Iran and the Non-Aligned Movement: Reciprocal Strategies and Viewpoints
Three years of Iran's chairmanship of the movement can change NAM’s strategy making it more beneficial to Iran's foreign policy goals
Behzad Khoshandam Tehran
“Balancing” is the best term to describe the main strategy that the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has used with regard to Iran during the past three decades. That strategy emanated from Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (Panchsheel) which have governed the start and continuation of the activities of this international institution since its inception up to the present time. During about 33 years that have passed since Iran became a member of the movement, its maximum activities toward Iran have been limited to issuing support statements, diplomatic backing as well as lack of any commitment to practical partial support from the movement for Iran's national interests.
The first positions of NAM with regard to Iran were taken during its summit meeting in Havana in 1979. The Iraqi imposed war against Iran, the issue of reforms in the United Nations, and Iran's use of peaceful nuclear energy have been among major areas in which the NAM has taken positions related to Iran's national
interests during the past 33 years.
The most important result of Iran's membership in the movement has been NAM’s decision not to hold its seventh and eighth summit meetings in Baghdad during Iraq’s imposed war against Iran, which was a sign of the movement’s practical and firm support for Iran's national interests and goals.
But why NAM’s strategy toward Iran is focused on balancing? The main factors which may have led to the present situation include the quality and main goals of this international body, unanimous voting mechanism used by the organization, lack of true institutionalization which includes the movement’s decision-making process, and absence of any form of executive guarantee for its decisions.
The movement’s strategy of supporting Iran by issuing statements has
become more manifest especially in the international security atmosphere
which has existed in the wake of 9/11 terror attacks. While the majority
of Western countries have been taking a hostile stance on Iran's peaceful
nuclear energy program during the past decade, the large-scale approach
taken by NAM with regard to that program has been maximum support for Iran's right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Under new conditions in the Middle East and North Africa pursuant to the
political developments which are collectively known as the Arab Spring,
NAM has appeared mostly passive with regard to the
management of regional developments. It seems that given Iran's high
influence on these developments and since Iran is going to assume
presidency of the movement during the forthcoming Tehran summit meeting
(scheduled for August 26-31, 2012), the possibility for further activation
of the movement’s potentials seems much higher.
There is no doubt that NAM’s main strategy towards Iran in view of the movement’s trends, motivations and goals will focus on avoiding maximum partiality in favour of Iran's national interests and will be a function of Iran's participation in institutional activities of the movement and other multilateral international organizations.
At any rate, three years of Iran's chairmanship of the movement can
change NAM’s strategy towards Iran to become more institution-based and
more beneficial to Iran's foreign policy goals.
On the whole, NAM’s overall approach to Iran during the past 33 years has
been focused on balancing the conduct of big powers against Iran's foreign
policy goals. This approach will hopefully continue in the future allowing
the movement to provide countries like Iran with opportunities in the face
of other multilateral institutions like the United Nations Security
Council and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in such a way as
to benefit Iran's national interests.
The important point, apparently, is to assess Iran's strategy towards this
movement during the next three years in relation to such important
regional issues as Arab – Israeli conflict, the crisis in Syria, as well
as future role of big global powers like the United States in regional
The most essential question in this regard is to what extent NAM’s
strategy toward Iran can be overshadowed by the strategy of big powers
and other important international bodies such as the United Nations, NATO,
the European Union (EU), the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC],
the Arab League, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation toward this
important international player and how it will influence Iran's national
interests and strategic influence on regional and international equations?
Iran's Strategy towards NAM
Iran's strategy towards NAM stems from its traditional approach of
neutrality which has consistently governed traditional ideas of Iran's
foreign policy and relations with international bodies. Continuation of
“neutrality” in Iran's foreign policy through 18th, 19th, and 20th
centuries as well as throughout the past three decades has been in line
with the Non-Aligned Movement’s international goals and has increased
Iran's willingness to take advantage of the potentials of this movement
through the entire post-revolution era.
Since its inception and from the beginning of its activities, NAM has
been actively present in international issues on the basis of the idea of
supporting the rights of third and impartial states in the international
arena. Iran became a member of the Non-Aligned Movement right after
victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, in line with the country’s
policy to use impartial multilateral organizations and mechanisms at
international level in order to promote its inalienable rights and draw
support for them. After victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the
impartial idea which governed the Non-Aligned Movement enjoyed a high
degree of conformity to “Neither East, Nor West” position of Tehran as
well as the “negative balance” doctrine which governed the Islamic
Republic’s foreign policy. Existence of such common grounds attracted the
attention of Iran's diplomatic apparatus to this international
Iran officially acceded to the movement during its sixth summit meeting in
the Cuban capital city, Havana, in 1979. Since that year, Iran has been an
active party to the activities of this world body and a main participant
in most meetings of this multilateral international mechanism.
The most important goal pursued by Iran through about 33 years of
membership in the Non-Aligned Movement has been to use this international
institution in order to change international equations and support the
independence and justice seeking ideas which ruled Iran's foreign policy
approaches. With regard to such important issues as the Iraqi imposed war,
Iran's peaceful nuclear technology, as well as Tehran’s effort to do its
part in the management of global and regional problems over the past 33
years, the Islamic Republic has only expected the Non-Aligned Movement to
support its independence seeking and respect its well-wishing realities
and just seeking intentions.
The support accorded to Tehran by NAM member states, either separately or in groups in the Board of Governors of International Atomic Energy Agency over the past
years, attests to NAM’s backing for Iran's inalienable rights.
Iran hosted the 15th foreign ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned
Movement in Tehran on July 27-30, 2008, and hosting the movement’s summit
meeting in 2012 is the most important practical reality which is in line
with Iran's strategic approach to international trends and realities.
Therefore, NAM’s 16th summit meeting in Tehran seen concurrently with the ongoing regional and international development as a result of the Arab Spring is another step toward realization of the
classic strategy of “impartiality” which has persistently governed Iran's
foreign policy goals.
Iran's effort to turn the movement into a systematic, institutional-based,
plan-based, and active organization, and to revive it at international
level is aimed at redefining the movement’s identity and increasing
effectiveness of the activities of this international body. Tehran also
aims to take advantage of its soft power capacities in order to increase
its diplomatic credit at regional and international levels.
Following the Cold War period, this international body has played a
passive role in international equations. There are hopes that Iran's
presidency of the movement for the next three years and alignment of
Iran's foreign policy objectives with NAM’s goals through Tehran’s
multilateral meeting (August 26-31, 2012) will give a new impetus to the
movement which would help it meet the national interests of member states
on the basis of a strategy of impartiality.
By taking advantage of the movement’s capacities in the next three years,
Iran will be able to take important steps toward détente with major
regional and international powers, formulate indigenized and regional
solutions for its members, increase Tehran’s diplomatic might and reduce
the impact of international sanctions against Iran by taking advantage of
south-south cooperation potentials and the “look to the east” attitude of
Iran's foreign policy.
Undoubtedly, convergence between Iran's approach and various approaches
taken by countries like India, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa,
and Cuba, which have traditionally played an important part in NAM’s
developments, will greatly help Iran to achieve its strategic goals
through participation in this important international institution.
The article first appeared in the Iran Review.