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The Evolution of Norms: The Social Construction of Non-Interference in Asian Regionalism

Paper for the Provincializing Westphalia Conference at Oxford University, 18-19 April 2008.


On 23rd April 1955, speaking before a session of the Political Committee of the Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India, launched into a bitter denunciation regional defence arrangements being promoted by the US in Asia and the Middle East. Membership in pacts such as SEATO or CENTO, argued Nehru, rendered a country a “camp follower” and deprived it of its “freedom and dignity.” “It is an intolerable thought to me that the great countries of Asia and Africa should come out of bondage into freedom only to degrade themselves or humiliate themselves in this way.”[1] Responding to Nehru’s attacks, Prime Minister Mohamed Ali of Pakistan, a member of both CENTO and SEATO, asserted that as “an independent sovereign nation”, Pakistan followed its “national interest”, did not feel it “necessary for us to justify our actions to anybody except to ourselves.”[2] A more eloquent response to the Indian leader’s harsh words came the next day from Carlos Romulo, the lead delegate of the Philippines, a SEATO member. In a barely disguised dig at Nehru, Romulo urged his fellow participants to be “realistic and not be starryeyed visionaries dreaming utopian dreams.” He reminded Nehru that as a smaller nation, the Philippines could not follow India’s path in renouncing collective defence to safeguard its newfound independence. Defending SEATO as a necessary guarantee against the growing menace of Communist interference in the domestic affairs of Asian states, he issued a warning: “May your India, Sir, never be caught by the encircling gloom.”[3]

[1] Nehru’s Speech in the Political Committee, 23 April 1955, in Proceedings of the Political Committee Meetings of the Asian-African Conference, Bandung, 20-24 April 1955 (Hereafter known as Bandung Political Committee Proceedings).

[2] Mohamed Ali’s Speech in the Political Committee, 23 April 1955, Bandung Political Committee Proceedings.

[3] Ibid. Carlos Romulo, Meaning of Bandung, p.91.