National Newswatch
National Opinion Centre

They are called “non-aligned countries,” and their number is growing.  Primarily, their presence is found in the developing world and they are skittish at the thought of joining global alliances that could ultimately place them at an economic disadvantage.

The Cold War is not so distant that we forget it as a time when poorer or less connected nations were frequently forced into joining the West or the East in a global struggle for dominance.  On the surface, it appeared as a struggle of democracy against Communism, but beneath it all was the fight for access to natural resources, strategic geographic advantage, or physical security.   Less-powerful nations swore their allegiance to one side or the other in order to gain benefit, either economically or as a means of propping up puppet dictators.

That old order is fragmenting more every day and a significant number of countries are gingerly trying to chart their own path while being careful not to offend the Big Three – America, Russia, and China – that continue to hold massive amounts of influence and power.

It isn’t always easy.  When President Joe Biden released his National Security Strategy recently, he vowed to “work in lockstep with our allies and partners and with all those who share our interests.”  He pushed for this alliance to offset China’s increasing dominance in global affairs.  A decade ago, American interests were a given and such pronouncements were routine.

That term “lockstep” now conjures up negative connotations for a great many nations who would like to find their own way in the modern world.  They’re not big on choosing sides in an economic climate that appears to lurch one way, then the other.  They prefer to remain on the sidelines and hope to play the bigger powers against one another to benefit their economies.  Why not work with both America and China, if they can gain an advantage from both, they reason.

The Middle Eastern region, large swaths of Africa, and the vast interests of Asia are increasingly leaning toward this approach.  The dominant geopolitical structure of the post-World War Two era continues to carry great weight among historical allies.  But even that is now under threat.  Russia has lost many of its satellite nations, while China has acquired more partnerships.  For the United States, it’s a lot more complicated.  Right-wing movements are gaining influence in Austria, Sweden, France, Germany, and Spain.  Should that situation continue, these nations that were once solid members of the old Western alliance will prefer to place themselves in the “non-aligned” column.

China watches all this with keen interest and is seeking to alter the historical equation of democratic alliances.  “China is putting its pieces all over the board,” one Western diplomatic official noted recently to the Economist.  The country has proved somewhat effective at building economic alliances instead of ideological ones, and this approach suits the interests of dozens of nations.

It helps us to remember that the Non-Alignment Movement” (NAM) has been a global presence since 1961 when, fearing the infringement of the Cold War, developing countries came together to say they wanted no part of it.  In its early years, the NAM played an important role in mentoring newly independent nations to fight for their autonomy as they sought to cast off the shadow of colonialism.  They distrusted the polarized world so endemic of that era and sought to bring about better relations with other nations like themselves.  Rather than shrink, membership has increased to 120 nations, making the Non-Alignment Movement the second largest grouping of nations worldwide, just behind the United Nations in membership.

In speaking with a Canadian diplomat recently, I learned that non-alignment is well understood and even accommodated in global circles – economically, politically, and increasingly militarily.   He quickly asserted that this growing movement could benefit Canada greatly but shouldn’t be overestimated.  As one of the world’s better-known “soft powers,” the Canadian experiment in keeping its hegemony intact while other countries fracture or splinter is well-respected.  In other words, we do a good job of maintaining our friendships and such relationships could advance our future.

Naturally, Canada will continue in its loyalty to the great Western alliance, but it won’t do so to the exclusion of other nations now making their presence known on the world stage.  The future of alliances among nations is a fluid movement that increasingly defies descriptions and, at times, understanding.  But it is a world where Canada will require all its diplomatic skills to forge its unique path; opening doors to new relationships while maintaining historical ones will prove crucial.  Isaac Newton noted that tact was the art of making a point without making an enemy.  If Canada can keep its own house in order, it should flourish in such a context.

 

Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on National Newswatch are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
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