A dull giant, NAM has little value for Thailand
The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the world's second-largest international organisation, might not be of sufficient interest - or may simply be too big - for Thailand to play a role in it.
Thai government participation has always been low-key, and the administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is no exception.
In terms of size, the gathering of 120 NAM countries is second only to the United Nations. But that might not be attractive enough.
Perhaps, from the beginning, the nature of NAM's grouping is different from that of Thailand's. Historically, the group developed from cooperation among newly independent states from Asia and Africa which resisted being drawn into the camps of the United States and the Soviet Union.
NAM was born after the Asia-Africa Conference, when leaders of 29 Asian and African nations met in Indonesia’s Bandung in April 1955.
Among the leaders were the strongmen of the third world - U Nu of Myanmar (then Burma), Nehru of India, Sukarno of Indonesia, Nkrumah of Ghana, Nasser of Egypt and Chou En-lai of China. The Bandung conference became NAM when the group held its first summit in Belgrade in 1961.
By then, Thailand was already siding with the US against the then most fearsome threat - Communism - notably in Indochina, just across the mekong River. Meanwhile, other countries in mainland Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, joined the non-aligned movement.
Like many other international organisations, NAM has its own dynamics and has changed over the past decades. It was strictly neutral in its first 10 years but during the 1970s leaned towards the communist bloc due to the domination of members favouring leftist ideology.
NAM faced a great challenge after the end of the Cold War in 1980s as the world's political order ceased to be bipolar. The movement then paid more attention to issues of development as well as social and economic cooperation. However, the role of the movement during the last decade of the 20th century was not attractive nor had any real impact on global development. It was just a talk-shop for diplomats to exchange views and ideas.
Unfortunately, Thailand joined NAM in October 1993 when the group had a very low profile. Many in Thailand could have believed NAM was a nickname for neighbouring Vietnam. Thailand was already a member of many organisations by then. Being a member of yet another made no difference to the country.
Thaksin Shinawatra was the only prime minister of Thailand to attend a NAM summit. He joined two of the groupings summits, first in 2003 in Malaysia and second in Cuba in 2006 - just a few days before he was toppled by a military coup.
Thailand usually sends deputy prime ministers or foreign ministers to represent the country at a NAM summit. It is doing so this year in Tehran, with Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul heading the Thai delegation to the 16th summit.
The non-aligned movement in the 21st century has readjusted its role to present a voice against western countries, notably the United States, on issues such as Israel-Palestine and nuclear control. Iran, as the current chairman of NAM, is using the summit this week to call for an end to sanctions against its nuclear ambitions and voice concern over western interference in the Syrian crisis.
Such issues are too remote for many NAM members from other parts of the world, including Thailand. What Bangkok can do is merely maintain its moderate stance on controversial issues and seek opportunities in the forum to engage member countries on expanding |cooperation.