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Sri Lanka promotes Non-Alignment
Gaveshaka looks at the progress of the Non-Aligned Movement

Forty eight years ago, on September 1, 1961, heads of state or government of 25 nations met in Belgrade, capital of Yugoslavia at the first Summit of Non-Aligned Nations. Sri Lanka was a founder of the Non-Aligned Movement which consisted mainly of developing countries that preferred to stay away from any power blocks. These nations were not aligned to any superpower – either USA (America) or USSR (Russia).

Mrs. Bandaranaike speaks at a Summit.

Sri Lanka's newly elected Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike attended the inaugural Summit, stepping on to the world stage as the world's first woman Prime Minister. She attended the second Summit held in Cairo in 1964 and in 1976 hosted the fifth Summit in Colombo. Thereafter Sri Lanka occupied the chair for three years.

The origin of the movement dates back to 1954, when the Prime Minister of India, Shri Jawaharlal Nehru had coined the term "non-alignment" during his speech at the Asian Prime Ministers Conference in Colombo. In this speech, Nehru described the five pillars to be used as a guide for Sino-Indian relations. Called 'Panchaseela' (five restraints), these principles would later serve as the basis of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The five principles were:

  • Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty
  • Mutual non-aggression
  • Mutual non-interference in domestic affairs
  • Equality and mutual benefit
  • Peaceful co-existence

As a follow-up to the Asian Prime Ministers' Conference, in 1955, a meeting was held in Bandung in Indonesia, which was a significant milestone in the development of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The Bandung Conference, a conference of Asian and African states was hosted by Indonesian president Sukarno. The attending nations declared their desire not to become involved in the Cold War and adopted a "declaration on promotion of world peace and cooperation", which included Shri Nehru's five principles. These two meetings emphasize the importance of regional solidarity.

Six years after Bandung, an initiative of Yugoslav president Josef Broz Tito led to the first official
Non-Aligned Movement Summit. At the Lusaka Conference in September 1970, the member nations added as aims of the movement the peaceful resolution of disputes and the abstention from the big power military alliances and pacts. Another added aim was opposition to stationing of military bases in foreign countries.

The founding leaders of the Non-Aligned states. From left: Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Sukarno of Indonesia and Josef Broz Tito of Yugoslavia.

The founding fathers of the Non-Aligned Movement were: Jawaharlal Nehru of India, President Sukarno of Indonesia, President Tito of Yugoslavia, President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt and President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. Their actions were known as 'The Initiative of Five'.

At the time the first Non-Aligned Summit was held, the biggest concern was that an accelerating arms race might result in war between the Soviet Union and the USA. Since its inception the Non-Aligned Movement attempted to create an independent path in world politics that would not result in Member States becoming pawns in the struggles between the major powers. This resulted in a large part of its history being influenced by the global tension of the Cold War between the two super powers.

While the Cold War was a critical issue at the time, the Movement was concerned about other issues as well. These were the right of independent judgment, the struggle against imperialism and neo-colonialism, and the use of moderation in relations with all big powers.

In the present day context the Movement not only remains focussed on the above areas but also works towards the restructuring of the international economic order.

Fifteen Summits have so far been held, in Belgrade (1961), Cairo (1964), Lusaka (1970), Algiers (1973), Colombo (1976), Havana (1979), New Delhi (1983), Harare (1986), Belgrade (1989), Jakarta (1992), Cartegena de Indias – Spain (1995), Durban (1998), Kuala Lumpur (2003), Havana (2006) and Sham El Sheikh – Egypt (2009). President Mahinda Rajapaksa attended the 15th Summit held last July.

In between the meetings of head of state, the movement functions through its co-ordinating bureau, ministerial meetings, and a number of working groups, task forces and committees.

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