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An anniversary challenge to the nonaligned

February 9, 1981



As the world's nonaligned movement celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, its main challenge is to prove a surviving founder wrong. He is Burma's former Prime Minister U Nu, who was in the founding group including Yugoslavia's Tito, India's Nehru, and Egypt's Nasser. Last summer he told an interviewer that he could not honestly call the movement nonaligned anymore or see a bright future for it.

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To brighten that future the principle, practice, and spirit of nonalignment need fresh impetus from the movement's conference of foreign ministers in New Delhi this week. Preparatory meetings have shown the difficulty of getting together to solve such grave issues as the Afghanistan and Iran-Iraq situations.But the nonaligned are also worried by what they see as the crumbling of detente between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Any return to cold war between the superpowers could place pressure on the nonaligned to choose sides. But such polarizing would undermine the useful function of this third-world grouping -- providing ballast amid the East-West ups and downs. Over two decades this movement has grown to almost a hundred members representing a wide political and economic spectrum.

The nonaligned seek greater unity and cooperation among themselves in order to be less dependent on either one of the superpowers. "We must make sure that we are not divided and ruled," as one nonaligned ambassador has put it. The need for such alertness was illustrated at the 1979 conference in Havana, which dramatized the Soviet leanings of a strong segment including Cuba, a Moscow dependent and current chairman of the nonaligned. Conflict arose between the proSoviet group and other members trying to preserve a neutral stance toward the major powers. Burma withdrew from the nonaligned movement in prostest of Cuba's tactics at the conference, complaining that Burma's proposal for redefining the "inviolable principles" of the nonaligned movement had been ignored. Founder U Nu's doubts about the movement's future were in keeping with Burma's view.

It would be unfortunate if many members were to begin leaving the movement rather than staying with it to fashion and support a cohesive nonaligned response to the world's problems. It is evident that third-world states need to cooperate in working to meet mutual economic challenges and obtain industrialnation backing for the development to reduce sharp economic disparities. But they also should cooperate in throwing their weight on the right side in supporting international law.

This is where political neutrality as between Moscow and Washington does not mean moral neutrality over issues of right and wrong. Most of the nonaligned have let themselves be counted against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for example. But the movement as a whole has had trouble in expressing a clear-cut consensus position. To reach such a position would help to dispel impressions that too many of the nonaligned are nonaligned in favor of Russia. The same touchstone could be applied to other issues, with of course no more favor given to the United States if it should violate international law and morality.

Finally, in one sense, the news really is not that the nonaligned movement's future is being questioned -- it always was -- but that it has lasted for 20 years already.