Nepal in a multipolar worldWe should recognise that inviting the influence of major powers can be risky and costly.
Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov is known for initiating the concept of a multipolar world. This recognition stems from the memorable incident—Primakov Loop—in which he instructed his crew to redirect their flight to Russia en route to Washington after learning that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had started to bomb Yugoslavia. Despite various global developments since then, the concept of a multipolar world has become more robust and reinforced, particularly with the commencement of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Before exploring the challenges and the role of a small Himalayan nation like Nepal in the multipolar world, it is crucial to comprehend the concept itself. A multipolar world refers to a global power structure with multiple centres of influence, as opposed to a unipolar world dominated by a single power.
In February 2022, Russian troops invaded Ukraine, claiming to protect the ethnic Russian-speaking population in Eastern Ukraine who sought independence as an autonomous state. The conflict also highlighted the aggressive eastward expansion of NATO, which the Kremlin perceives as a threat to its security and existence. The West, primarily influenced by decisions made in Washington DC, launched a campaign to isolate Russia economically and impose sanctions to alter the outcome of the war, effectively aiming to make Russia a pariah state. Some significant events that have occurred during the conflict include Russia’s expulsion from the SWIFT payment system, the explosion of the Nord Stream pipelines, and the freezing of Russia’s foreign currency reserves, which amount to approximately $330 billion. These are just a few examples of the economic and political measures taken by the West in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Despite the Western media’s emphasis on the efficacy of sanctions, they have largely failed to achieve their intended goals. The World Bank has predicted that Russia’s economy will grow by a modest rate of 0.7 percent, whereas countries like the UK and Germany are expected to experience negative growth rates. This indicates that the sanctions have had a limited impact on the Russian economy, and their effectiveness is debatable. Furthermore, this highlights that while Europe has managed to reduce its reliance on Russian energy, it has done so at the cost of higher energy prices and inflation. This demonstrates that reducing dependence on Russian energy is not without consequences and can significantly impact the economies of European countries.
In response to Western sanctions and reduced demand from Europe, Russia has successfully redirected its energy exports to other countries, particularly in the East. Russia has been able to expand its energy trade with countries such as India, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, among others. By diversifying its energy export destinations, Russia has reduced its reliance on the European market and mitigated the impact of Western sanctions. In light of these developments, Russia has strengthened its strategic and economic ties with China, a global economic powerhouse that also advocates for a multipolar world. The growing partnership between Russia and China has the potential to shift the balance of power in the international arena, with both countries cooperating on economic, political, and security issues. It is also worth noting the rise of BRICS, a coalition of major emerging economies including Brazil, Russia, India, China and
South Africa who are pushing for a more equitable and just world order. However, the rise of BRICS and its role in the emerging international relations requires a detailed analysis, and needs a piece of its own.
Implications for Nepal
Nestled between the two economic powerhouses of China and India, Nepal has little to offer regarding economic might, technological advancement, or global influence. However, its strategic location has attracted a significant foreign interest in recent years. This is evident in the visits of high-profile individuals such as Victoria Nuland, Samantha Power, and Chinese delegates, especially before the presidential election. These visits underscore the importance of the small nation and the keen interest of foreign powers in establishing their influence in the region. Despite Nepal’s policy of non-alignment towards security, military, and strategic alliances, which is evident from its refusal to participate in initiatives such as the Indo-Pacific strategy led by the US and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) joint military drill in 2018, the race to establish influence in the small nation has intensified more than ever.
The two major infrastructure development projects proposed in Nepal by the United States and China, namely Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have been the subject of much debate and controversy in Nepal. They are seen as ways for these countries to establish their influence over the small nation. However, without diving into the specifics of these humongous projects, Nepal must be cautious in its approach towards them, and ensure that these projects do not compromise its sovereignty and independence.
With its unique geographical location, Nepal can provide a strategic platform for the two economic giants in the neighbourhood to establish diplomatic ties and resolve any disputes. By maintaining a balanced and neutral stance, Nepal can become a bridge between the two nations and play a crucial role in promoting regional peace and stability. Furthermore, it is imperative that Nepal establishes its own policy and does not become a vassal state to any foreign power. The country must learn from the experiences of Ukraine and avoid being manipulated by outside forces to serve their interests.
Projects that require huge sums of money may only serve the interests of a few and may not necessarily benefit the common Nepali people. Therefore, Nepal should prioritise investing in areas such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure to ensure the overall development and prosperity of its citizens. By investing in these areas, the country can create a strong foundation for economic growth and social development. In addition, Nepal should continue to pursue regional integration through initiatives like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and others. These initiatives can help Nepal to expand its economic and diplomatic ties with neighbouring countries and create new opportunities for trade and investment.
Nepal is known for its diverse ethnicity, languages, and religions. However, with globalisation, the influence of western culture is slowly taking over. This is a threat to Nepal’s unique identity and heritage. Therefore, it is essential for Nepal to lessen the influence of Western culture and instead embrace its culture and traditions with a progressive mentality. While modernisation and technological advancements are important, it is equally crucial to focus on the well-being of the people of Nepal.
Moreover, embracing one’s culture and traditions does not necessarily mean rejecting progress and modernisation. Rather, it means finding a balance between the two and using technology and advancements in a way that aligns with the values and traditions of the country. In the emerging multipolar world, Nepal’s non-alignment policy is an important strategic choice that enables the country to maintain its independence and sovereignty. Nepal should recognise that inviting the influence of major powers can be a risky and costly endeavour and instead focus on its own strengths and work towards the upliftment of its people.