Thoughts on securityNepal needs a strategy to ensure the survival of the state as an independent physical entity
Growing threats to the national security of small democratising nations by terrorist groups and political behaviour have introduced a new dimension of transformation. Nepal’s national security must be addressed as a conceptual framework and cannot be observed independently. It is related to the concept of national interest, power and stability. Senior political scientist David A Baldwin suggests that three themes emerged at the end of World War II—decline of military power in international politics, need to reexamine the concept of international relations and national security and need to view national security in broader terms. This is also the post-Cold War period with the US as the only standing global power.
Let me discuss national security from four aspects. First, as for Nepal, I agree with what Walter Lippmann has written, “A nation has security when it does not have to sacrifice its legitimate interests to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by war.” Second, Samuel Makinda has written that all the institutions, principles and structures associated with society, including its people, are to be protected from ‘military and non-military threats’. Third, developments across the world and in Nepal following the end of the Cold War have underlined very clearly many conflicts like ethnic and religious conflict, terrorism, migration, democracy, human rights, gender, crime, poverty, hunger and deprivation. So survival, self-preservation and wellbeing are day-to-day concerns. Fourth, the United Nations has promoted the concept of human security in terms of economic, food, health, environment, personal, community and political issues.
Nepal needs a widely accepted strategy and action to ensure the survival of the state as an independent physical entity. Understanding and identifying the instruments of power and the elements of power and how the state can be safeguarded to ultimately protect the people is significant. The threat to security has varied from conventional to non-state actors, natural disasters and even multinational and non-governmental organisations. So what is required is a concept that the government along with Parliament can protect the state and its citizens. The prosperity of the seven proposed federal states is another component of national security. Every country has its own security strategy and priorities. Accordingly, Nepal’s security perceptions differ from those of her bigger neighbours due to geo-political situation, military, society and economic strength.
It cannot be denied that the 1996-2006 armed conflict led the country to a state of chaos, instability and violence. At the same time, however, it brought social transformation and political awareness for freedom, democracy and human rights. Nepal is home to diverse ethnic groups, so there is a need for unity, harmony and mutual respect both in politics and society. The significant changes in internal and external dynamics are transforming Nepal into a plural, democratic, multi-ethnic, federal and secular state. Multiple security challenges are not very far away. Some of the significant concerns begging serious attention are activities by unarmed groups affiliated to political parties or ethnic groups, illegal armed groups in the Tarai, turf wars between youth wings of political parties, human rights violations, intra-party factional conflicts, divergent views on national issues, high inflation, crime on the India-Nepal border, food deficit, poor communication infrastructure, frequent road blockades and general strikes and intra-party conflict.
National Security Council
Defining the nature, scope and authority of the National Security Council (NSC) as a fundamental constitutional agency is vital.
The NSC should deal with all issues that can threaten or have the potential to threaten both internal and external security. The NSC should have an effective advisory role without any executive authority. The authority of execution should lie firmly with the Council of Ministers. The NSC and its associated structures should be expected to focus primarily on a multi-disciplinary approach to security issues and long- and short-term assessment of threats, challenges and opportunities.
The primary functions of the NSC should be: Making recommendations to the Council of Ministers on the mobilisation, operation and use of the Nepal Army; advising and assisting the prime minister on national security and foreign policy; serving as the prime minister’s principal arm for coordinating these policies among various government agencies.
The NSC should comprise four structures—the council, Strategic Policy Committee (SPC), National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and NSC Secretariat (NSCS). The seven-member council will be chaired by the prime minister. The SPC should include the secretaries of all the ministries and the Chief of the General Staff of the Nepal Army, heads of the Nepal Police, Armed Police Force and National Intelligence Department. It should be the principal mechanism for inter-ministerial coordination and integration of relevant inputs in the formulation of national security policies. The chief secretary of the government should chair this group. The NSAB should comprise a nominated convener and experts in various fields. It should advise the NSC on issues of national and international security. The secretariat should be a specialised unit under the direct charge of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). It should be headed by the defence secretary who acts as a member secretary of the SPC. The secretariat should be staffed by personnel from all the security agencies, civil servants and experts. All the ministries and departments should consult the secretariat on matters having a bearing on national security.
Peaceful and prosperous Nepal
The NSC will not only act during emergencies but every day on a wide range of security issues. Consensus, especially among the political forces, is the only way forward. The security challenges that may arise from diversity and poverty must be addressed at the earliest to fulfil public aspirations that can be defined as peace, harmony, economic activities, opportunity, political rights to marginalised groups, justice to all, prosperity, equality and employment. An adaptable and comprehensive security architecture that balances the domestic interests is needed to face the future national security challenges. Protecting national unity, political independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty is a vital responsibility of the political forces. Political determination to create an environment conducive to economic development and opportunities for the underprivileged will pave the way for a peaceful, prosperous and harmonious Nepal.
Basnyat is a retired Nepal Army Major General and holds an MPhil in defence and strategic studies