Neutralism And Nonalignment

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Neutralism And Nonalignment


The terms “neutralism” and “nonalignment” are used in the 1960s loosely and interchangeably to refer to the desire of a majority of Afro-Asian nations to avoid military alliances with either side in the cold war. They are associated with the two most important international developments of the post-World War n era: first, the emergence of independent nations in Asia and Africa, ending three centuries of western European expansion; and second, the emergence of a bipolar conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, each in possession of weapons capable of world-wide destruction.

The terms lack the precision of the older notion of “neutrality,” which referred to a legal condition in which a country refrained from taking sides in a war between two or more belligerents. Laws of neutrality, which were formed chiefly by treaties of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries buttressed by judicial rulings in the nineteenth century, delineated specific rights and responsibilities for both belligerents and neutrals. Neutral states, for example, agreed not to aid any of the belligerents or permit their citizens to do so. Citizens of neutral states who aided a belligerent would be denied protection by their own government and might be punishable by the laws of their own country. In return, belligerents were expected to respect the commercial activities of neutrals. Attacks by belligerents upon neutral shipping often signaled the end of neutrality. In the absence, however, of an international authority with the power to enforce neutrality, the observation of neutral “rights” by belligerents depended upon their interests and power. The rights of neutrals were largely disregarded during the two world wars, and after World War II almost no one—barring Switzerland and Sweden—viewed neutrality in the legal sense as a viable policy for maintaining independence.

The term “neutrality” signified a policy pursued during a state of belligerency. In a specific conflict even a major power might choose to be neutral. Smaller and weaker powers sometimes declared themselves to be in a state of neutralization, that is, they chose to be in a state of perpetual neutrality in all wars. Switzerland is the most frequently cited example of neutralization, and the Austrian Peace Treaty of 1955 provided for the perpetual neutralization of Austria. Neutralization should be differentiated from demilitarization, which refers to the absence of or limitations on a nation’s capacity to engage in war, while neutralization bars participation in a state of war. A nation may be demilitarized but not neutralized (Japan in the 1950s) or neutralized but not demilitarized (Austria after 1955).

None of the new nations of Asia and Africa, with the exception of Laos, declared themselves demilitarized or neutralized. Indeed, the leaders of the new nations rejected the negative association of the term “neutral” and its implication of indifference, isolationism, and a position in world affairs which denied the full exercise of their sovereign powers. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, one of the first spokesmen for the emerging nations, preferred to speak of “nonalignment” rather than neutralism, and President Gamal Abdel Nasser of the United Arab Republic used the phrase “positive neutrality.” At a meeting in Belgrade in September 1961 sponsored by Nehru, Nasser, President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and President Tito of Yugoslavia, the term “nonalignment,” rather than “neutralism,” was generally used, and the conference was called the Conference of Unaligned States. A proposal by Prime Minister Nehru that the traditional neutrals, Ireland and Sweden, be invited, was rejected by the other sponsors, who thereby made clear the distinction in their minds between neutralism or nonalignment as a state of noncommitment in the cold war and neutrality as a legal concept.

Though a desire for greater independence from the two great powers has been expressed throughout Europe, it is among the newly independent nations that neutralism and nonalignment as a policy is generally found. The terms are ambiguous, so that to label a country “nonaligned” says little about either its motivations or the particular manner in which its neutralism is implemented. Countries which retain close links to the French Community or the British Commonwealth, as well as countries closely associated with the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic of China, may label themselves “neutralist” or “nonaligned.” The terms also embrace those which are moved by fear of either Western or communist expansion, as well as those employing it as a shield for their own expansionist policies. To speak of neutralism, therefore, is to speak more generally of the foreign policies of the newly emergent nations.

The term “nonalignment” was first popularized by India’s Prime Minister Nehru. Nehru made it clear that while a newly independent India would be active in the United Nations, retain her membership in the Commonwealth of Nations (as a republic), and seek to play a “positive” role in international affairs, she would not become “entangled in any alliances, military or other that might drag us into any possible conflict” (Nehru 1950). Nehru viewed the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union as rivalry for world power, not as an expression of ideological differences. It is useful to recall that American and western European concern over communist expansion took place at a time when Indian and other Asian and African nationalists were struggling against colonialism or wrestling with the immediate problems of independence. Thus the first Asian Relations Conference, held in New Delhi in March 1947, on the eve of Indian independence, focused on colonialism and mutual cooperation within Asia.

But Nehru was very much concerned with the possibility of a war between the great powers which would inevitably engulf the entire world. He believed that India could serve as a channel for communications among the great powers—which she did in the Korean War—and could play a moderating, if not mediating, role. Within a few years after India became independent, the terms “nonalignment” and “neutralism” became more widely adopted: by countries in Asia and Africa which had newly achieved independence, by Egypt after a revolution overthrew the traditional monarchy, and by Yugoslavia when it declared its independence from the Soviet Union. The terms were soon used interchangeably, not as analytical concepts but as popular terms which actually covered a wide range of policies. Still, the terminology is itself of political importance, for a line was thereby drawn in international conferences between countries which subscribed to it and countries which did not.

Neutralism and nonalignment—for the moment we shall put aside the wide range of policies which these terms encompass—can be viewed as (1) a strategy for maximizing one’s security in a bipolar world; (2) a foreign policy expression of domestic political, cultural, and psychological needs; and (3) a policy of newly independent countries for securing their regional interests.

Neutralism as strategy . Neutralism has been widely explained (and justified) as a strategy which can best serve the security interests of the new nations in the cold war. The nations which achieved independence in Asia and Africa after World War II have for the most part been militarily, economically, and politically weak. The armies left by colonial rulers were generally small, underequipped, and more concerned with internal than external security. Almost without exception, the new nations were also economically underdeveloped and in need of foreign capital and technical assistance to speed their economic growth. Moreover, internal political differences have often been so great that many new nations have tottered between internal wars and authoritarian oligarchies. The internal weaknesses of the new states provide a standing invitation for stronger powers to intervene.

Many new nations, in an effort to deter foreign intervention or to increase their independence from the dominant powers, have turned to neutralist policies. Nonalignment can be viewed in certain circumstances as a strategy of deterrence without commitment to a military alliance. An assertion of nonalignment may be directed at one bloc with the implied warning that active intervention will result in closer relations with the other bloc. Nasser’s positive neutrality for the United Arab Republic, for example, was directed at reducing Western influence in the Middle East by delicately flirting with, but not inviting, Soviet intervention. On the other hand, neutralism for Yugoslavia—the only self-declared neutralist country in Europe—was directed at deterring Soviet interference and dictation by seeking American assistance without a military alignment with the West, which might precipitate Soviet intervention. This strategy of using one or more powers to deter others was successfully employed by the United Arab Republic during the Suez crisis of 1956, when the U.A.R. turned to both the United States and the Soviet Union against Britain, France, and Israel. The strategy proved less successful in 1962, when India found that the Soviet Union was unable to restrain China, as the United States had successfully restrained the British and French in the Suez crisis.

Other new nations have attempted to deter external intervention through a more defensive neutralist posture. While some countries on the periphery of Soviet or Chinese communist power, such as Iran, Turkey, and Thailand (none newly independent, incidentally), have sought security through military alliances with the West, others have feared “provoking” their neighbors. Some new nations have thus assumed that independence could best be ensured by a posture of independence, if not active hostility, toward the West, combined with support for Chinese or Soviet policies, a position which has sometimes come perilously close to an alignment with one or the other of the two major communist powers. In the 1950s, for example, several countries of southeast Asia abjured alliances with the West and adopted a neutralist position as a means of demonstrating to the People’s Republic of China that it was not being encircled by hostile pro-Western powers. With the demonstrable growth in Chinese military power and expansionist tendencies in the early 1960s, there was a proliferation of pro-Chinese neutralism throughout southeast Asia. The leaders of several smaller countries took the position that through a policy of friendly relations and even acquiescence to Communist China they could avoid internal subversion or external attack and a situation in which they might become a battlefield for the great powers. Rather than turn to the West, it appeared likely that a number of smaller states might seek to maintain a measure of ‘independence” (ensuring at least that they were not militarily occupied), even if it meant a degree of dependency on Communist China.

Since virtually all of the new nations are in need of financial and technical assistance from abroad, nonalignment has also been viewed as a strategy for maximizing the flow of foreign aid while minimizing the restrictions or “strings” attached. Though obtaining aid on the most favorable terms has generally not been the chief objective of a nonalignment policy, this has been an important by-product. Both the Soviet Union and the United States—and, increasingly, countries throughout Europe—have used economic aid programs as instruments of foreign policy. There has been competition not only over the amount of aid but also, more importantly, over the sectors to which aid is given. Soviet aid to the Indonesian air force, for example, was balanced by American aid to the Indonesian army. In certain circumstances military aid has often been viewed by donors as a more effective device for exerting “influence” than other types of aid.

Nonalignment has often made it possible for the recipient country to turn elsewhere if one donor attempts to attach “strings” to its aid. Thus, when the United States declared it would not assist in the construction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt, presumably because Egypt had accepted communist military equipment, Egypt turned to the Soviet Union and received economic aid. Similarly, when American congressmen expressed reluctance to aid a proposed public sector steel plant in India, the Indian government turned to the Soviet Union for assistance. In both instances, however, the United States continued to maintain substantial aid programs.

Paradoxically, even aligned nations have profited from the policies of nonalignment adopted by neighboring countries since the United States found it necessary to give more aid to its allies, thus providing economic rewards as compensation for whatever limitations military alliances impose. Moreover, the volume of aid and its spread to almost every newly independent country is in some measure a consequence of the concern of both the United States and the Soviet Union that in the absence of aid the other power might establish a new beachhead in a neutralist country. This consideration has been particularly important in the American aid program. [See Foreign aid.]

Finally, there are other foreign policy advantages for those new nations which have adopted nonalignment policies. Nonalignment has served to enhance the role played by militarily weak powers in disputes among the great powers. In both Korea and the Congo the nonaligned have exercised influence which committed powers could not exert. For some 15 years, until India suffered serious reverses at the hands of the Chinese in an attack on India’s northern borders, India’s influence at international meetings was far greater than her economic strength or military capabilities warranted. Nonaligned India also argued as an advantage of nonalignment that it permits countries to pursue development programs without a heavy commitment of funds to arms. In practice, however, some nonaligned countries have availed themselves of foreign economic aid while diverting their own internal resources for the purchase of foreign arms and the expansion of the army. Moreover, it has not been uncommon for the nonaligned to turn to both sides for military assistance, as India subsequently did at the time of the Chinese attack.

Neutralism and domestic politics . Neutralism can also be viewed as a foreign policy instrument for satisfying domestic political needs. Almost all of the newly independent nations have been faced with the problems of (1) establishing a sense of national identity and integration in culturally pluralistic societies, (2) establishing strong central authority in societies in which regional and tribal authorities have been great, (3) establishing a sense of legitimacy over the forms and purposes of newly created political institutions, and (4) satisfying elite and sometimes popular sentiment for demonstrating cultural as well as economic and political independence from the influences of former colonial rulers.

From a domestic viewpoint, neutralism can be viewed as a vehicle for achieving these nationbuilding objectives, especially by minimizing internal schisms over foreign policy issues and by strengthening national pride and loyalty as against parochial and primordial attachments. Neutralism may, for example, be a useful central position for nationalist leaders against domestic opponents who seek closer ties with the former colonial ruler and against other domestic critics who seek a more revolutionary anticolonial, procommunist position.

Those interpretations of neutralism stress the calculated and rational component of the foreign policies of new nations. An alternative, but not necessarily conflicting, interpretation lays greater emphasis on the psychological needs and cultural traditions of political elites in the new nations. This interpretation stresses neutralism as not simply a strategy for the achievement of a country’s national interest but an end in itself. The leaders of new nations often emphasize the necessity of maintaining a position of nonalignment in spite of changing circumstances. Thus Prime Minister Nehru of India stressed the need for maintaining India’s policy of nonalignment after the Chinese attack in 1962, not simply as an appropriate strategy for securing Soviet and American support but as a cardinal principle of policy. In this context neutralism has come to mean an independent policy, while alignment suggests a subordinate position. Neutralism is thus the foreign policy expression of domestic nationalism. It is a policy which facilitates closer ties with other Afro-Asian states. It strengthens respect for and attachment to one’s own cultural traditions and one’s homeland. It provides a way of giving vent to anticolonial, anti-Western sentiments without denying oneself the benefits of continued Western assistance. It affords a vehicle for satisfying the aspirations of new, weak states to exert their influence as a “third force” in world affairs. Finally, neutralism may be less a calculated move to strengthen independent nations than an effort to enhance the domestic authority and international prestige of new elites.

Neutralism and regional interests . Each of the major neutralist powers belongs to a subordinate international system. Ghana and Nigeria play important roles in sub-Sahara Africa, especially in west Africa; Egypt in the Middle East and north Africa; India in south Asia; and Indonesia in southeast Asia. Whether the variations in nonalignment policies pursued by each of these nations is a consequence of the personal outlooks and ambitions of the political leaders who guide these countries, or whether they are the result of the peculiar regional contexts in which each country operates, we shall not know until there are changes in leadership. In any event, it would be difficult to evaluate the meaning of neutralism without seeing each practitioner in his regional environment.

While some neutralists speak of “ending” the cold war, Egypt’s “positive neutralism” has had as its primary concern the creation of a Pan-Arab movement and the establishment of Arab socialism. Concretely, this has meant the unification of Arab states under the hegemony of modernist Egypt. The movement for the unification of Arab states precedes, of course, Egypt’s neutralism. It was strengthened in March 1945 by the Pact of the League of Arab States, which included Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, and Yemen. In 1953 Libya joined the league, Sudan in 1956, Tunisia and Morocco in 1958, and Kuwait in 1961. President Nasser viewed the overthrow of traditional monarchies and the expulsion of Western influence from the Middle East as essential steps toward the achievement of Arab political unification. For Nasser, neutralism was not a policy of opposing both sides in the cold war but, rather, of using each of the two great powers in an effort to further Egyptian goals. Thus, in the early 1960s Egypt supported the Soviet position that the West should withdraw its foreign bases, but at the same time Egypt continued to permit the transit of oil to the West. While Egypt aimed to minimize Western power in the Middle East and pressed for the breakup of the Baghdad Pact, which linked Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Pakistan to Great Britain, Egypt also combated Soviet influence in Syria and later in Iraq, which did withdraw from the Baghdad Pact. Political leaders in Egypt have described positive neutrality as the external manifestation of their revolutionary policies and as a justification for “liberation” movements aimed at the overthrow of pro-Western traditional monarchies which stood in the way of Arab unification.

A similar link between neutralism and regional aspirations could be found in the policies of Ghana. As the first newly independent country in Africa, in April 1957 Ghana immediately pressed for the establishment of a Pan-African movement. Under Ghana’s leadership the first conference of independent African states was organized in Accra in 1958 to press for anticolonial, pro-Pan-African policies. Shortly thereafter Ghana formed a federation with Mali and Guinea as a step toward African unification. The federation secured the support of the Patrice Lumumba group in the Congo, but with the death of Lumumba the Pan-African movement lost some of its force. Moreover, Ghana failed to win the support of Nigeria and the bulk of the newly independent former colonies of France. In January 1961, Ghana and Egypt, joined by Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Syria (in the then United Arab Republic), and, later, Algeria, formed a bloc of neutralist powers at Casablanca whose neutralism stressed Pan-African and Pan-Arab nationalism, advocated eliminating African and Arab ties with the West, and favored an Arab-African form of socialism. The Casablanca group supported “national liberation” movements against those governments which opposed the creation of Arab and African unions. [SeePanMovements.]

Later in the year Nigeria and 19 other African states formed the Monrovia group to reassert the doctrine of political independence for each African state and to stress a more moderate Pan-African ideal built on a program of integrated transport and communication facilities, educational and cultural exchanges, and economic coordination. The following year the Monrovia group constituted themselves into the Inter-African and Malagasy States Organization, with 20 members. Though committed to nonalignment, or “independence,” in cold war policy, the Monrovia group contained the Brazzaville bloc of 12 ex-French colonies which maintained extensive economic, political, military, and cultural links to France. The “neutralism” of the Monrovia and Casablanca blocs thus involved quite different sentiments toward the West, toward Pan-Africanism and toward African socialism. While Pan-Africanism, African socialism, and neutralism became the ideology of the militant wing of African nationalism, interstate African cooperation, mixed economies, and Eurafricanism had become the viewpoint of the moderate Monrovia powers.

Nonetheless, despite these deep differences, the ambiguity of the term “nonalignment” provided a meeting point for the conference of African states in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in May 1963. For the first time, virtually all the newly independent African states attended (30 out of 33) to find a basis for African unity. A charter for the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was signed, and later ratified by all, which affirmed support for nonalignment. Conference resolutions called for the establishment of Africa as a denuclearized zone, the removal of military bases from Africa, and the disentanglement of African countries from foreign military pacts. But more significantly, the OAU charter declared in effect that African states would not interfere in each other’s internal affairs and that each member state should have an “inalienable right to independent existence”—a reaffirmation of the Monrovia position. The two unanswered questions at the close of the Addis Ababa conference were (1) whether the militant efforts of the Casablanca group to unite all of Africa, if necessary through national wars of liberation and internal subversion and assassination, had come to an end or been simply temporarily suspended and (2) whether the links of the ex-French colonies to Europe through the European Common Market signified a more relaxed relationship with the West which would positively affect the policies of other African states, or was a passing phase which would diminish with a rise in anti-European nationalism.

The process of settling relations with one another as well as with the West was a greater problem for south and southeast Asians in the 1960s than for the Africans because of their geographic proximity to an expanding communist power. This region was the first to achieve independence from colonial rule, and at the Colombo Conference in Ceylon in 1954 the earliest regional grouping of predominantly nonaligned countries was formed. Ceylon, India, Burma, and Indonesia, all nonaligned, and Pakistan, which was shortly to sign the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty and the Baghdad Pact, attended. A year later, in April 1955, the Colombo powers sponsored the famous Bandung Conference in Indonesia, which brought to one conference hall representatives of almost all of the then independent Asian and African nations.

Like the Middle East, south and southeast Asia were soon torn between the aligned and the nonaligned. Cambodia and Laos joined the nonaligned, while Pakistan joined Thailand and the Philippines in the SEATO Pact with Australia, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, and the United States. The lines did not simply reflect varied assessments of Soviet and Chinese threats to the region but were also an expression of interstate conflicts among neighboring powers. India’s espousal of nonalignment no doubt encouraged Pakistan to join an alliance with the United States and Britain. Similarly, Cambodia’s pro-Chinese neutralism was engendered not only by fear of Communist China but also by traditional antipathies to Thailand and Vietnam, both of which had allied themselves with the United States.

But it is important to emphasize the impact of expanding Chinese communist power on the particular forms which nonalignment and alignment have taken throughout this region. Burma opted for a pro-Chinese neutrality and in January 1960 signed a treaty with Communist China which prevented Burma from entering into “any military alliance directed against the other Contracting Party.” Thailand, faced with a “Free Thai” movement in China, chose to ally itself with the West. As we have seen, Pakistan signed treaties with the West after India assumed a nonaligned position. But when India and China clashed with one another in the border dispute of 1962, Pakistan moved closer to China even while maintaining her alliances with the West. As tensions between China and India rose, several countries of southeast Asia emphasized their neutrality in this dispute. Some southeast Asian leaders, fearful that the Chinese communists did not really want their nations “neutral and independent,” privately hoped that a pro-Chinese form of nonalignment might serve to restrain the Chinese.

The Chinese attack against India in October 1962 marked an important turning point for the particular form of nonalignment followed by India, the largest of the nonaligned nations. Prime Minister Nehru had taken the position that military conflict between the two largest Asian powers was unthinkable even though genuine differences existed concerning their borders. When the Chinese attack began and it became apparent that India’s army and air force were ill-prepared, India turned to the United States and Great Britain for military assistance. India, in her desire to maintain Soviet support as a counterweight to China on the Asian mainland, also asked the Soviet Union for assistance and took the position that her nonalignment was intact so long as she was willing to accept military assistance from both the United States and the Soviet Union. Thus, though no substantive Soviet aid was immediately forthcoming, the Indian government noted that since it was willing to accept Soviet aid (and had actually contracted for Soviet military assistance in the future), the principle of nonalignment had been maintained. But clearly its form had undergone important changes.

Neutralism in the 1960s . The Indian position well illustrates several general aspects of nonalignment policy as practiced in the early 1960s. Nonaligned powers were prepared to accept military assistance from one or both great powers so long as there was no military alliance. Thus Indonesia, Ghana, India, Egypt, and Yugoslavia had all accepted American or Soviet military aid, and sometimes both. Second, the quest for peace stressed by the nonaligned referred to peace among the cold war powers, that is, the absence of nuclear warfare or any direct military confrontation between the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, the United States, and the NATO powers. It did not refer to the absence of conflict among Afro-Asian powers. In fact, neutralism was sometimes used as a justification for undermining neighboring countries who were not sufficiently “independent” of Europe or the United States. Third, the disarmament advocated by the nonaligned referred only to disarmament among the great powers and not among the smaller nations or the newly independent. This reaction reflects the unique significance of nuclear weapons as a threat to the whole world. But, as we have noted, many nonaligned nations have turned to the West or to the Soviet Union for military support, sometimes to enhance their own capabilities to cope with other Afro—Asian nations. Fourth, the term “neutralism” covered such a wide range of policies and attitudes that the nonaligned did not in fact develop as a truly “third force” bloc in world politics, although there was a measure of unity in voting in the United Nations on some issues. Increasingly, “polycentrism” within the communist world and disagreements among the Western powers provided the new nations with a wider range of policy choices. If India could obtain Soviet and American assistance in her conflict with Communist China, couldn’t another newly independent nation win the support of the United States and the Soviet Union against a Western nation?

If the terms “neutralism” and “nonalignment”

seemed ambiguous in the 1950s, their meaning became, if possible, even more all-embracing in the 1960s as each country subscribing to this policy worked out its own relationship to the great powers. Moreover, the U.S. policy of establishing new military alliances in the 1950s had all but disappeared by the early 1960s. American attitudes toward neutralism had changed markedly from the famous Dulles statement of 1956 calling neutralism an “immoral and short-sighted conception” to the Eisenhower statement of 1960 that “we do not desire that you [the newly independent nations in the UN] should belong to one camp or the other.” The earlier fears of many new nations that their former colonial rulers and the United States represented threats to their independence, culturally and economically as well as militarily, seemed to be diminishing. Neither for the West nor for the newly independent countries was it easy to shift from a superior-subordinate relationship, which prevailed for decades and in some instances centuries, to a relationship of equality. For many new nations, neutralism was simply a mark of independence from the West, though it became a convenient posture for countries like Yugoslavia, struggling for independence against the Soviet Union. This anti-Western sentiment found its expression in a “double standard” which made the neutral nations unwilling to judge the communist world with the same standards as those applied to the United States and its allies. Thus, the nonaligned nations meeting in Belgrade in 1961 refused to condemn the Soviet breaking of the moratorium on nuclear testing but instead passed a resolution condemning all nuclear tests, thereby equating the United States with the Soviet Union.

It was to be expected that some time would pass before a more relaxed relationship could be established between the developing areas and the West. Insofar as fear, hatred, and especially spite entered into this relationship, the danger existed that appropriate policies to meet real, as opposed to imagined, threats to independence might not be formulated. As more and more nations declared themselves neutralist or nonaligned, and as each country in practice formulated policies based upon their international interests, domestic needs, psychological sentiments, regional relations, and the personal ambitions of political leaders, it became clear that the terms were analytically meaningless descriptions of widely differing policies. Finally, as polycentrism increased and as relations between the United States and the Soviet Union became less threatening, it appeared possible that in time the terms themselves might disappear even from popular usage.

Myron Weiner

[See alsoForeign Aid; Foreign Policy; International Politics. Other relevant material may be found inAlliances; Disengagement; International Relations; Modernization.]


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