What are they neutral against?

LESLIE F. HANNON October 21 1961

What are they neutral against?

LESLIE F. HANNON October 21 1961

What are they neutral against?


They’re against blocs in general and the collisions thereof — and they think they can keep the Great Powers from each other’s throats and save humanity’s life. This is a report by Maclean’s overseas editor on his talks in Belgrade, Vienna and Geneva with spokesmen for eight hundred million “little” people whose motto is “A plague o’ both your houses”


EVEN WHEN (OK IF) THE United Nations Assembly is able to get back to something like a normal footing after the shattering blow of Dag Hammarskjold's death, it won’t be the same as it used to be. From now on, the arguments about ways and means to drag the world back from the brink of war will no longer be settled by either of the major-league teams that are labeled East and West. Neither bloc has, or can have, effective control any more. The majority of the UN’s ninety-nine members insist, with varying degrees • of truth, that they are neutral, uncommitted or nonaligned.

In other years, as their number grew, they quarreled enough among themselves on relatively petty matters to keep their effective power in the court of public opinion at a minimum.

The neutralist nations’ lack of unified purpose in the past is understandable: they include some of the world’s oldest peoples, and some of its newest nations. Some are feudal autocracies, and some are tinkering with political systems that defy definition. A few are moved by a deep and genuine concern for humanity, and a few by a selfishness beyond measure.

But from now on they plan to play a role that could swing the scale to sanity. In simplest terms, the best of them intend to challenge the right of the communists or the NATO powers to poison the whole world with radioactive dust should the ideological conflict (of which the Berlin crisis and

the nuclear test revival are only manifestations) be incapable of peaceful solution. And, with not even one teeny atom bomb between them, they feel they've got at least a gambler's chance.

This is the main impression 1 brought back last month from the Belgrade Conference, from discussions in Vienna and from interviews in Geneva. In a sweltering Belgrade I spoke with members of the delegations of eleven of the twenty-five participating nonaligned countries, ranging alphabetically from Burma through the Lebanon to Yugoslavia. In the cooler atmosphere of Austria— which, I suppose, must be dubbed more neutral than nonaligned—I heard variations of the theme still echoing from farther down the Danube. In Geneva, that eternally hopeful city of lost hopes, I met responsible Swedes and Swiss and one bustling American salesman from Evanston, 111., who asked me what the hell was going on. To document the shades of neutrality or nonalignment represented by all these men and women would require a book—Indonesia, for instance, is avowedly neutral about everything except the chunk of New Guinea it covets: Tunisia about everything except Bizerte: the oil princes, in Arab League solidarity, about everything except Israel. Even my American acquaintance was neutral in a way . . . “For God’s sake, I only want to sell household appliances.” CONTINUED ON PAGE 78

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The nonneutral press describes the neutralists: “the scaly Sukarno“ and “the nebulous Mr. Nehru“

To confuse the matter further, the newspaper reader has lately been bombarded with analyses of the sympathies of the uncommitted countries that differ markedly according to the nationality of the analyst. Thus, one reporter (American) wrote from Belgrade of “the scaly Sukarno”; another (British) of “the nebulous Nehru”; another (French) of “the Kremlin tool Benyoussef Benkhedda”; another (West German) put the knife in every Belgrade speaker who suggested negotiations over Berlin.

The delegations at Belgrade, in public and in private, shrank from the idea that they were forming a third bloc. Their final communique spelled it out that they, “do not wish to form a new bloc and cannot be a bloc.” The rest of the world, though, will rightly assume that twentyfive countries representing more than seven hundred million people that agree on issues of major foreign policy and instantly try to bring pressure on the major power blocs have, like it or not, formed a bloc, and, indeed, its very formlessness may be one of its greatest strengths — the more moderate and responsible of the Belgrade powers (say, India, Yugoslavia and the United Arab Republic) can speak more clearly for the nonaligned if they can avoid formal association with, for instance, the immoderate Guinea or Cuba.

There is. of course, no actual link — formal or informal—between the Belgrade nations and the three European neutrals most familiar to Canadians. Sweden, Switzerland and Austria were not invited to Belgrade, and wouldn’t have gone if they had been. They are Western-style democracies in all matters except military alliance. And yet, at the same time, they are vital to the in-between nations. Switzerland and Sweden, in particular, are superbly skilled in middle-of-the-road diplomacy—the Swiss have been at it for

seven hundred years. They silently regret and deplore the insistence of some of the minor Belgrade signatories in loading the final communique with parish-pump complaints and just as silently applaud the conference’s major achievement—a reasoned appeal to both East and West to stop threatening war and get on with calm and realistic negotiation.

There was no essential difference between a talk 1 had in Belgrade with a leading member of the Indonesian delegation and a talk I had with a responsible Swiss official in Geneva a few days later. In each case, I tried to project the issue of the neutral nations’ exerting a much stronger influence in world affairs in the vital weeks and months ahead. What could they hope to achieve, in concrete terms? India’s Nehru, the towering figure at Belgrade and, indeed, the founder of the conception of nonalignment, had stated, “We do not control the strings of the world.” Emphasizing his points with a chicken drumstick, the Indonesian said that they must all first press their views on Washington and Moscow, not in the form of futile demands or pointless lectures. At the UN they should work ceaselessly to head off the East-West collision, both in the debating chamber and in the lobbies. Outside of all official contacts, every means should be used to drive home an appeal to reason—over cocktails, across the lunch table, everywhere. To the vast majority of mankind, he insisted, war was unthinkable under any circumstances as it was an outmoded technique, a hangover from another age.

My Swiss friend, as detached as the Indonesian had been emotional, embellished his remarks with historical references and examples that most of the rest of the world has long forgotten, but they panned out about the same. This doesn’t mean that the two countries concerned can or will

act in concert at official levels: it does mean the same overriding thought dominates both in the present crisis.

If the UN General Assembly ever gets into the routine of its record agenda the true nature and true strength of the neutrals will be revealed. While certain of the Belgrade nations are bound to try to play West against East in hope of selfish material advantage, Westerners not mesmerized by hysterical demands for a “showdown” with the Soviets may find themselves surprised and heartened as the votes are counted.

Many individual Canadians, mourning the nation’s losses in World War Two and in Korea, are still clinging to old-fashed reactions to neutrality. To them it’s almost a dirty word, one that connotes a wishy-washy passiveness, a lack of backbone and guts. But a great many of the nations we are talking about here were simply colonies or less when those clichés were rife. A moment’s reflection on the notable backbone and guts of Yugoslavia’s Tito, to quote only one, changes the picture. A glance at the position of his country on the map further clarifies it. A sharp young Austrian asked me if Canadians didn’t generally realize that millions of people, living outside the prepackaged influences of the NATO alliance and the Warsaw Pact, were genuinely appalled at the apparent inability of the major power blocs to find solutions to their problems outside of brandishing rockets and bombs.

“We’re well on into the twentieth century,” he said angrily. “Is this all we’ve learned?” He waved a hand at the magnificent Vienna skyline. "Here is the working model of compromise,” he said. “We are alive and happy and prosperous today because a sensible agreement was reached between the opposing powers. They compromised. Is Russia now less secure because of what she agreed here? Is America less secure? How can anybody still believe that war achieves anything?”

They want ballots, not bullets

It’s just as old-fashioned to believe that the neutrals are still mainly motivated by hatred of the colonial powers. This may have been the mainspring of the conference at Bandung in 1955 which was heartily supported by the Soviet bloc and indeed, attended by China and North Vietnam. Things have changed. The new war of independence has largely been won — even France’s de Gaulle, the most rigid of men, is patently seeking a dignified exit from Africa, and even Portugal’s Salazar, the most reactionary of men, must inevitably follow.

The statesmen among the Neutrals — a group certainly still led by Nehru and now including Burma’s U Nu, the mellowing Nasser and perhaps Ghana’s Nkrumah — are shaping plans for the new, and perhaps tougher, battle ahead. From their viewpoint, they are demanding ballots not bullets, that Might yield to Right, even the pursuit of happiness — in fact, that the world at last begin to put some trust in all those old high-flown slogans that wc all preach but, in crises, seldom practise. The neutral idea was soundly expressed by a surprising spokesman, Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie: "If we raise our voices against injustice, wherever it be found, if we demand a stop to aggression, wherever it occurs, and if we do so on a wholly impartial basis we can serve as the collective conscience of the world.”

For the West, the most heartening aspect is that the neutrals intend to make the United Nations their battlefield. In direct contrast to the Soviet dictum that the UN is nothing but a cold war instrument for the West, and rejecting the Soviet troika idea that would give them an equal

veto with Fast and West at the top of the tree, the neutrals intend to hammer home their ideas and bring as much pressure as they can to bear on the opposing blocs in the open forum of the General Assembly. "Nothing new.” a Lebanese delegate told me at Belgrade. “The Greeks invented it. But nobody's thought up a better way yet to settle the affairs of men.” Of course the neutrals want — and deserve — some reorganization of the UN structure that will reflect the great changes in the membership of the world body since its inception. They want some kind of a casting vote to hold either of the war-minded major blocs (or both) in check. An expanded Security Council without vetos, but requiring a two-thirds majority for action, might fill the bill.

But have the neutrals earned the right to an equal voice? What have they done in the past to suggest that today they can “serve as the collective conscience of the w'orld”? And. in some instances, who and w'here are they? Even the Yemen's Seif el

Islam cl Hassan, when presiding one day at the Belgrade Conference, quite obviously had never heard of the Republic of Mali whose delegate sought the floor. Few are self-supporting, either. At Belgrade, an American correspondent ticked olf the countries represented, then announced with a wry smile that “the American taxpayer is shelling out for all of these outfits except one (presumably Cuba). Man. we’re paying for this conference and they're still giving us the boot.”

Nevertheless, the neutral and nonaligned countries have shown already that they can play a useful part — a more important one than the average westerner realizes, perhaps because western new's media tend to ignore and belittle it. The highly respected British freelance correspondent James Cameron had to resort to the letters-to-the-editor column of the London Daily Telegraph to remind Britons that Indian diplomacy had engineered the peace in Korea, and that other neutrals had stepped in to tidy up the big-power messes at

Suez, in the Lebanon, and in the Congo. He could have also noted them moving in, without fanfare, to damp off the oil fire in Kuwait. Far too few of the seven hundred correspondents at Belgrade — the Americans were the largest foreign group— noted that, in spite of all the Western fears that the neutrals were just a bunch of pinkos, only one country has been “lost” to the Communist bloc since 1949. (That one is Castro’s Cuba, and even there a final decision may yet be distant.) Despite the sneers at their mild reaction to the Soviet resumption of nuclear testing, the nonaligner nations really are nonaligned.

And that is the source of their strength. Physically, all of them are weak. Morally, in spite of their rather self-righteous pretensions, they are no stronger than the rest of frail humanity. But they do retain one thing that every nation, however strong, loses when it enters a bloc — the freedom to say what they think, and speak to whom they choose. It’s a freedom that may yet do the whole world a lot of good, if