NAM and India’s alignment

  • IASbaba
  • September 10, 2020
  • 0
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Topic: General Studies 2:

India’s Foreign Policy

NAM and India’s alignment

Context: In the wake of the current stand-off with China, there have been calls for India’s foreign policy to shed its inhibitions and make a decisive shift towards the United States, as the only viable option to counter China. 

What has been the government’s calls to such call?

  • The government has been more nuanced in its approach. 
  • The External Affairs Minister clarified that a rejection of non-alignment does not mean a rush to alignment: India will not join an alliance system.

What was non-alignment foreign policy?

  • Non-alignment was a policy fashioned during the Cold War, to retain an autonomy of policy (not equidistance) between two politico-military blocs. 
  • The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) provided a platform for newly independent developing nations to join together to protect this autonomy. 
  • It was a disparate group from many continents, with varying degrees of proximity to, and dependence on, one or the other bloc.
  • NAM’s flagship campaigns were de-colonisation, universal nuclear disarmament and against apartheid.

How did NAM’s relevance decline post 1991?

  • One of the blocs (USSR) was disbanded at the end of the Cold War. 
  • De-colonisation was largely complete by then, the apartheid regime in South Africa was being dismantled and the campaign for universal nuclear disarmament was going nowhere. 
  • Freed from the shackles of the Cold War, the NAM countries were able to diversify their network of relationships across the erstwhile east-west divide. Non-alignment lost its relevance, and NAM its original raison d’être.

Has India completely abandoned Non-Alignment Policy?

  • For a few years now, non-alignment has not been projected by our policymakers as a tenet of India’s foreign policy. 
  • However, India has not yet found a universally accepted successor as a signature tune for our foreign policy. 
  • Successive formulations have been coined and rejected.
    • Strategic autonomy was one, which soon acquired a connotation similar to non-alignment, with an anti-U.S. tint. 
    • Multi-alignment has not found universal favour, since it may convey the impression of opportunism, whereas we seek strategic convergences. 
    • Seeking issue-based partnerships or coalitions is a description that has not stuck.
  • “Advancing prosperity and influence” is a description Dr. Jaishankar (Minister of External Affairs) settled for, to describe the aspirations that our network of international partnerships seeks to further

Has the rise of China revived the concept of alliance?

  • The fact is that ‘alliance’ is as much a Cold War concept as non-alignment. 
  • During the Cold War, the glue that held countries of an alliance together was composed (in varying proportions) of ideological convergence and an existential military threat. 
  • With the disintegration of USSR and the Warsaw Pact, this glue dissolved and the international options of alliance partners widened, just like those of NAM countries
  • As a result, in today’s times the strategic interests of Nations are no longer fully congruent. This is evident in the recent rifts between US & Europe (NATO)
  • Alliances in the Asia-Pacific face a bigger definitional dilemma. The threat to the alliance partners today is from an assertive China, which they are reluctant to define as a strategic adversary, because of their economic engagement with it and the huge military asymmetry.
  • In the immediate-term, Indian and U.S. perspectives are less convergent in India’s continental neighbourhood (like Afghanistan & Central Asia)


  • Former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon has described today’s world order as militarily unipolar, economically multipolar and politically confused. 
  • COVID-19 may scramble the economics and deepen the confusion further.
  • India will acquire a larger global profile next year, when it commences a two-year term on the UN Security Council. The strategic choices that it makes in its bilateral partnerships (like US, Russia, Iran) will be closely watched.

Connecting the dots:

  • Cold War
  • US-China Trade War

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