Non-Aligned Movement Offers us Hopes for a Multipolar World

By Nnanda Kizito Sseruwagi.

The world’s bipolar power structure which had determined the security policies of the two global powers, the USA and USSR, collapsed with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. This left America as the sole power with global dominance. I think that the inherent structure of unipolarity and the U.S.’s strategic position as the unipolar moral whip of Western neo-liberal democratic principles threatens any prospects for world peace and makes conflict likely. However, I also observe that the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is steadily pushing against the U.S.’s unipolarity, and promises to collapse it without dissenting into war as is normally feared by hegemonic stability theorists.

Unipolarity is where a single state exerts military and economic power, and social and cultural influence over other states and eradicates competition on the landscape of international relations. The prevailing global geopolitical dispensation rests on the United States’ institutional and ideological dominance, with an international order expediently designed after the Second World War to sustain America’s primacy in great power politics. But that privilege is about to change with the collaboration of NAM’s 120 member states with China and Russia.

Whereas the American hegemonic order seems secure against would-be hegemonic challengers like China and Russia, NAM seems to perennially and steadily resist and challenge the liberal basis of U.S. hegemony, which is presented as a transparent, democratic political system. Supported by but not absorbed by China and Russia, members of NAM are making it harder for America to enjoy its cherished post-war world order.

I am inclined to agree with one of the world’s leading experts in the field of security studies, Prof. Barry Possen, who argues that unipolarity is in decline and that the world is shifting towards multipolarity. Multipolarity is where power is distributed among several states with similar amounts of power/influence. A great political scientist and international relations scholar of global repute, John Mearsheimer, shares a more controversial view, arguing that America’s liberal international order was flawed from its inception and thus destined to collapse.

America designed a world order where world states had to yield their decision-making authority to American-controlled international institutions. However, since the majority of states organized under NAM now greatly care about their sovereignty, autonomy and national identity, they have rebelled against and outgrown the US’s policing. America’s self-righteous hubris as the world’s policeman, and the hypocrisy with which it preaches and enforces Western liberal-democratic values ostracized it from the global south, hence indirectly propping up its nemesis, China. However, China has not yet marshalled sufficient power to contend with America to the point of toppling it from unipolarity to bipolarity. And for China’s strategic stability as an influential world power, it might never push the U.S. to that tipping point.

As the largest grouping of states worldwide after the American-dominated United Nations, and with its hallowed principles of mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in domestic affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence, and with China closely tied to supporting these principles, the Non-Aligned Moved seems to pose a serious challenge to the Hegemonic Stability Theory (HST). Therefore, it is no longer persuasive for proponents of the US’s unipolarity to claim that the international system will be destabilized to a clashing point of war (Thucydides trap) if America ceases to enjoy the place of a single hegemon.

Proponents of the HST usually rely on the Pax Britannica (the period of relative peace between great powers when the British Empire enjoyed global hegemonic dominance) and Pax Americana (where relative peace was experienced in the world after the end of World War II when the United States became the world’s dominant economic, cultural, and military power) as evidence for the stability of hegemony. However, they forget that the central mechanism in hegemonic stability theory which revolves around the provision of public goods by a powerful actor has been disproved by China, which has extended public goods to the majority of global southern countries without exercising hegemony, and most importantly, while supporting the principles of non-alignment.



Members of NAM are most likely to further dilute the U.S.’s influence as a sole global power by endorsing, supporting and even joining multipolar institutions and initiatives like BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and other countries), and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)- a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in more than 150 countries and international organizations. The highlight and promise of BRICS is its attempt to redesign the global financial architecture and liberate it from the tyranny of America’s Bretton Woods institutions. It is unimaginable for the U.S. to retain its unipolarity if its financial web is torn apart with the support of NAM for BRICS and other like institutions.

For all the criticisms that might be levelled against the NAM, it has stood the test of time. Its member states are loosely and flexibly bound together by enduring principles that seem simple but whose strength lies in their simplicity. By declining to take positions with any power bloc, NAM members might be the biggest architects of global peace since the Second World War. They have pursued and promoted amicable coexistence on the international stage, exposing Western moral hubris in the ongoing genocide against Palestinians by Israel, and many other conflicts. This stance has challenged the unipolar posture of America in the world and demonstrated a desire and possibility for a more multipolar international system.

The writer is a lawyer and Research Fellow at the Development Watch Centre.





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