Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
Picking Sides in the Cold War
A lot of times, we're told to pick sides. Do you like one brand of smartphone or the other? One social media site or its rival? Soda brand A or soda brand B? (By the way - soda brand A is way better.) Anyway, for all of the sides we're supposed to take in today's world, that's nothing compared to the choices of the Cold War, a nearly 40-year long ideological conflict in the mid-late 20th century.
The Cold War was defined by the competition between capitalism and communism to become the dominant global doctrine. Every nation was asked to pick (and fiercely defend) a side. However, not everyone thought this was a good idea. Some nations came to the shared belief that division and competition like this was bad for the world and bad for their societies. So, instead, the Non-Aligned Movement (or NAM) was born. The Non-Aligned Movement was a movement where countries would not ally with either the Western or Eastern Blocs. (We'll get into what the Western and Eastern blocs are in a minute.)
At the end of World War II, the great empires of the world had been largely destroyed. Even those that survived lost most of their power, and only two nations remained in a position to take on positions as world leaders: the United States and the Soviet Union. The post-war world was divided into various spheres of influence as a way to start rebuilding after the damage of the war, with the USA and Western Europe rebuilding some areas and the USSR rebuilding others. This is why we have divisions like West Germany and East Germany, North Korea and South Korea. These divisions quickly became defined by ideology, with the USA representing capitalism and the USSR representing communism. People quickly assumed that these two systems could not coexist; one had to defeat the other.
That's the origin of the Cold War in a nutshell, and within this struggle for power, those nations being rebuilt by foreign powers were categorized as blocs. The Western Bloc was under the guidance of the capitalist USA and Western Europe, whereas the Eastern Bloc was under the influence of the communist USSR. This idea was especially applied to the so-called developing nations, which were generally former colonies that were brand-new nations developing industrial economies.
Forming the Non-Aligned Movement
As you may imagine, this was a tough world for new nations to enter. They found themselves immediately forced into either the Eastern or Western Blocs, heavily controlled by more economically powerful foreign nations. Rather than exist as the pawns for the international competition between global superpowers, many of these nations started coming together for mutual strength.
They first came together at the Asia-African Conference, which was also called the Bandung Conference, held in Bandung, Indonesia. The 29 nations to participate, most of them former colonies, started discussing the idea that they had the right to remain neutral in this Cold War.
From the Banding Conference, leaders of these nations formally began organizing the Non-Aligned Movement. While many people put substantial effort into this, the main leaders were Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Sukarno of Indonesia, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia. These five countries made up the primary founding countries of the Non-Aligned Movement.
In 1961, these leaders and others formally defined the goals of the Non-Aligned Movement as unifying nations under the right to remain politically neutral and to govern themselves without foreign intervention. The first Non-Aligned Movement Summit Conference was held in Cairo of that year. Nations invited to attend had to meet several criteria, including a devotion to neutrality and a willingness to interact with other neutral nations regardless of their ideology. The nations must also not be part of any military alliance with what they called the 'Great Powers,' basically meaning the USA, USSR, or any European empire. The summit defined the Non-Aligned Movement, and their first formal conference was held later that same year in Serbia, largely organized by the Yugoslavian President Tito.
Impact of the Non-Aligned Movement
Throughout the Cold War, the Non-Alignment Movement hosted several conferences and summits, developing a sense of unity among neutral nations. In their belief that a world of competition between superpowers was damaging to all, they started pushing a new idea: global cooperation instead of global competition. This defined the movement through the Cold War, and member states developed economic and political networks based on mutual benefit.
But then, the Cold War ended. The USSR was formally dissolved in 1991, but the Non-Aligned Movement survived, and in the 1992 conference set its post-Cold War goals. As of 2015, 120 nations claim membership in the Non-Aligned Movement. They work towards goals of international cooperation, speak against global economic inequalities, and advocate strongly for the rights of all nations to determine their own fates. Sometimes it pays not to pick sides.
The mid-late 20th century was defined by the global ideological competition between capitalism and communism, championed by the United States and Soviet Union respectively. We call this time period the Cold War. Many new nations, as well as those developing industrial economies, were informally occupied by stronger nations under the justification of rebuilding or protection but really to strengthen either capitalism or communism in that part of the world.
Some nations, however, started arguing for their rights to self-determination and neutrality. These ideas were first articulated in the 1955 Bandung Conference, and formally incorporated as the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. While 25 nations were invited to the first conference, the founding states were really India, Indonesia, Egypt, Ghana, and Yugoslavia. Throughout the Cold War, the Non-Alignment Movement pushed for international cooperation over competition and fought for the rights of economically-weaker nations to determine their own fates. Eventually, this movement, based around not picking sides, became almost a side of its own, with roughly 120 members today.
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