Non-alignment is a philosophy for the conduct of international relations that was introduced into the diplomatic and scholarly vocabulary in 1961 with the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It was a product of the cold war, and its founders declared that they would not be aligned to either of the two competing political camps, led by the United States and the Soviet Union. The key intellectuals of Non-alignment philosophy have been Josip Tito, Fidel Castro, Julius Nyerere, Jawaharlal Nehru, Amilcar Cabral, and Léopold Senghor. The two central ideas of Non-alignment are the freedom to conduct an independent foreign policy and the eschewing of alliance politics. However, because the leading states of the NAM during its early years—such as Cuba and Yugoslavia—were closer to the USSR than to the United States, the movement has had the reputation of not promoting independent foreign policies. It has not been taken seriously in the academic power centers of international relations in North America and Europe. However, the NAM has been one of the most durable mechanisms of rhetorical mobilization for most of the former colonies of the world, and particularly powerful at the United Nations General Assembly, where the nonaligned bloc has been able to put on the agenda initiatives that the great powers would rather not debate, including, most prominently, proposals for a New International Economic Order and a New World Information and Communication Order.
It is useful to see Non-alignment as one of a variety of political strategies used by states to pursue their interests and survive in international politics. In contrast, the “power politics” strategy deployed by the most powerful states in the international system involves promoting alliances and placing military concerns ahead of economic and social development as objectives of foreign policy. In its early years (1961–1971), Non-alignment was seen as a form of neutrality, a philosophy of foreign policy conduct that eschewed international alliances of all types, even membership in the United Nations. However, the death knell of formal neutrality came with Switzerland’s joining the United Nations in 2002. In contrast, Non-alignment has been durable, and its use of UN structures to pursue the collective foreign policy aims of its members is evidence of its attractiveness and viability as a “third way” of international relations. However, it is important to note that Non-alignment is not a revolutionary philosophy in international politics, because it adheres to the principle that the state is the primary actor in international affairs and it promotes the continued viability of the United Nations. The so-called “cultural turn” in international relations may mean that Non-alignment will be increasingly studied for its insights into identity construction in international politics.
SEE ALSO Alliances; Castro, Fidel; Diplomacy; International Economic Order; Nation-State; Negotiation; Nehru, Jawaharlal; Neutral States; Nyerere, Julius; State, The; Tito (Josip Broz); United Nations; World War II
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Singham, A. W., and Shirley Hune. 1986. Non-alignment in an Age of Alignments. New York: Lawrence Hill.
Mark D. Alleyne
Although the Cold War (1946–1991) divided the world into rival blocs, some nations preferred nonalignment. They avoided affiliation with either the United States and its First World allies or the Soviet Union and its Second World partners. Some of these nonaligned nations were traditional neutrals, such as Switzerland or Sweden, that stayed out of war. By the mid-1950s, however, many of the nonaligned were newly independent countries of Asia or Africa, numerous enough that they became known as the Third World.
Nonalignment sometimes made U.S. officials uneasy. During the 1950s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles criticized nonaligned nations for making a "shortsighted" or even "immoral" choice by not taking sides in what Dulles believed was a global contest between godless Communism and the "free world." He also disliked nonaligned leaders, such as Egypt's Gamel Abdel Nasser, who tried to exploit superpower rivalry by accepting aid from both the United States and the Soviet Union. Yet President Dwight D. Eisenhower understood that nonalignment was a way for some countries to preserve their independence in international affairs rather than a choice between "right and wrong." Eisenhower and other Cold War presidents engaged in complicated maneuvering with nonaligned nations to gain advantages, even if they could not secure allies.
Nonalignment sometimes seemed a desirable way to weaken Soviet influence in Eastern Europe. After Yugoslavia broke with the Soviet Union in 1948, the United States provided economic and military aid. President Harry S. Truman hoped that the example of Yugoslavia's independent Communism might create additional cracks in the Soviet bloc. He also thought that U.S. weapons would help deter a Soviet attack and encourage Yugoslavia to coordinate its defense with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Officials in both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations also thought nonalignment was Finland's best choice because the Soviets had forced the Finns to sign a treaty in 1947 prohibiting them from joining any anti-Soviet alliance. Even Dulles praised Finnish nonalignment and called on the Soviets to allow the nations they dominated in Eastern Europe the same degree of freedom.
Relations with some nonaligned nations in the Third World produced cooperation as well as conflict. After India gained independence from Great Britain in 1947, both Truman and Eisenhower bristled at Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's criticism of their foreign policies. Both presidents, however, provided economic aid to strengthen Indian democracy and counter Soviet efforts to gain Nehru's friendship. Yet Eisenhower's decision to sign a military alliance with Pakistan (1954) led to continuing friction with India. Relations with Indonesia were far worse. Fearing that Indonesia's nonaligned government was tilting toward Communism, Eisenhower authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to overthrow President Sukarno in 1957–1958. Sukarno survived, and the CIA's embarrassing public failure strained U.S. Indonesian relations for years.
By the mid-1960s, most European colonial empires had collapsed, and recently independent, nonaligned nations held a majority of seats in the United Nations. American officials sometimes complained that these nonaligned countries were hostile or obstructionist. But they also cooperated with one or both superpowers on some important international issues, such as the nuclear nonproliferation treaty of 1968. Nonalignment complicated the Cold War, and American officials counted both successes and failures in dealing with it.
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Chester J. Pach, Jr.