Wednesday, February 21, 2024

A pivotal moment for Global South

by malinga
January 21, 2024 1:05 am 0 comment 180 views

It is a known fact that no country can exist in isolation in today’s inter-connected world. Even North Korea, perhaps the world’s most politically (if not geographically) isolated country, shares a border with China and is dependent on that country for trade and travel.

While countries are free to engage in diplomacy and politics on their own, it is far better to be a member of a regional trade or political bloc which enables individual countries to reap more benefits. Hence the proliferation of blocs such as Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), European Union (EU), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).

There are also exclusively trade blocs such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and military alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Quad (Australia, US, Japan and India).

However, the relevance of some older international blocs has been called into question in this fast-evolving global political landscape. The Commonwealth of Nations, mostly a gathering of ex-colonies of Britain, has been branded as a relic of the colonial era. Its recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) have been more or less lackluster affairs.

Nevertheless, the other oldest international grouping, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), has somehow managed to be a voice for the Global South, bolstered in recent times by a parallel summit with China, a global economic superpower. In terms of membership (nearly 120 countries), it is second only to the United Nations (UN). Sri Lanka, which has maintained a neutral or non-aligned foreign policy under almost every Government, is a founding member of the NAM.

The movement originated in the aftermath of the Korean War, as an effort by some countries to counterbalance the rapid bi-polarization of the world during the Cold War, whereby two major powers embarked on a policy to pull the rest of the world into their orbits. In 1961, drawing on the principles agreed at the Bandung Conference of 1955, the NAM was formally established in Belgrade, on an initiative of Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, and Indonesian President Sukarno. Sri Lanka hosted the NAM Summit in 1976.

The NAM is once again in the news, with Uganda hosting its 19th Summit from Friday (19). This year, under the theme of “Deepening Cooperation for Shared Global Affluence”, leaders from NAM Member States are discussing reforms of the UN, Climate Change, the global debt crisis and of course the twin crises in Gaza and the Red Sea. Sri Lanka’s delegation is led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Granted, it is rather difficult to remain completely neutral in a volatile world. Even in the case of the Gaza War, many countries find themselves in an unenviable position. Sri Lanka has traditionally supported the Palestinian Cause and in fact, voted for the UN Resolutions calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Yet, the authorities are also mindful of the fact that nearly 8,000 Sri Lankans are working in Israel, with another 10,000 likely to be recruited. Balancing both these interests is no easy task. Many Global South countries have also opted not to take sides vis-à-vis the Russia-Ukraine War, bearing in mind their deep diplomatic and trade ties with Russia.

It is in this backdrop that Sri Lanka’s recent decision to send two Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) to the turbulent waters of the Red Sea to protect the merchant vessels using this vital sea lane has gained considerable attention worldwide. President Wickremesinghe has stressed that this move is not against any country or group, but is a purely practical step to protect ships bound for our region from revel attacks. This underscores the fact that sometimes countries have to take a principled stand for some goal, regardless of their Non-Aligned status. Indeed, this should not mean that we have joined a military alliance per se with Western countries – it is just that we have to protect our own interests too in some instances.

Conflicts aside, the NAM should focus heavily on Climate Change, which could affect almost all of its Members, especially those with coastlines, judging by current freak weather events. Sri Lanka has already offered to build an International University for Climate Studies (IUCS) this year, to which all NAM countries should be urged to send experts and students.

In parallel, they should share technology and expertise with regard to Renewable Energy, with which Sri Lanka plans to power up to 70 percent of its national grid by 2030. South-South aid and technology transfer will be the key to development in the Global South, as developing countries stung by the debt crisis seek alternative avenues to fuel their growth. This also resonates with the NAM Summit theme of “Deepening Cooperation”.

Food insecurity, mass illegal migration, youth unemployment, health pandemics (such as Covid) and terrorism are among the other issues that the NAM should focus on. The world will watch out for the “Kampala Outcome Document” with keen interest, given the complex nature of the issues involved and NAM’s transformative strides to regain its power and influence.

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