The Coronavirus pandemic poses an unprecedented challenge not just for the healthcare system worldwide but also for the national and global governance institutions. Diplomacy and global summitry too suddenly find themselves in unchartered territories. The decision to organize the online Non Aligned Movement (NAM) Contact Group Summit at the initiative of President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev is, therefore, a step in the right direction. Over 30 Heads of States and Governments and others attended the video conference. While addressing the summit Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined the need for “a new template of globalization based on fairness, equality and humanity”. He also drew the attention of global leaders towards the imperative need to ensure that international institutions reflect the new global reality. He further said that NAM continues to be a strong moral force and hence it must become an instrument of global solidarity. It is this spirit that explains why India has sent medical supplies to over 120 countries, a large number of them are NAM members.
India has excellent international credentials in the area of pharmaceuticals and as a global health provider. Prime Minister Modi described India as a “pharmacy of the world.” Some of the critical medicines are being provided by the Indian companies to major parts of the world including Africa. India’s generic drug industry has made a name for itself and its sizeable footprint can be seen in global markets. African and Latin American countries have benefited from India’s presence in the region. Today, medicines, vaccines and other drugs have become more affordable for a large proportion of lower middle class in both regions. It has also helped governments to reduce the cost of public healthcare.
The other highlight of the summit included a declaration ‘Uniting against Covid-19’ which stressed the criticality of international solidarity at this juncture while the world is wrestling with the pandemic. Action-oriented follow-up measures too were agreed upon as also the creation of a task force to identify the needs and requirements of NAM countries.
It is quite apparent that the template for the NAM Contact Group Summit was provided by Prime Minister Modi’s initiative to hold a video conference among SAARC leaders in March. In fact, even the extraordinary session of G20 too was inspired by India’s SAARC initiative. In fact, the Indian Prime Minister had called up Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman only two days after the SAARC video conference suggesting a similar virtual summit.
Diplomacy faces a new challenge in the time of the global pandemic. As things stand, this year may see most Summits being held virtually including BRICS Summit, NPT 50th anniversary summit, 2020 UN Climate Change Conference and the annual gathering of UN General Assembly in September. Virtual Summitry may become the new norm. The scourge of Coronavirus has forced a change in how diplomacy is conducted in times of such calamities. India has proved that being a leader in the software industry, it can deal with this challenge. Virtual visits and virtual Summitry may remain for a while. After all, by the time the pandemic ends, our world may change beyond recognition.
Institutions must evolve with time. If they don’t, they become living fossils and, footnotes in history. NAM too needs to evolve. It needs to be streamlined enabling it to respond adequately to global developments. Both NAM’s forms of action and effectiveness of its instrumentalities must reflect the new global realities. The movement must adapt, reform and modernize itself in order to take advantage of the new opportunities and face new challenges. Diplomacy and high-level Summits are not all about perfect solutions but outcomes that cost far less than war and leave everyone better off than they would otherwise have been.
Sometimes history advances, sometimes it retreats. The same is true of NAM. As American poet and humanist Walt Whiteman said “I am large. I contain multitudes.” The same is the case with NAM whose core tenets are still very sound and relevant.
Script: Dr. Ash Narain Roy, Director, Institute of Social Sciences.