Iran recently hosted a five-day conference of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) member countries from August 26-31 which was attended by over 50 heads of states. The event went some way in dispelling any perceptions that the country was alone in its stand-off with the west on the issue of its nuclear ambitions.
The phrase NAM was first used by Indian diplomat V K Krishna at the UN in 1953 to represent the doctrine which stems from a desire not to be aligned within any particular geopolitical/military structure and find a middle ground. Steering a middle course though was difficult even during the early years and sometimes possible only through taking ‘toilet breaks’ during voting sessions at the UN, for which the Indian mission at the time earned quite a name for itself. The world has changed drastically since then and NAM is struggling hard to find its relevance in the new global order emerging most significantly after the break of former Soviet Union.
The ‘panch sheel’ (five restraints) which formed the basis of NAM were: 1) mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; 2) mutual non-aggression; 3) equality and mutual benefit; 4) peaceful co-existence and 5) mutual non-interference in domestic affairs. This idealism, though possible in bilateral ties as late Prime Minister Zhou En Lai had first envisaged in Sino-India relations, was far too much for politics in an international arena and quite predictably collapsed in a heap. President Morsi’s outburst against Syria, in violation of NAM’s charter was the latest example of this phenomenon.
The conference was held at a difficult time as Israel ratcheted up its belligerence against Iran. One TV station’s military reporter, Alon Ben-David, with extensive access to the IAF’s preparations for strike on Iran, even outlined the opening moves as ‘cyber attacks to paralyse internet, telephones, radio, TV, communications satellites, fibre-optics cables to and from critical installations like missile bases at Khorramabad and Isfahan, knocking off electrical grid through carbon fibre munitions thinner than human hair, delayed cluster munitions activated through satellite signals and followed up with barrage of tens of 300 km range missiles’. No one discloses its war plans but the irony is that all the above is well within Israel’s capability while Iran can defend only against some. To add to Iran’s worries, the USAF has also disclosed taking over the much talked about 30,000 pounds guided bomb capable of penetrating 200 feet of hardened concrete thus finally rendering all Iranian underground facilities vulnerable.
Ayatollah Khamenai, in his speech defended his country’s right to nuclear power for peaceful purposes but stated that it has no desire to make nuclear weapons. Earlier he had given a fatwa declaring use of nuclear weapons a great and unforgiveable sin.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was reportedly discouraged from attending the conference but was brave enough to come. In his keynote address he gave a sermon to the host against threats to destroy others and attempts to deny historical facts (as he saw them). He also urged Iran to take necessary measures to build international confidence in the nature of its nuclear programme. He might have looked more impartial, a fundamental requirement of his exalted office, if he had simultaneously called on Israel to exercise restrain and acknowledged Iran’s rights in accordance with international treaties such as the NPT.
US has exploited and manipulated this region to no end and in any manner which suited its interests at any given time. It encouraged the Shah to agitate in Opec for oil production quotas twice that of Iraq even though they had nearly the same levels of proven reserves. Iran was then pumping 6 million barrels p/d as the US sold it every defence equipment under the sun.
Today, it is struggling with 2.9 millions barrels p/d which could fall further if it fails to find buyers for half a million ton previously destined for the EU and even force it to shut down some production facilities.
In Iraq, the US companies have gained control of its oil after its privatisation by the puppet-regime and is now pumping 3.2 millions barrels p/d. This is certainly expected to go up to push the price down in order to help recovery of the US economy. The neo-cons certainly have had the better of ‘no blood for oil’ anti-war protestors who were so active in the western capitals before the invasion of Iraq.
Saudi Arabia, a loyal US camp follower, has its production levels to its near maximum capacity and last year contracted over $33 billion worth of arms from the US, mainly F-15 aircraft. This type has crossed its mid-life point and its successor F-35 is well on track for induction. The F-15s have served the USAF well and it’s time to monetise its residual value from rich customers.
The Shah of Iran had also been armed to the teeth and was described as the ‘bastion of stability’ in the region by former US president, Jimmy Carter in a state dinner in Tehran on new year’s eve in 1979 but that bastion was gone on February 11 as Ayatollah Khomeini disembarked at Tehran airport just 40 days later. If there is a lesson in this, no one apparently wants to heed it.
India participated with a 250-strong delegation in the NAM summit and Manmohan Singh’s speech was more or less the ‘diplomatic edition’ of views contained in a document titled ‘Nonalignment 2.0’ which gives an interesting insight into India’s foreign and strategic policy options in the 21st century. In the section dealing with Pakistan, it proposes ‘the hard power strategy which should cover the spectrum to include sending a political signal militarily at the lower end (through cyber or precision air attacks) to capture of territory, considered feasible under nuclear conditions at the higher end’.
Elsewhere, it advocates the importance of ‘negative levers’ in dealing with Pakistan, among which it envisages a strategy of denial (strengthening India’s internal security mechanisms to counter Pakistan’s terror modules in India), the capacity for quick punitive operations and counter-propaganda on human rights violations in Paki-occupied Kashmir, Balochistan, etc. On the political front, it emphasises the need to develop ‘an ability to put Pakistan diplomatically on the back foot, beginning with expression of public concern over the situation in Balochistan and condemn human rights violations. The level can be gradually and progressively elevated’.
President Zardari met Prime Minster Manmohan Singh on the sidelines and invited him yet again to visit Pakistan but he conditioned it to progress on Mumbai investigations. With Indo-Pak bilateralism on the rocks, and Indian diplomacy always at its best in countering and blocking any progress in dispute resolutions rather than positive and result orientated approach, it is advisable that we focused more on developing a comprehensive foreign and strategic policy doctrine to counter Indian plans rather than inviting its prime minster on the sidelines of every moot.
In the early years after the Iranian revolution, it would be a regular feature of annual Iranian military fanfare at the Azadi Square to parade Uncle Sam with half a dozen regional camp followers in tow dressed as monkeys wearing unmistakable facemasks and jumping. It would then hurt as Ziaul Haq’s caricature leading the pack would pass in front of the dais, and a military attaché seated next would dig his elbow hard in the ribs. That distant thought however doesn’t pain any longer as nothing has changed except the facemasks with some clowns jumping to newer heights with slightest of tug from the master.
The NAM may not have an impressive past track record but it still constitutes two-third of the UN as its members and represents roughly 55 percent of the world’s population, mostly at the receiving end from stronger nations. People in many of the countries in that queue behind Uncle Sam seem ready to break loose in search of their own destinies. Can Iran help through love of seeking the truth, a truth not necessarily seen through its own prism and stringent ‘taqleed’ (conformity)? That is Iran’s challenge for next three years as chairman of the movement.
The writer is a retired vice admiral. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org