Travels of the Emperor: Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1961

Collective security for surety, ye-ah!
Don’t forget your history, know your destiny”

Bob Marley, ‘Rat Race’

We got to realize we are one people,
Or there will never be no love at all.”

Peter Tosh, ‘One Foundation’

For most of us, ‘collective security’ is a phrase we know only from a Bob Marley song, but the idea had a powerful resonance among the poorer nations of the world in the second half of the 20th century. The idea, a reaction to the brutality of the First World War, was that the world should never again divide into opposing camps, but should organize on the principle of collective security.

Looking at the history of the 20th century, the age of technology, it’s possible to see one continuous war, as the first world war rolled into the second, which immediately turned into the 45-year long ‘Cold War’, that divided the world into West and East.

Even before the Italian forces invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia had been committed to spreading the message of collective security. Selassie had put his faith in the League of Nations, formed after the First World War, to pursue the doctrine of collective security. The League of Nations had failed to intervene on Ethiopia’s behalf, falling victim to the veto powers granted to each member, which undermined the concept of collective security.

As the poor countries of the world gained their final independence from colonisation in the 1950s and 1960s, the new powers came calling, eager to build alliances in the Cold War. Many of the newly independent countries, fired by dreams of self-determination and wanting to avoid a new colonialism, rejected the division of East and West, because they could clearly see a larger gap between the rich world of the North and the poor world of the South.

In Belgrade, September 1961, an unusual group of presidents and prime ministers gathered to launch a new organization of countries that were not allied to the power blocs of the Cold War, known as the Non-Aligned Movement. As the leaders gathered, Russia was testing nuclear weapons, and the East German Army was finishing construction of the Berlin Wall – the ultimate rebuke to the dream of collective security.

Although it was nominally a socialist country, Yugoslavia was not part of the Warsaw Pact, and was one of the countries interested in a broader alliance outside the power blocs of the Warsaw and NATO pacts. Emperor Selassie of Ethiopia was among those leaders who travelled to Belgrade, where President Tito of Yugoslavia had convened a meeting to launch a movement of the Non-Aligned Nation. India’s Nehru, Egyptian president Nasser,  Sukarno of Indonesia and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana were among those present. Some of the goals of the organization were immediately clear; opposition to foreign military bases, and reform of the United Nations to give more voice to those countries that did not sit in the ‘inner circle’ of the powerful ‘Security Council’.

“This is not a council of despair,” Selassie told the delegates in Belgrade. “The major challenges confronting the world today are two: the preservation of peace and the betterment of the living conditions of that half of the world which is poor.” That was the essential dream of the non-aligned nations – which held more than 50% of the world’s population, but in the poorer half of the world.

When the Pharisees asked Christ which was the greatest law, he answered: Love God, and love your neighbour as you love yourself. Written large, this is collective security.

Five decades later, the Cold War has evolved into the permanent ‘war on terrorism’ – and the southern hemisphere remains the poor half of the world.  It’s worth noting, historically, that many of those who championed the non-aligned movement were subsequently overthrown in military coups funded by the very power blocs they were trying to escape.

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