) and what the implications will be for Iran, as the host country, in avoiding isolation over its nuclear programme.

Yet there is more to the movement.

In a IISS Adelphi book published this summer on Nuclear Politics and the Non-Aligned Movement, nuclear experts William Potter and Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova stress the potential for greater engagement between NAM members and the West in mitigating many of the most pressing nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and terrorism challenges.

By virtue of its size alone, the movement can be a constructive or obstructive force in dealing with these challenges, the authors say. However, ‘there has been a failure to appreciate the diversity of NAM views or the potential for engaging NAM members as partners.’ Mukhatzhanova summarised these themes at one of the book’s launch events.

The book points out that NAM is largely responsible for the continuing attention given at international forums to the issue of peaceful nuclear use and various disarmament measures, including nuclear-weapon-free zones. (Although as a whole, it is often less ready to compromise than its individual members.)

Size alone, however, fails to explain the impact of NAM, the book says. ‘As most NAM members have little interest in or expertise on highly technical nuclear matters and possess little institutional capacity to engage effectively in nuclear negotiations, a small number of NAM states can disproportionately influence NAM positions on these issues.

‘These same states tend to have vested interests in the nuclear sphere and hold more extreme positions on crucial nuclear issues than the majority of NAM members. They are thus in a position to shape NAM policy, which they frequently do, notwithstanding a decision-making process within the movement that emphasises consensus.’

The authors recount an evolution in NAM perspectives that reflects a more pragmatic approach to new international circumstances. The results of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, for example, demonstrated NAM’s ability to exert considerable leverage when its members toed a common line and were prepared to adopt a largely pragmatic approach that advanced the overall well-being of the non-proliferation regime.

Potter and Mukhatzhanova devote a section to the implications of Iran’s assumption of the NAM chairmanship in mid-2012, a role it will hold for three years. Chairmanshipaffords Iran both increased legitimacy and allies that are of use internationally and domestically’. As chair, ‘Iran may believe it can pursue a more assertive foreign policy with fewer risks. This mindset could tempt Iran to be an “activist” chair that seeks to utilise the position to promote national policies that may not correspond closely to the views of many NAM members.’

The authors caution, however, that the NAM chairmanship also has risk. ‘It will subject the country to much greater scrutiny from other NAM states than would otherwise be the case, especially on issues related to the Middle East.’

On this interpretation, most NAM members will be inclined to follow Iran’s lead on nuclear disarmament issues and will give it some leeway on peaceful uses. But some will be prepared to push back if Iran attempts to redirect the movement on matters involving security in the Middle East and non-proliferation compliance. Furthermore, if the United States and its Western allies are perceived as being confrontational or inflexible on disarmament matters, for example in the NPT context, NAM may close ranks around the Iranian chair.

Potter and Mukhatzhanova argue that the picture often painted of NAM as a very large and increasingly dysfunctional family ‘tends to discount the powerful attraction that most NAM members feel towards a set of long-standing shared core values and principles, few of which are directly related to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation’.

Many of these shared norms derive directly from the Bandung Conference and the first NAM summit in Belgrade and reflect the still powerful role that NAM plays as a defender of developing countries from the South.

‘Western interlocutors must appreciate the continuing force of principles such as social justice, respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and non-interference in internal affairs, since it is these principles that underpin the construct by which NAM members define their own identity and interpret Western initiatives in the nuclear sphere,’ the authors say. ‘In some areas, such as promotion of nuclear use for peaceful developmental purposes and support for multilateral disarmament machinery and greater adherence to international treaties, NAM and the West may discover that they have compatible objectives and ready avenues for forging common policy initiatives.

‘The West needs to devote greater efforts to recognising these convergent interests where they exist and building upon them.

‘It is particularly important for Western policymakers who wish to engage NAM more productively to distinguish between more extreme, anti-Western members and the often silent majority of the non-aligned. Countries that fall into the latter category may be reluctant to challenge NAM leaders and more hardline members on most nuclear-related matters, but they are not necessarily ill-disposed to tougher non-proliferation measures if they are non-discriminatory in nature and have the potential to address their own needs and national priorities.’

One Comment on “A movement aligns its sights in Tehran”

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