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Listening to the third world

THE eighth summit of the 101-nation ``nonaligned'' movement, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, has been much like its earlier gatherings. The conference has been marked by often harsh rhetoric directed against the United States and other Western nations, while divisions among the nonaligned nations themselves have been played down. What makes this gathering unique, however, is the almost single-minded focus of the conference: opposition to current Western policies, especially those of the US, toward South Africa. The nonaligned nations want global sanctions directed against Pretoria to force that regime to end its apartheid policies.

Western nations would do well to listen to the message out of Harare. Behind the unfair rhetoric (the excessive criticism of the US, for example, amid a failure to condemn the Soviets for their invasion of Afghanistan), the nonaligned nations raise interesting points.

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In challenging apartheid, they are reflecting, in part, two of the most cherished values of the West -- the right of self-government and of the equality of all persons under the law. And, moving beyond apartheid, on international economic policy the third-world nations are telling the West that they want to be included in the global decisionmaking process. After all, they argue, their nations represent some two-thirds of the globe's population.

Again, excess in verbiage is no stranger to these conferences. Nor can it be said that all of the nations -- Cuba, Libya, and Nicaragua, for example -- are really ``nonaligned'' in the sense that they might be balanced midpoint between the capitalist West and the Soviet-bloc East. Nonaligned leaders themselves must privately recognize these biases. Many of them, reportedly, were stunned by Muammar Qaddafi's rambling speech to delegates in which he referred to the nonaligned movement as a ``funny movement'' and a ``fallacy.'' Seeing Colonel Qaddafi close up was no doubt instructive for wary third-world leaders -- and probably a plus for the US.

Most important, however, is that the nonaligned nations, by their very act of meeting, are seeking to exercise a leadership role within the global community. They deserve to be heard.

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