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World: Non-Aligned Movement Summit Opens In Malaysia

  • Don Hill

Kings, presidents, and prime ministers of the 114-nation Non-Aligned Movement met in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur today. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad set the tone with an opening address that blamed the powerful developed nations of the West for much of the world's present turmoil. RFE/RL reports that the role of the Non-Aligned Movement has changed greatly since former Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito initiated it in 1961.

Prague, 24 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Former Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito wouldn't recognize his baby now.

Tito called in the 1950s for the nonaligned nations of the world to meet, mainly to try to slow the Cold War arms race between the West and the Soviet Union. Twenty-five nations participated in the first summit in Belgrade in 1961

Today in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, the rulers of 114 member nations are gathered for the 13th triennial summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The member nations still are grappling with growing threats of war, but the players and the background are different by far.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhamad described it this way today in his opening address: "The world is in a terrible mess, a state that is worse than during the East-West confrontation, the Cold War. All the great hopes following the end of the Cold War have vanished, and with the terrorists and antiterrorists fumbling blindly in their fight against each other, normalcy will not return for quite a long time."

The one requirement for NAM membership is that a nation not belong to any formal bloc. The means that countries like the United States and groupings like the EU may attend only as observers. Around two-thirds of UN states are NAM members. Arab and other Muslim nations make up a substantial portion of the membership.

Delegates and analysts have been debating whether NAM retains significant relevance since the end of the Cold War. As the United States and Britain prepare to seek a second resolution in the UN Security Council on disarming Iraq, nonaligned nations assume substantial relevance. Six nonaligned countries -- Angola, Guinea, Syria, Pakistan, Chile, and Cameroon -- currently hold seats on the Security Council. Seven negative votes can defeat a resolution.

NAM-member Syria, the only Arab nation now on the Security Council, said today through its vice president, Abdel-Halim Khaddam, that it opposes a new resolution. Khaddam, in Kuala Lumpur for the summit, also told reporters, "Any war against Iraq [would be] a war of aggression."

The summit's organizers plan to issue formal declarations on NAM's positions after the meeting closes tomorrow but the sentiment against a U.S. war on Iraq or even a new Security Council resolution seems evident already.

In his speech, Mahathir laid much of the blame for current world disorder on the strong and developed nations of the West. The Muslims, he said, do not have a monopoly on terrorism so they cannot be the sole cause of the world's problems.

"Is it a clash of civilizations, a clash of the Muslim civilization against the Judeo-Christian civilization that is responsible? Frankly, I do not think so. Frankly, I think it is because of the revival of the old European trait of wanting to dominate the world. And the expansion of this trait invariably involves injustice and oppression of people of other ethnic origins and colors everywhere," Mahathir said.

Another speaker, South African President Thabo Mbeki, took up the theme. He called on Iraq to disarm and to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors. But he also urged great powers -- the reference to the United States was inescapable -- to respect the decisions of the Security Council. Mbeki was chair of NAM's last summit in South Africa.

"Peace and stability in our countries and the rest of the world demands that Iraq, a long-standing member of our movement, should cooperate fully with the United Nations Security Council and weapons inspectors to satisfy all humanity that she has no weapons of mass destruction.

"Peace and stability in our countries and the rest of the world demands that all of us, including those who are incomparably more powerful than we are, should respect the findings of weapons inspectors and the decisions of the Security Council fully and without reservation," Mbeki said.

In his opening address, Mahathir adopted some unusually heated rhetoric, especially condemning the impersonality of technological warfare. The terrorists, he said, died as they attacked. But "the great warriors who press the buttons and the people who commanded them go back to enjoy a hearty meal, watch TV shows or morale-boosting troop entertainers, and then retire to their cozy beds for a good sleep," Mahathir said.

Mahathir said that modern fears come in new costumes. "The world now lives in fear. We are afraid of everything. We are afraid of flying, afraid of certain countries, afraid of bearded Asian men, afraid of the shoes airline passengers wear, of letters and parcels of white powder," he said.

He called for the nations of the world to unite to outlaw war and to deny any one nation the power to be the world's sole policeman. "We must struggle for justice and freedom from oppression, from economic hegemony, but we must remove the threat of war first. With this 'Sword of Damocles' hanging over our heads, we can never succeed in advancing the interests of our countries. War must therefore be made illegal. The enforcement of this must be by multilateral forces under the control of the United Nations. No single nation should be allowed to police the world, least of all to decide what action to take, when," he said.

North Korean President Kim Yong-nam, second in power to Great Leader Kim Jong-il, made an unusual appearance at the summit, and won a point for his country. A number of participants had proposed a statement urging North Korea to abandon its decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Subsequent drafts of the statement withdraw any reference to North Korea's membership in the treaty.

North Korea had said it was forced to pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in order to defend itself from U.S. aggression.

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