Croatia's leaders have a tricky decision ahead of them. The Non-Aligned Movement helped Zagreb win a Security Council seat. But now the country, a new NATO member, is mulling a withdrawal from the organisation Tito founded.
As Croatia -- along with Albania -- received a NATO invitation at the Bucharest summit in April and will join the Alliance by mid 2009, it may have to end its membership in a controversial global organisation, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
Even though the one membership does not necessarily exclude the other, there are potential conflicts of interests. The NAM is a highly political movement, dominated at the moment by Cuba and Iran. Croatia has so far had the status of observer country. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia have the same status, as the former Yugoslav republics distanced themselves from former Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito's bloc after the dissolution of the country.
In 2006, however, Croatian President Stipe Mesic attended the NAM's Havana summit. His presence provoked many unfavourable comments in Croatia, not to mention the EU and the United States.
According to his advisers, Mesic did not go to Cuba just to confirm that Croatia still shares the values of "neutrality" and "peaceful co-existence", but to start the lobbying process that would help Croatia win a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. If Croatia could get the votes from the NAM countries -- as, indeed, it eventually did -- then the Security Council seat was secured.
But this accomplishment makes leaving NAM more difficult for the leadership, as the NAM countries had high expectations regarding Croatia's two-year Security Council mandate.
With 188 members, mostly from Africa, Asia and Latin America, NAM is a huge organisation. It differs from other relevant global organisations because it has no actual leadership, no constitutional documents or hierarchy. More than two thirds of UN members are also NAM members. Malta and Cyprus were members of NAM until 2004, when they became EU members. They have completely withdrawn from the organisation since.
Croatia's departure would be a powerfully symbolic step. It was Tito, after all, who founded the NAM in 1955. He initiated its first summit in 1961 and was the first secretary general of the organisation. Together with friends from neutral countries during the Cold War years -- mostly former colonies and so-called Third World countries, Tito decided to form a political bloc that would consist of countries that belonged neither to NATO nor the Warsaw Pact. His idea was immediately welcomed by Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt and Sukarno of Indonesia.
Since the collapse of communism, the organisation has seemed to transition into an anti-Western, and specifically anti-American, club. Loud denunciations of Washington policy are a staple of summits. Thus the neutrality of the organisation, one of its charter values, has been compromised. Some would say this is nothing new. Tito, after all, went out of his way to recruit third-world nations and controversial leaders have often attended.
The former Yugoslavia, at the time of its breakup, was heading the institution. Croatia's Mesic and his Slovenian counterpart, the late Janez Drnovsek, presided over a NAM summit even though both republics were on the verge of going their separate ways. Belgrade, meanwhile, hosted the NAM summit in 1989, with the media reports focusing mostly on Libyan leader Colonel Gadhafi, who slept in a private tent and brought along some Arabian camels which he later gave as a gift to the Belgrade Zoo.
Budimir Loncar, a longtime diplomat and Mesic's foreign policy adviser, was the original proponent of using the NAM to gain support for Croatia's Security Council bid. He argues that NAM membership does not necessarily collide with NATO status. "The movement has survived even after the Cold War, and that shows it is politically relevant not only for its members but for the UN as well," he told Jutarni List.
Ivo Banac, a Yale University professor and president of Croatia's Helsinki Committee branch, shares this view. He advises Croatian officials to retain observer status. "This means that you don't get to vote or decide but you have a good position for lobbying for your goals," Banac says.
So far, the president and prime minister have not indicated when Croatia will make its move. Political analysts, meanwhile, suggest it is wiser to do nothing until the end of next year. Croatia will enter NATO in the first half of 2009, and its Security Council membership will expire by the end of the same year. After that, the country can decide whether two membership cards are too much to handle.
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