Just a thoughtThe think tank needs a head so it can do some thinking
The Institute of Foreign Affairs—the country’s premier foreign policy think tank under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—has spent the past year without a head. The post of executive director of the institute has been lying vacant since Prof Panna Kaji Amatya died last year. One whole year has passed, but the government has not been able to appoint a replacement.
Think tanks are institutions that conduct research and produce independent policy relevant knowledge. The Institute of Foreign Affairs too is supposed to offer suggestions and recommendations on foreign policy formulation, undertake study and research programmes, publish books and research materials related to foreign policy and updates, and compile historic documents and information on Nepal’s relations with foreign countries. With such a wide-ranging mandate, the Institute of Foreign Affairs should have been a thriving organisation. But it is sad to see the government letting this opportunity go and make a farce out of a think tank.
At this point, the Cabinet is meditating on the names of three shortlisted candidates—all former security officials—to head the state-owned think tank. But these names have been lying there for the past three months. What’s more, all three shortlisted candidates come from military backgrounds. It is imperative to understand that security is just part of international relations; it does not make up the whole of it.
The problem with a person from a military background heading the think tank is that it might promote a linear understanding of foreign relations that always sees to protect the state from getting attacked—militarily or otherwise—by other states. But international relations and foreign policy is a multi-level phenomena. It demands understanding the nuances of domestic factors that could be social or economic in nature to hardcore geopolitical changes. Anyone heading the institution must we well-versed and have a sound understanding of all these factors, and not just about security.
In the US, the rise of think tanks is thought to parallel the elevation of the US to global leadership. Since the government is usually tied up with its day-to-day work, seldom do those at the helm of affairs have the time to indulge in research. Since the Institute of Foreign Affairs is a state-owned think tank, the government could have set the research objectives of this analytical centre for the years to come so it could aid the government in decision making. But while the government does not fail to tout the importance of think tanks and make grand claims about establishing new ones, it has dismally failed in making the one that is existing functional.
The Institute of Foreign Affairs could have been a powerhouse. While the government has wasted a year already, it should now stop slacking. The need of the hour is to finalise someone to head the institution. And in doing so, the government must be cognisant of that fact that they choose someone with a broader understanding of international relations and foreign policy; not just someone who views the discipline and its practice through the prism of territory and warfare.