Ciorciari assesses Non-Alignment Movement inaction on Ukraine crisis

April 22, 2022

Countries around the world have responded in many ways to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. John Ciorciari, associate professor of public policy and director of the Ford School's International Policy Center and Weiser Diplomacy Center, recently penned an article titled, "As Ukraine war deepens great-power divisions, a revitalized non-aligned movement could emerge." In it, he criticizes the Non-Alignment Movement for its response to the war in Ukraine. 

"Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought strong Western condemnation and sanctions, but many nations around the world have chosen not to join this united front," Ciorciari writes. "As a scholar of international politics, I believe responses to recent Russian aggression shed light on how governments throughout what is known as the Global South are apt to behave if a new Cold War takes shape. Unless governments are threatened directly, many appear content to espouse nonalignment – a policy of avoiding strong support for the West or for its principal rivals in Moscow and Beijing."

Nonalignment, which emerged as a response to the Cold War, was a way for countries to resist colonialism and imperialism while promoting sovereignty, territorial integrity, nonaggression, and noninterference. In 1961, the Non-Alignment Movement was created.

"Yet the movement faced a dilemma from the start. When a powerful state violates core principles like sovereignty and territorial integrity, should members of the Non-Aligned Movement take sides to oppose it?" Ciorciari asks. "The movement’s diverse members occasionally took strong unified stands. For example, they joined in opposing colonial rule in Rhodesia and apartheid in Namibia and South Africa. When superpower interests were more directly in play, however, nonaligned states failed to agree on when to take sides."

While the movement's relevance faded after the Cold War, it faces a new dilemma in the war in Ukraine. 

"At this stage, most members of the Non-Aligned Movement have condemned Russian attacks. Yet only one, Singapore, has imposed sanctions. Others are passing the buck, making the war in Ukraine a burden for the United States and its core allies to bear," Ciorciari points out. "In doing so, they are making it easier for the Kremlin to sustain a brutal military campaign. They are sending the message that aggression and territorial seizure by major powers will be tolerated. I believe this represents a major missed opportunity to defend the anti-imperial norms at the core of the Non-Aligned Movement. The movement’s members have profound interests in reasserting those norms on behalf of Ukraine, as they are among the most vulnerable to being next."

Read the entirety of the article, "As Ukraine war deepens great-power divisions, a revitalized non-aligned movement could emerge," published in The Conversation.