By a pleasant turn of events, some important voices in the Non-aligned Movement, which is in session in Egypt currently, are talking of a ‘new world order’. It has been quite some time since this concept was voiced with any special emphasis in any fora of the developing countries since the early seventies and the developing world could be said to be striking the right note at present by boldly broaching it once again at a NAM Heads of State Summit.
The world was in the throes of a crippling economic crisis, triggered by an OPEC-orchestrated wide-ranging oil price hike, when NAM first took up the demand for a New International Economic Order (NIEO) in the early seventies. Coupled with this historic demand was the Third World call for a New International Information Order (NIIO), a demand which is yet to outlive its usefulness. Nevertheless, these twin epochal campaigns were allowed to drift into the Limbo of forgotten things by the developing countries themselves when most of them fell for the chimerical lure of free market economics, under the tutelage of mainly the global financial institutions, the IMF-World Bank combine, in the latter half of the seventies and the decades which followed.
The essential conceptual underpinning of the NIEO was that equity should be the regulating principle of the global economic order. Basically, global economic relations were seen as working against the vital interests of the Third World and this state of things was sought to be rectified through a restructuring of the system in the direction of greater equity. UNCTAD, under Dr, Gamani Corea, at the time, played a significant role in taking up the Third World cause in the area of better commodity prices, for instance. Considerable Third World efforts were also marshaled in the direction of obtaining better debt repayment terms. The Mexican debt crisis of the early eighties, it may be recalled, even prompted a Third World demand for a moratorium in debt repayments by the worst-hit countries. The food and related crises, in a good part of Africa, lent credence to the NIEO concept.
The explosive emergence, almost world wide, of confidence in the market-led growth paradigm, however, ensured the eventual eclipsing and downgrading of NIEO and allied concepts. Equity or no equity, domestically or internationally, most developing countries were only too eager to throw in their lot with market forces.
As is well known, economic disparities have only widened, internally as well externally, over the past three decades and issues flowing from economic globalization are still being debated but the current economic melt down in the West seems to have put the issue beyond dispute. Laissez-faire economics are no solution to the world’s economic ills.
Therefore the NIEO could in no way be declared a lost cause and NAM is proving its usefulness by taking-up the question of a new world economic order, which would ensure greater equity for the developing world, but the current global economic dispensation admits of no simplistic analyses. It is certainly not a case of economic liberalization and market-oriented growth working to the detriment of all developing countries. For, it is clear that some developing countries of yesteryear have forged ahead robustly and are economically on par with most developed countries of the West.
India and China are two cases in point. Growth has been so dynamic in these countries that today it is possible to speak of a new growth zone – ‘Chime’. That is, China, India, and what is referred to as the Middle East trade zone. These countries define the contours of one of the world’s most developing geographical regions. Economic interaction among China, India and the Gulf countries has been so notable over the years that that there has been more than a six-fold increase in direct flights among these countries over the past five years. China is said to have ousted the US as the prime location for Foreign Direct Investment and has also emerged as the world’s largest exporter of technological products.
Despite current economic rumblings, India, like China, has established extensive overseas economic links, notably some parts of Africa, besides Southern India being an ICT hub. It is not clear whether China and India have made much headway in narrowing their respective domestic wealth gaps, but they have helped in making Asia an ‘engine of growth’ of sorts in the world economy. In fact the phenomenal successes scored by these countries have helped shift the centre of gravity in the world economy Asia-ward.
These developments pose unprecedented challenges for Third World fora, such as, NAM. Apparently, the Northern hemisphere could no longer be seen as being entirely representative of wealth and power and the South as being fully synonymous with poverty and powerlessness. There are not only ‘intermediate’ zones, such as, ‘Chime’, but it is also plain to see that power is not entirely with the West.
In fact the indications are that the power of the West is steadily on the decline; a condition currently aggravated by the global financial crisis. The diminishing of US economic power, in contrast to the bolstering of China’s economic muscle, bears out the point well.
Arising from this situation, NAM could now freshly pursue its drive of working towards a more equitable world economic order, because it could now be pinpointed to the West that unplanned economic growth, both internally and externally, would be in no one’s favour. Besides, now that the global economic power balance has shifted to Asia, the West and the regulatory institutions of the global economy, could be gradually leveraged to wrest economic concessions for the world’s poor. Overall, it could be pointed out that it is only by working harmoniously, through a policy of ensuring each others legitimate interests, that a more stable world economic order could be brought into being.
The current relative powerlessness of the West, should alert political leaders of the Third World to the pitfalls of blindly pursuing the West’s policy of militarizing their societies, expanding and empowering armies and of accumulating armaments, mostly under the guise of fighting ‘terror’. The US may have ‘led from the front’ in the Bush years, in combating ‘terror’, but such a policy has also unprecedentedly weakened the US. For, social well being , empowerment of people and democratic development have suffered as a result of such myopia.