The sole fact that Dinkel’s book is an English translation of his dissertation originally published in German in 2015 posits this work in a broader global academic context.1 It shows the general lack of scholarly work on non-alignment and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) as a specific institutional, geographical and historical reification of neutrality policy in the 20th century. The author being well aware of this situation explicitly asserts that his study aims to open up this “unexplored field” (p. 3). Added to that, Dinkel’s research on NAM and its (pre)histories goes in line with current tendencies in the global history of international organizations and social movements 2, showing continuations and ruptures in their periodization, their spatial divergences and connections, as well as the vagueness in definition and formalization of these entities.
However, more importantly, he tries to write “the history of international relations from a non-European perspective” (p. 3) highlighting the active and coordinated role of groups from the anticolonial movements and postcolonial states in international relations. Throughout the 20th century with a peak in the 1970s, these actors created an institutional framework for expressing the political interest of the Global South, that is the postcolonial world. Dinkel argues that this quest was neither coherent nor “monocausal” (p.12) but rather “episodic” with a “broad ensemble of actors” (p. 5) acting from multiple locations. The book follows these assumptions through its structure and composition. The first three chapters are framed and titled by three spatiotemporal nodes of prehistory of the NAM: Brussels 1927 and the formation of the League against Imperialism; Bandung in 1955 and the first international conference outside of the Western world and without the Western states; Belgrade in 1961 which marked a crucial but not final step in the institutionalization of NAM.3 The other three chapters are organized in a “dramatic structure” the rising action and the institutionalization of NAM throughout the 1970s (fourth chapter) is followed by the climax and falling actions through the 1980s (fifth chapter), which leads into the final phase of the movement in the 1990s (sixth chapter).
Consequently, the cornerstone of the book and Dinkel’s contribution to a broader discussion on the periodization of global history (of international organization and movements) is the fourth chapter dedicated to the formation of NAM and its active role in global politics in the 1970s. In this slightly disorganized part of the book, Dinkel successfully proves his thesis that the 1970s were the crucial decade in political institutionalization of the South on the global scale. That occurred not just through NAM but also through different groups (G 77), initiatives (coordination of NAM policies through frequent consultations of states’ representatives in the United Nation), agencies (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD) and most importantly global policies in the field of the economy and information flows. With the concepts of New International Economic Order and New International Information Order, postcolonial states tried to tackle their economic dependency on the global North and to create “an alternative global public space” (p. 169). There they would have a chance to fully participate and represent itself as the new players in international political arena. In essence, Dinkel shows that these political attempts, global context of détente in the Cold World, as well as the global media attention on NAM in the 1970s signifies the global shift from the East-West conflict to the North-South conflict. While discussing this extensively in the central chapter of his book, Dinkel “questions conventional periodization of international relations in the 20th century” (p. 225) and successfully offers alternative periodization of this era, so often obscured by the predominance of Cold War historical narrative which often considers the 1970s a less important decade in international relations. By doing so, he puts himself in line with similar tendencies in global history to reexamine conventional periodizations and various decades of the 20th century and emphasize the role of the South in different global trajectories during these periods.4
Contrary to the author’s wish to present this chapter and alternative periodization as the focal point of his book, I want to highlight another and not entirely explicit level of his approach. It concerns the historical semantics of global anti-colonialism from its organizational beginnings in the 1920s to the 1980s and demands of some members of NAM to leave these outdated topics and “choice of language” (p. 251) behind. In a rather sporadic analysis of the performative aspects of summits from Bandung (1955) to Harare (1986), spatial and infrastructural arrangements in the host cities, Western media coverage, declarations discourse (from Belgrade 1961 declaration of 3000 words to Havana’s 140 book pages in 1979), and different interpretations of crucial concepts and paradigms, Dinkel depicts a semantic history of the ‘Global South’-institutionalization and its formal as well as conceptual vagueness and openness, flexibility and constant negotiations, in addition to overlaps between domestic anti-colonial nationalism and different forms of international cooperation (p. 94). This shows that the process of the invention of new nations and its legitimation included the symbolic production of its international image and its embodiment by an elite of internationally active figures of founding fathers (and no mothers).
The study mainly relies on Western sources and media coverage. With a holistic approach to NAM, Dinkel tries to avoid excessive focus on particular nation-states and their role in the building of the movement. Nevertheless, by doing so he somehow leaves out actors from Sub-Saharan Africa and puts more focus on Arab states (Egypt and Algeria), India, Indonesia and Yugoslavia. Also on the list of archive sources, there is not one institution or source from Africa. In spite of that, this book will have a place in every bibliography guiding the future explore of alternative globalization projects in the 20th century.
1 Jürgen Dinkel, Die Bewegung Bündnisfreier Staaten: Genese, Organisation und Politik (1927 - 1992), Berlin 2015. The translation is, in fact, the revised German manuscript “brought into the line with the state of the research as at summer 2017.” (p. ix)
2 As an example of these approaches in one volume: Stefan Berger / Holger Nehring (ed.), The History of Social movements in Global Perspective: A Survey, London 2017.
3 A very similar organization of the chapters, but with more explicit political positionality and openly Marxist argumentation, can be found in Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, New York 2007.
4 The Routledge series Decades in Global History a is recent example of the attempts to “discuss each period from a truly global perspective and interrogate the traditional trope of a decade” (https://www.routledge.com/The-Global-1930s-The-international-decade/Matera-Kent/p/book/9780415738316).