By Uditha Devapriya/Ceylon Today
Colombo, April 1: The May 22, 1979 edition of the New York Times carried a quote by President of Sri Lanka in an article on India. “The only really nonaligned countries in the world,” President J.R.Jayewardene said, “are the United States and the Soviet Union.”
Jayewardene had come to power in 1977 ending seven years of rule by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). He had pledged that his administration would follow a more “genuine nonaligned” course, by which he meant being “less hostile to the United States.”
Four months after the interview he left for Havana, where he handed over the Chairmanship of the Movement to Fidel Castro. The Havana Summit marked a quarter century since the Afro-Asian Conference of 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia. Bandung brought together 29 countries. The objective was cooperation and solidarity. It was praised in some quarters and dismissed in others. Henry Kissinger saw it as a meeting of uncommitted nations. John Foster Dulles called it “immoral.” On the other side, the Soviet Union followed a policy of welcoming the group without explicitly influencing it. What follows in this piece is a perusal of the genesis of the conference.
In 1946, the Deputy Chief of the US Mission in Moscow, George Kennan outlined a policy of containment vis-à-vis the USSR. Titled the “Long Telegram”, his communiqué formed the basis of the Truman Doctrine, which sought to counter Soviet expansionism. US policy thus shifted from an anti-fascist alliance with Moscow to one of providing aid to countries falling under the threat of Soviet domination.
In response, on August 29, 1949 the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test, contradicting claims by US officials, including the President himself, that the Russians did not have the capability of developing nuclear weapons. Two months later, Communists under Mao Zedong had overrun the pro-US Kuomintang and pushed it to Taiwan.
With the end of the War came the end of European dominance. De-colonization stripped the British Empire of its most prized possessions: India, Ceylon, and Myanmar. These would be followed by de-colonization in Africa, beginning with Ghana in 1957. The shift from European dominance to American dominance was symbolized by the formation of the Atlantic Alliance. Twice the US would prevail over European colonial interests: against the Dutch in Indonesia in 1948 and against the British and the French at the Suez Canal in 1956.
The period from 1917 to 1927 proved to be pivotal to the rise of Pan-African, Pan- Arab, and Pan-Asian nationalism. If the League of Nations did not exactly include this upsurge in anti-imperialist nationalism in their vision of a new world order, other initiatives did. Top among these was the Conference Against Imperialism, organized in 1927 in Brussels by two Communist intellectuals, William Münzenberg and Virendranath Chattopadhyaya. Surveying the Conference, Jawaharlal Nehru, who had been sent as the Indian National Congress’ delegate, would make the acquaintance of Kusno Sosrodihardjo, or Sukarno. At the time, Sukarno had turned 27, and Nehru wasn’t quite 38.
How these movements and initiatives shaped the trajectory of the Non-Aligned Movement should be viewed in the context of the Cold War. Three events stood out: the founding of the Information Bureau of the Communist and Workers’ Parties or Cominform in 1947, which signaled the end of relations between the US and the USSR; the split between the USSR and Yugoslavia in 1948; and China’s conversion to Communism in 1949. These had a bearing on Bandung, yet they needed as a catalyst another event: the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. Things moved quickly thereafter, culminating in 1954 with the visit to India of two figures: Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito and China’s Zhou Enlai. Less than a year later, Stalin’s designated successor Nikita Khrushchev followed suit.
Each visit had a particular objective in view. Tito’s rendezvous with Nehru came in the wake of Indian concerns over Pakistan joining the US-allied South-East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) and its ratification of a Pact of Mutual Cooperation with Turkey, the precursor to the (also US-allied) Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). Although Tito was encouraged by Krushchev’s overtures to Yugoslavia, he nevertheless desired an opening with Africa and Asia since he did not want to depend on either Moscow, which had alienated him, or the US, which was supporting him, but with an ambiguity bordering on reluctance.
After a series of meetings, the two leaders came up with what could be considered as a joint communiqué for nonalignment, based on what it called “the concept of non-engagement borne out of traditional Asian neutralism.” Tito suggested the line “positive and constructive policy of non-alignment” be used when describing the new policy, to which Nehru cautiously assented. The joint statement, or declaration, was signed on December 22, “articulating the aspirations of the new non-engaged countries.”
China’s concerns were more direct: there was the border issue, and the problem of Tibet, to which China laid claim. While India persistently argued for China’s admission at the UN, a proposal opposed by the US and Britain, it nevertheless desired trading rights in Tibet and a settlement of Sino-Indian border disputes. Zhou Enlai visited Delhi with the aim of resolving the issue within the framework of a five-point agreement: Panchasheela, or five principles of peaceful coexistence. (Sukarno had previously used the term in relation to the goals of the Constitution of Indonesia).
These principles were: mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; mutual non-aggression; mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; equality and mutual benefit; and peaceful co-existence.
Khruschev’s visit signaled the beginning of a new era for Soviet relations with what were called the uncommitted nations of the East. Under Stalin, the USSR had viewed the Afro-Asian colonies through a largely ideological lens. Soviet policy towards the colonies was ambiguous at best and evasive at worst. Lenin’s altercation with M. N. Roy, founder of the Indian Communist Party, at the Communist International indicated that the USSR preferred nurturing Communism on home soil before exporting it. Under Stalin’s policy of “socialism in one country”, the Soviets came to dismiss “the Eastern Question.”
All that changed with Khrushchev’s tryst with Nehru. Stalin’s successor had been particularly impressed with Nehru’s position during the Korean War. As opposed to Ceylon, which under the D. S. Senanayake administration went as far as to offer naval facilities to a US flotilla, India refrained from intervening, even though, unlike Ceylon, it was a member of the UN and the Korean War was a UN affair. Washington’s Pakistan tilt, SEATO, and CENTO also had a say in Khrushchev’s decision to break the ice with Nehru.
The Afro-Asian Conference, more popularly known as the Bandung Conference, took place over a period of seven days in April 1955. Nehru and Sukarno had encountered each other for the first time in 1927 at the Brussels Conference Against Imperialism, and here, 28 years later, they presided over the first historic meeting of African and Asian countries.
At a time when foreign policy between the US and the USSR was being dictated by considerations of realpolitik, Sukarno highlighted “the subordination of everything to the well-being of mankind” in his address. Nehru was as idealistic: “So far as I am concerned, it does not matter what war takes place: we will not take part in it unless we have to defend ourselves.”
Zhou Enlai in his address highlighted seven points, based on the five point framework he and Nehru had negotiated a year earlier. These were later included in the Conference’s Ten Point Declaration, a mishmash of Sino-Indian Panchaseela and the United Nations Charter. The incorporation of the UN Charter was in its own way a confirmation of the trust that the nonaligned nations had placed in the United Nations as a guarantor of their needs, interests, and aspirations, a point Sirimavo Bandaranaike would raise in 1976.
What was remarkable about Bandung wasn’t so much the solidarity of the participants as the differences of opinion between them. Sir John Kotelawala’s intransigence earned him the sobriquet “Bandung Booruwa” back home, but less well known is the intransigence of the Filipino representative, Carlos Romulo. Conflating imperialism with Communism, Romulo noted, “The empires of yesterday on which it used to be said the sun never set are departing one by one from Asia. What we fear now is the new empire of communism on which we know the sun never rises.” Such statements were seized upon eagerly by the US press as evidence of growing anti-Soviet and anti-Chinese sentiment at the conference.
The US and the Soviet responses to the conference naturally differed from each other. Neither side pledged any commitment per se to the organizers. Washington viewed the conference as a tilt towards Communism in Asia and Africa. US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles envisaged a “reverse Bandung Conference” at which a US-allied Afro-Asia would dominate. He called nonalignment “immoral”, contending that “the scene of the battle between the free world and the Communist world was shifting.” He was infuriated by Nehru; having visited India in 1953, he found the latter “utterly impractical.”
The Soviets, on the other hand, welcomed it and saw in it a basis on which they could steer a new foreign policy. In 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalinism at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party. With it he effectively disbanded Stalin’s two-camp theory, which divided the world into two perpetually warring halves.With Bandung the possibility had come for a midway dialogue towards compromise.
Thus the Congress adopted officially the notion of a “Zone of Peace”, in which it included the nonaligned countries. However, while this was much more positive than the patronizing views of American officials, the Communists also used the term “uncommitted states” in relation to the conference. Such stereotypes were refuted by Nehru and Kotelawala’s successor, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, as they continue to be by the wielders of the initiative that Bandung evolved into, the Non-Aligned Movement.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]