Non-Aligned Movement in the Cold War: Definition & Nations

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Cold War was a time of competition, but not all nations wanted to choose sides. In this lesson, we'll talk about the Non-Aligned Movement and see what it meant to world history.

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.)

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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.

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