The Cold War: The Nonaligned States Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The term “nonaligned states” refers to those nations that attempted to stake out independent positions between the American- and Soviet-led power blocs in the international politics of the Cold War.

Political Considerations

The term “nonaligned states” refers to those nations that attempted to stake out independent positions between the American- and Soviet-led power blocs in the international politics of the Cold War. A seminal event in the collective history of these states was the Bandung ConferenceAsian-African Conference (1955)[Asian African Conference]Asian-African Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia, in April, 1955; the nations attending this conference adopted a declaration promoting world peace and cooperation and expressing their desire not to become involved in the Cold War.Cold War (1945-1991);nonaligned statesNon-Aligned Movement[Nonaligned Movement]Cold War (1945-1991);nonaligned statesNonaligned statesNon-Aligned Movement[Nonaligned Movement]

The ideals of peace, cooperation, and independence in international affairs became the founding principles of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which was established in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1961. This organization was largely the brainchild of Egypt;modernEgyptian president Nasser, Gamal AbdelNasser, Gamal AbdelGamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970), India;modernIndian prime minister Nehru, JawaharlalNehru, JawaharlalJawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), and YugoslaviaYugoslavian president TitoTito (Josip Broz)Tito (Josip Broz, 1892-1980). NAM was intended to form the basis of an alliance as close as that of the North Atlantic Treaty OrganizationNorth Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the Warsaw PactWarsaw Pact, but it demonstrated little of the same cohesion. Some member states became involved in armed conflicts with other members during the Cold War period, most notably India and Pakistan (1965 and 1971).

Despite the stated aims of noninvolvement in the geopolitics of the Cold War, regional or global tensions, such as conflicts with neighboring states, have ultimately compelled many member states to demonstrate close ties to one or the other of the two superpowers throughout this period. Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, NAM has struggled to find international relevance. While Egypt and India remain member states, the states of the former Yugoslavia have expressed little interest in membership, electing instead to hold observer status in the organization.

Military Achievement

Throughout the period of the Cold War, the conflicts waged by the nonaligned states tended to evolve from border disputes or displays of nationalism. Because the states involved in these conflicts found they could gain military advantage over their regional opponents through closer relations with one or the other of the two superpowers, these localized wars often threatened to spiral out of control and lead to much wider and deadlier conflicts.

In 1956, Nasser oversaw Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez CanalSuez Canal, sparking an invasion by a joint Israeli, British, and French task force to compel the Egyptian government to relinquish control of the canal. Ten years later, he hatched a plot with neighboring Arab states to overrun Israel;Arab conflictsIsrael, resulting in the disastrous Six-Day War (1967)[Six Day War]Six-Day War of June, 1967, and the Israeli occupation of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Finally, in Arab-Israeli wars;1973[1973]Yom Kippur War (1973)October, 1973, Nasser’s successor as Egyptian president, Sadat, Anwar el-Sadat, Anwar el-Anwar el-Sadat (1918-1981), launched a surprise attack against Israel to regain the Sinai Peninsula (the conflict camed to be called the October War or the Yom Kippur War). In 1956 and 1967, Nasser had been emboldened to act by his close ties with the Soviet Union;nonaligned statesSoviet Union, which had been arming and training Egypt’s soldiers. In 1956, the U.S. government forced a cease-fire on the belligerents before the situation escalated and led to a confrontation between the Soviet Union and the Western powers that opposed Nasser. In 1973, the American and Soviet governments both intervened to bring hostilities to an end and restore the regional balance of power.

Pakistani protesters burn effigies and flags outside the Indian embassy in Islamabad in January, 1997. The two countries’ long-standing conflict was supported during the Cold War by the opposing superpowers.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

In 1965, India;Pakistan conflictsIndia went to war with neighboring Pakistan;India conflictsPakistan over the territory of KashmirKashmir. The dispute dated back to 1947, when India won independence from Britain, at which time the partitioning of British India into the independent nations of India and Pakistan left the status of Kashmir unresolved. Hostilities opened on September 1, 1965. After the Indian army had made significant headway into Pakistan the war appeared headed for a stalemate, prompting the Soviet Union and the United States to intervene as peace brokers for India and Pakistan, respectively. Following the war, India developed close ties with the Soviet Union, culminating in the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Cooperation and Friendship (1966)[Indo Soviet Treaty]Indo-Soviet Treaty of Cooperation and Friendship to balance Pakistan’s increased support from the United States. The two countries were at war again in 1971 over Pakistan’s repression of members of the Bengali independence movement in East Pakistan. This time India won a decisive victory, resulting in the secession of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, from Pakistan.

Weapons, Uniforms, and Armor

Egypt, Yugoslavia, and India all came to rely heavily, although not exclusively, on the Soviet Union for their armaments during the Cold War. Much of the Egypt;militaryEgyptian military was equipped by the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia until the 1980’s. In 1955, the Egyptian air force consisted of MiG fighter planesMiG fighters, Ilyushin planesIlyushin II-28 bombers and II-14 transports, and Yak-11 trainers accompanied by Czechoslovakian instructors. In the 1960’s the Egyptian government introduced the Soviet-made MiG-21 into the Egyptian air force. The MiG-21 is a short-range interceptor with mach 2 capability. It has a delta-wing design, which allows for fast climbing but results in a rapid loss of speed on turning. During the Six-Day War, Egyptian ground forces included approximately ninety World War II-era Soviet T-34 tanks with 85-millimeter guns.

Throughout the 1960’s the Yugoslavia;militaryYugoslav People’s ArmyYugoslav People’s Army operated about one thousand Soviet T-54 and T-55 tanks. In the late 1970’s, Yugoslavia obtained an additional seventy Soviet T-72’s, followed by more than four hundred Yugoslav M-84’s. The M-84 battle tank is a domestically manufactured and improved version of the T-72; improvements over the T-72 include a domestic fire control system, improved composite armor, and a 1,000-horsepower engine. The M-84 has a crew of three and is armed with a 2A46 125-millimeter smooth-bore cannon.

The principal fighter jets of the Yugoslavia;air forceYugoslav air force were also MiG-21 Interceptors. In addition, Yugoslavia relied on SOKO G-2 Galeb trainers, which were the first Yugoslav-made jet aircraft. The Galeb, a straight-wing aircraft powered by a Rolls-Royce Viper Mk 22-6 turbojet, was used primarily for combat training of Yugoslav military air force academy cadets.

During the 1960’s, the bulk of India;tanksIndia’s tank complement consisted of older American-made M4 Sherman tanks and the British-made Centurion Mk7’s. The Centurions, with their 105-millimeter guns, were particularly useful during the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. India’s ground forces at that time also included French-made AMX-13’s, Soviet-made PT-76’s, and American-made M3 light tanks.

In 1974, India;nuclear weaponsIndia conducted an underground nuclear test, making it the first nonaligned nation to possess nuclear weapons. Despite criticism and international sanctions, India had refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty[Nuclear nonproliferation treaty];IndiaNuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, arguing that the treaty was discriminatory because it allowed those countries that had acquired nuclear weapons prior to the agreement–the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and China–to retain their arsenals.

Military Organization

Prior to the dissolution of the nation of Yugoslavia;militaryYugoslavia in late 1991, the Yugoslavian military was the fourth strongest in Europe. The Yugoslav People’s ArmyYugoslav People’s Army, which had its origins in the partisan movement of the Yugoslav People’s Liberation War against the Nazi occupiers during World War II and was the principal military organization of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1943-1992), comprised an army, navy, and air force. These three services were organized into four military regions: Belgrade, Zagreb, Skopje, and the Split naval region. The ground forces of the Yugoslav People’s Army made up the bulk of the country’s military forces and consisted of infantry, armor, artillery, and air defense as well as signal, engineering, and chemical defense corps. The Yugoslav air force was responsible for transport, reconnaissance, and the country’s national air defense system. The backbone of the Yugoslav navy was the Adriatic Fleet, which was headquartered at Split. In 1992 the Yugoslav People’s Army was dissolved along with the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, as the newly independent republics adopted their own militaries.

The India;militaryIndian armed forces consist of the three branches of army, navy and air force. The Indian army was formed soon after India achieved independence and retained most of the regiments of the British Indian army. Throughout the conflicts that India fought during the first half of the Cold War, coordination between the Indian air force and the Indian army was quite poor. For example, during the war between India and Pakistan in 1965, the Indian air force was used extensively, but it acted independently of the army, conducting raids deep into Pakistani territory in obsolete World War II-era aircraft that ultimately surrendered air superiority over the combat zones to the Pakistani air force. The primary mission of the Indian navy during that period was to patrol India’s coast, but during the 1971 war with Pakistan the navy played a significant role in the bombing of the Karachi harbor.

The Egypt;militaryEgyptian military originally consisted of three branches: army, navy, and air force. Following the disastrous events of the Six-Day War, however, during which a surprise attack by the Israeli air force destroyed most of Egypt’s planes on the ground, Egypt added a fourth service branch: the Egyptian Air Defense Command. It was patterned on the Soviet Union’s antiaircraft defense branch and integrated all of Egypt’s air defense capabilities, including antiaircraft guns, missile units, interceptor planes, and radar and warning installations.

Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

Since the Bandung ConferenceAsian-African Conference (1955)[Asian African Conference]Bandung Conference, the nonaligned states have articulated a commitment to world peace and stability, placing particular emphasis on disarmament. NAM has promoted international cooperation to ensure the collective security of all nations. Regional disputes and tensions between aligned and nonaligned states have sometimes jeopardized this multilateral approach to international relations. Therefore, throughout the Cold War the nonaligned states adopted more unilateral tactics to preserve their national security.

Throughout its postindependence existence, the Indian army has had the primary responsibilities of defending India from external aggression, maintaining peace and security within India, and patrolling the nation’s borders. This translated into an aggressive forward policy adopted in 1959 regarding disputed border areas with China;and nonaligned states[nonaligned states]China. According to this tactic, Indian border-patrol units continuously pushed their posts deeper into Chinese territory. When it was apparent that China was pursuing a similar tactic in India, the situation rapidly deteriorated until the two sides were at war in 1962. India’s nuclear strategy, on the other hand, has been one of deterrence. It is governed by a doctrine of “no first use” against any other nuclear power and “no use” against any nonnuclear state.

Given Soviet Union;EgyptEgypt;and Soviet Union[Soviet Union]Egypt’s close connection to the Soviet Union, many of its military tactics were based on Soviet doctrine. For example, during the 1967 Six-Day War, the deployment of Egyptian ground forces in the Sinai reflected a Soviet defensive posture, where mobile armor units were placed at a strategic depth behind the infantry to provide a dynamic defense while the infantry units engaged in defensive battles. Following its defeat in that war, Egypt carried out a prolonged strategy of attrition against the Israeli air force. Two Egyptian aircraft would penetrate Israeli airspace to bait an Israeli response. When Israeli interceptors (usually four to eight) arrived to engage the Egyptian planes, they would be attacked from behind by an additional dozen Egyptian fighters that had been lying in wait well below Israeli radar.

The Yugoslav People’s ArmyYugoslav People’s Army had an operational military doctrine based on a concept of total war called “total national defense.” According to this doctrine, the People’s Army assumed the role of defending the borders from any invaders long enough for the territorial defense forces to engage the enemy forces and begin wearing them down through partisan tactics. Under this concept the entire population was to participate in the war effort, including through armed resistance, armament production, and civil defense.

Contemporary Sources

Two important contemporary works provide valuable information on the nonaligned states as a whole. The first is George McTurnan Kahin’s The Asian-African Conference, Bandung, Indonesia, April 1955 (1956). This is a very accessible work that details the events that occurred during the 1955 Bandung Conference. The first half of the volume presents the author’s account of the conference based on his own experiences as an observer at the open sessions, and the second half provides transcripts of the speeches delivered by key attendees as well as the conference’s final communiqué. The second collection, The Conference of Heads of State or Government of Non-aligned Countries (1961), edited by Slobodan Vujović, contains speeches from the 1961 summit of nonaligned nations held in Belgrade, where NAM was established.

English versions of contemporary sources of the military affairs of the nonaligned states during the Cold War do not appear to be extensive. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs and the United Nations published a four-volume collection of some of the U.N. Security Council proceedings on the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict: India-Pakistan Security Council Documents, September-December, 1965. On the 1971 India-Pakistan conflict, a document collection titled The Fourteen Day War was published in 1972. Additionally, the heads of state of Yugoslavia, Egypt, and India left partial records of their respective nations’ foreign policies during the Cold War. Regarding Yugoslavia, two works have been published that deal specifically with nonalignment: Tito o nesvrstanosti (1976; Tito on Non-Alignment, 1976) and Govori Predsednika SFRJ Josipa Broza Tita na konferencijama nesvrstanih zemalja (1979; Tito and Non-Alignment: President Tito’s Addresses at Conferences of Non-aligned Countries, 1979). Nasser similarly documented his position in President Gamal Abdel Nasser on Non-Alignment (1964).

Nehru left several collections that outline India’s diplomacy during the period of his leadership. These include a volume of speeches titled India’s Foreign Policy: Selected Speeches, September 1946-April 1961 (1961) along with two volumes that deal with his thoughts on India’s relations with China in the lead up to and during the 1962 border war: The Prime Minister on Sino-Indian Relations (1961) and Chinese Aggression in War and Peace: Letters of the Prime Minister of India (1962). Finally, Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, who was prime minister of India during the 1971 India-Pakistan conflict, published Selected Speeches and Writings of Indira Gandhi: The Years of Endeavour, August 1969-August 1972 (1975).Cold War (1945-1991);nonaligned statesNonaligned statesNon-Aligned Movement[Nonaligned Movement]

Books and Articles
  • Aloni, Shlomo. Arab-Israeli Air Wars, 1947-82. New York: Osprey, 2002.
  • Laffin, John. Arab Armies of the Middle East Wars, 1948-73. New York: Osprey, 1982.
  • Marston, Daniel P., and Chandar S. Sundaram, eds. A Military History of India and South Asia: From the East India Company to the Nuclear Era. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Security International, 2007.
  • Meital, Yoram. Egypt’s Struggle for Peace: Continuity and Change, 1967-1977. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997.
  • Milivojević, Marko, John B. Allcock, and Pierre Maurer, eds. Yugoslavia’s Security Dilemmas: Armed Forces, National Defence, and Foreign Policy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.
  • Pollack, Kenneth M. Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
  • Rajan, M. S. Nonalignment and Nonaligned Movement: Retrospect and Prospect. New Delhi: Vikas, 1990.
  • Roberts, Adam. Nations in Arms: The Theory and Practice of Territorial Defence. 2d rev. ed. London: Macmillan, 1986.
  • Westad, Odd Arne. The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Wirsing, Robert G. India, Pakistan, and the Kashmir Dispute: On Regional Conflict and Its Resolution. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
Films and Other Media
  • Border. Feature film. J. P. Dutta, 1997.
  • India and Pakistan at Sixty. Documentary. British Broadcasting Corporation, 2007.
  • The Six-Day War: Then and Now. Documentary. Cable News Network, 2007.
  • The Suez Crisis. Documentary. 3BM Television, 1997.
  • Tito. Documentary. Bindweed Soundvision, 2001.
  • Turning Points in History: Showdown at Suez. Documentary. Foxtel, 2007.

The Cold War: The United States, NATO, and the Right

The Cold War: The Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact, and the Left

Rockets, Missiles, and Nuclear Weapons

China: Modern Warfare

Israeli Warfare

Colonial Wars of Independence

Warfare in Vietnam

Warfare in Afghanistan: The Soviet-Afghan Conflict

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