Active Non-Alignment- Why is it Taking Root?

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The West has attempted to portray the Ukraine issue as a war between good and evil. However, the Global South has refused to buy into this narrative and is instead evolving a new form of non-alignment to navigate the turbulent international politics among the big powers.

This topic of “Active Non-Alignment- Why is it Taking Root?” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

What is Active Non-Alignment?

  • Active Non-Alignment (ANA) is a fresh strategy gaining currency in international politics, especially among the Latin American countries. It is also being adopted by other countries of Africa and Asia.
  • Under this strategy, the countries refuse to take sides in conflicts between the big powers and restrict their focus to their own interests, like in the case of Non-Alignment Movement (NAM).
  • It isn’t the same as the legal position of neutrality under international law which entails certain duties and obligations. ANA is not the same as being neutral which calls for not taking a stance at all.
  • However, unlike in case of the NAM, the ANA calls for its adherents’ active participation in global activities, in a non-partisan manner.
  • ANA also doesn’t mean remaining politically equidistant from all the great powers. For example, ANA countries may take a position closer to the US, with regards to certain issue like democracy and human rights. On other issues, like international trade, countries may side with China.
  • Hence, it is a form of non-alignment needing a highly fine-tuned diplomacy and one that examines each issue on its merits and demerits, before making choices based on statecraft. It is being characterized as a means “to survive a superpower split”.

How is it being pursued?

  • Brazilian President, Lula da Silva, has expended significant efforts to bring peace in Eastern Europe.
    • He has held conversations with the heads of state of USA, China and Ukraine.
    • The country is pursuing what is considered as ‘shuttle diplomacy’. It hasn’t sided with Russia, neither has it sided with NATO.
  • India is a key example too:
    • It is deepening ties with the US and taking active part in the QUAD grouping.
    • Yet, it has significantly increased its import of Russian oil.
    • It has also refused to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • Other countries have also refused to side with NATO- such as Indonesia, South Africa, Pakistan, Mexico and Argentina. Almost none of the countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America have conveyed support for the West’s diplomatic and economic sanctions against Russia.
  • Also note, many countries voted to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the UNGA. However, none wants to convert what they consider as a European War into a global war.

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Why is it significant?

  • The adoption of ANA is different from that of NAM decades back, in that the new version is taking root when the developing nations are enjoying a much stronger position than in the past.
    • For instance, the GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) of the BRICS nations has overtaken that of the G7 nations.
  • This increasing economic power has given these countries greater international clout and consequently, the ability to forge new diplomatic coalition and initiatives that would have been unthinkable in the past.
    • Example: In the past, Brazil wouldn’t have been able to mediate in the Vietnam War, in the same way as it is doing now, with Ukraine-Russia War.
  • This new strategy is being fuelled by the increasing competition between the USA and China. In the current scenario, countries of the Global South seek to maintain good ties with both- Washington and Beijing, in pursuit of trade and investment, and consequently, economic development.
  • It is also a reflection of the Global South’s disenchantment with the ‘Liberal International Order’ that came into existence post-WW II.
    • This framework is criticized as being unresponsive to the developing countries’ needs with respect to issues like:
      • International indebtedness
      • Food insecurity
      • Migration
    • Many developing nations see the calls to uphold ‘rules-based order’ as merely an effort to serve the foreign policy interests of the big powers, as opposed to the global public good.

What is the way ahead?

  • The US seems to be caught by surprise by the reaction of the Global South countries to the West’s portrayal of the Ukraine War as a choice between good and evil and as an event determining the future of ‘rules-based international order’. Note that the then-US Secretary of State Dulles called NAM as ‘immoral’, during the Cold war.
  • On the other hand, Russia is using the ANA to leverage its own position. China has been portraying the US’ weaponization of the dollar against Russia as an indication of the dangers of relying on the USD as the main world currency. At the same time, it has been intensifying its campaign to enhance the international role of Yuan.
  • India, as a founding member of the Non-Alignment Movement, is expected to join this new movement.  It could even emerge at the forefront of this new strategy.
  • Meanwhile, India, like the other Global South countries continues to face pressure from the big powers. For instance, India’s non-alignment in the Ukraine issue is expected to feature in the upcoming India-US interaction in Washington.
  • This is understandable given India’s position as the world’s largest democracy i.e. India’s position shows that the Russia-Ukraine War is far from reflecting the US narrative that the main geopolitical cleavage is between democracy and autocracy. Meaning, the ongoing trends show that the real divide is between the Global North and the Global South.
  • It can be argued that ANA also depends on regional multilateralism and cooperation, in addition to high profile meetings. There is a need to ‘think local, act global’.
  • This becomes vital given the economic crisis faced by the Global South.
    • For instance, Latin America faced its worst economic downturn in 120 years, in 2020. It also faced the highest COVID-19-related death rate in the world (30% of fatalities across the world, though Latin America houses a mere 8% of the world population).
    • This makes involvement in a great power battle unappealing for these countries.
    • Hence, a South American diplomatic summit in Brasília, the 1st in a decade, becomes understandable.   


Given the Global South’s disenchantment with the West’s way of achieving a ‘rules-based order’, it is understandable that not many developing nations are eager to take sides in the Russia-Ukraine issue. The ANA is the developing world’s response to the ongoing international turbulence among the big powers. However, for this strategy to yield results, there is a need to ‘think local and act global’.

Practice Question for Mains:

What is Active Non-Alignment? Why is this strategy taking root in the Global South? (250 words)

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