Iran News ...


09/08/12

Iran, NAM, and the world order

By Shahir ShahidSaless, American Iranian Council (AIC)

Given the NAM’s political and economic orientation and the movement’s magnitude, the NAM’s summit could not be ignored by the US - especially this time since the gathering was hosted by Iran. But why were the US and Israel trying so hard to discourage members of the NAM from attending the event?

The 51 year-old Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit of 118 nations, almost two thirds of the UN members, concluded in Tehran on August 31st while Iran assumed the rotational presidency of the Movement for the next three years. The NAM emerged in 1961 during the Cold-War in the context of a bipolar world in which the United States led the capitalist side, and the opposite pole, the communist bloc, was headed by the Soviet Union.

With the fall of the Soviet Union and collapse of the communist bloc, many American experts and policy-makers began to question the NAM’s relevance. Recently, the president of Council on Foreign Relations said, “Why there even is a Non-Aligned Movement anymore is high on my list of puzzling features of the foreign policy business I'm involved with”. In 2006, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, echoed this sentiment when she pondered, “I’ve never quite understood what it is they would be non-aligned against at this point?”

While there are merits to this question of relevance, it ignores the fact that from its onset, the NAM’s core idea was rejection of the hegemony of Great Powers and pursuit of a just world order. Thus, following the disappearance of binary world of the Cold-War era, the Movement redefined itself. The final document of the Durban’s (South Africa) summit in 1998 reads: “The Heads of State or Government were of the view that the collapse of the bipolar system, while raising hope for ensuring a universal, just and durable peace that are yet to be fulfilled, have resulted in a worrisome and damaging uni-polarity in political and military terms that is conducive to further inequality and injustice.” The document reaffirmed members’ “commitment to strongly resist and take a unified stand against policies and practices predicated on power politics and hegemony including the pursuit of unilateralism through military or economic coercion...”

Despite the presence of some unshakable US allies such as, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Qatar and the Philippines in the NAM, the document is a clear manifestation of the South common front embodied in the NAM against the dominance of the North. This position is the reflection of the developing countries’ views blaming the West on issues such as dictating neo-liberal economic policies which the South claims has resulted in widening poverty and inequality in those countries, imposing its policies, cultural and social criteria on developing countries, exercising its power and influence in international organizations and agencies to its favor at the poor’s expense, and the protection of intellectual property rights specially in pharmaceuticals, to name a few.

Given the NAM’s political and economic orientation and the movement’s magnitude, the NAM’s summit could not be ignored by the US - especially this time since the gathering was hosted by Iran. But why were the US and Israel trying so hard to discourage members of the NAM from attending the event?

Iran’s 2009 disputed presidential elections, followed by the violent suppression of street protestors shattered the government’s legitimacy. The regime badly needed this event and its chairmanship to revive its credibility in the international sphere. This ran contrary to the US policy of isolating Tehran, and therefore, was exactly what the United States did not want to happen. The US has repeatedly argued that, “Obama had succeeded in uniting the international community in efforts to pressure Iran through sanctions to forgo its nuclear ambition.”

To its dismay, the outcome of the summit was a clear blow to this US argument. New York Times wrote: “The 120-nation Nonaligned Movement handed its host Iran a diplomatic victory...unanimously decreeing support for the disputed Iranian nuclear energy program and criticizing the American-led attempt to isolate and punish Iran with unilateral economic sanctions.”

Israel also had its own reasons to convince other nations boycott the summit and what developed during the summit indicated that Israel’s concerns were justified. At the summit’s opening ceremony, the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, took advantage of the largest international gathering in Islamic Republic history’s platform and fiercely attacked Israel. In the past, when Ahmadinejad had spoken about Israel, several countries left the room. Surprisingly and despite this precedent, nobody, not even Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, left the room in protest during Khamenei’s speech.

Furthermore, it is reported that in its final communique, the summit emphasized on solidarity with the Palestinians and affirmed “the Palestinian people's right for self-determination and statehood”. This appears quite disturbing to Israel, for it distracts the international community from what Israel claims as “Iran’s threat,” undermining its efforts in isolating Iran. Instead, it highlights the issue of Palestine and questions the position of Israel’s current government with regards to the Palestinians’ rights of statehood.

These developments elevated the Iranian regime’s status over Israel’s in the current state of heightened cold war between the two countries. Predicting the unfavorable outcomes of the gathering in Tehran one day before the opening of the summit, Benyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, called the Non-Aligned summit “a disgrace and a stain on humanity.” Netanyahu added that the participation of representatives from over 120 countries at the conference shows that “many in the international community appear to have learned nothing.”

However, Iran also faced failures. Ban Ki-Moon stunned the Iranian government at a news conference that took place during the Tehran summit. He said, “We have our serious concerns on the human rights abuses and violations in this country.” Referring to his meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei, the UN Secretary General said that he had discussed his concerns about human rights violations. This was unprecedented in the history of the Islamic Republic that some high echelon political figure would criticize Iran’s government, on Iran’s soil and especially in front of its leader, for human rights violations.

In addition, despite Iran’s heavy deliberations, any mention of support for the Syrian government was omitted in the summit’s final document. To Iran’s dismay, this closed the door on further international activities in defense of Asad’s government based on the non-interference principle to which the NAM is heavily loyal.

One of the issues raised during the summit regarded the necessity of reform in structure of the UN Security Council. In his speech, Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president, reflecting this vision said, “We [should] reach a global understanding that underscores the necessity to apply the principles of democracy to the international system...” He went on to say, “It is no longer acceptable to respect the requirements of democracy at the national level, while rejecting them at the international level.”

Although Iran’s theocratic system intrinsically rejects the idea of democracy, as understood and defined in the West, it attacked the UN Security Council’s structure as "illogical, unjust and completely undemocratic.” It is reported that in the summit’s final document, member states called for "fundamental changes" in global governance and collective management of the world.

The role of the UN Security Council, to approve or disapprove United Nations actions, was created by the victors of World War II: the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France, which are collectively known as the Permanent Five (P-5) members. In 1973, Taiwan was replaced by the People's Republic of China and after the fall of the USSR in 1991, the USSR's spot was occupied by Russia. These “unelected” powers enjoy veto power that essentially enables them to shape the international political sphere at will.

This system is inarguably undemocratic because the members of the international society are not treated as “political equals,” thus violating the fundamental principle of democracy. For instance, while the member states of the NAM who collectively contain 55 percent of the world’s population do not have any permanent representative in the Security Council, the Western countries containing 10 percent of the world population possess three seats out of five. Even industrial giants such as Japan and Germany, the third and fourth largest economies in the world, are deprived of veto rights because they were both defeated nations in the Second World War! Given the current international order, the United States’ policy of promoting world-wide democracy is contradictory to its international role as the leading member of the permanent P-5 group.


This article is part of Insider & Insight, a new AIC program aimed at providing different perspectives and analyses on key developments in US-Iran relations. The commentary and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official position of American Iranian Council.

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