Retuning foreign policyIn the past few decades, the setting for international relations between states has transformed considerably at the regional and global levels.
In the past few decades, the setting for international relations between states has transformed considerably at the regional and global levels. There has been a paradigm shift from geo-political safety concerns to economic and social security concerns. The magnitude of economic inter-dependence between nations and associations based on a win-win position are becoming the new sustainable values in world politics.
Nepal has been touched by the drastic surge in right-wing nationalism across Europe and America. Recently, China endorsed ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ as one of its guiding principles, and India’s orientation to restructure its ‘neighbourhood first’ policy has appeared as a challenge for Nepal.
In accordance with the changing milieu, Kathmandu needs to carefully revaluate its bilateral, sub-regional and multilateral relations and review its current foreign policy. Last April, the government formed an exclusive Foreign Policy Review Taskforce under the coordination of Foreign Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat. It was assigned to draft a vibrant foreign policy document relevant to the changed global context and deliver concrete recommendations. The taskforce has prepared the final draft suggesting immediate calibration in some domains of foreign policy. Because of its obligation to propose new mechanisms in foreign policy, it needs to give deeper insight into fluctuations in the international sphere.
The global sphere
The election of US President Donald Trump and an exhibition of the white supremacist nationalist phenomenon in the US and the triumph of Brexit in the UK should prompt Nepali scholars to consider to what extent they should suggest reframing the country’s foreign policy to make it compatible with the changed global context. Likewise, a conference entitled ‘Revisiting Nepal’s Foreign Policy in the Contemporary Global Power Structure’ initiated by the Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs has concluded that Nepal’s foreign policy lacks strong direction and is mostly influenced by temporary changes in the domestic and international arena. It further emphasised that Nepal should base its foreign policy on Panchsheel and stick strongly to the principle of non-alignment. Similarly, Leo E Rose in his book Nepal Strategy for Survival has claimed that big states like China and India might have ambitious issues guiding their foreign policy whereas the foreign policies of small states like Nepal mainly focus on a survival strategy. This statement seems to be relevant today too as our former prime minister has signed an agreement ‘to make similar views on international issues’, that is Nepal would support Indian policies on international affairs.
Lack of consensus among leaders on subjects of national interest has prevented the formation of policy priorities. Coalition governments and contradictory views of politicians with respect to regional and international concerns have tarnished our national image. Consequently, Nepal does not seem to have an operative foreign policy that is balanced, up-to-date, all-inclusive and effective. India launched its neighbourhood first policy some three years ago and China proclaimed its own neighbourhood policy five years ago. Nepal needs to understand its big neighbours’ policies and their implications because policy doesn’t come out of nothing. There are always hidden mechanisms and interests. In today’s context, an emphasis on economic rather than conventional diplomacy has become more vital. Application of negotiation skills and intelligence in promoting development, investment and trade is an integral part of economic diplomacy.
The World Bank Doing Business Report has ranked Nepal second after Bhutan among South Asian countries in the ease of doing business index with a 66.41 DTF (distance to frontier) score.
On the home front
Nepal’s investment-friendly environment provides abundant opportunities for foreign direct investment (FDI) in sectors like hydropower, agriculture, tourism, construction, manufacturing, mining and energy. FDI from the northern and southern neighbours and other interested parties besides the entry of advanced foreign expertise, technology and managerial skills can boost our economy. However, such an achievement can only be gained by making a bottom-up improvement to top-down reforms in foreign policy mechanisms. Amid such complexities, the government should give the Foreign Ministry free rein to become actively involved in issues of bilateral and multilateral relations. The history of Nepali diplomacy shows that the Foreign Ministry and its diplomatic assignments abroad lack a perfect sense of direction. Their role is often overlooked and is not prepared to encounter newly evolving foreign policy disputes, resulting in confusion over the country’s foreign policy choices.
Similarly Nepal must revisit the prospects and challenges of the 1950 India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship. With massive changes at home and abroad, sticking to this treaty that requires Nepal to maintain a ‘special’ relationship with a specific country holds no relevance in the current globalised world. Hence, the country should not delay revising this irrelevant treaty. Furthermore, the genesis of some bilateral crises is directly connected with the open border between the two countries which leaves both of them vulnerable to terrorist attacks and other illegal activities. So the open border between Nepal and India should be closed.
Finally, our leaders must understand that international beggary and national sovereignty do not go together. Without firm commitment, independent foreign policy and effective implementation, Nepal is likely to remain trapped in a situation where foreign powers will compete to maintain influence in our domestic affairs.
Poudyal is pursuing a Master’s degree in International Relation and Diplomacy, Tribhuvan University