Foreign Policy: Quest for New Frontiers
Madhavji Shrestha, Ex-foreign Ministry Official, Nepal
Historically examined, Nepal’s foreign policy has been successful in ensuring the independent political identity of the country as a free player in the international arena. Undoubtedly, its primary objective is to maintain the independence of the country and to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity with its national security and socio-economic development as uppermost priorities in its actions and dealings with neighbors and the world at large.
The policy of non-alignment the country adopted since more than five decades ago has unmistakably remained satisfying in its journey towards greater involvement in the world affairs. However recently, the importance of non-alignment as an instrument of the external policy has declined perceptibly, which was not even thought of as a figment of fancy during its heydays; With the end of the Cold War about a decade and half ago, the momentum of the non-aligned movement has declined both in its intensity and extent. Although the non-aligned movement has lost much of its shining glow, non-alignment as a policy of maintaining relations with neighbors and countries of various regions and continents of the world is still showing its utility, albeit antiquated it looks. The XIV non-alignment summit held in Cuba in September 2006 could be cited as an example of its existing worth. True, Critics are very prone to pinpoint its visibly diminishing role in making any significant contribution to the world peace and security at the present juncture. Its validity and relevance are often being questioned with bitter criticisms hurled at it as a movement of non-substance for now. Some even quote the comment made about the policy of non-alignment as merely “a moral basis in just staying aloof’. The remark clearly demonstrates the non-aligned behavior and attitude as an act of passivity and recluse with no creative idea and contributory move for a better world to live in. However, that has not been proven by the historical development of the non-aligned movement.
Non-alignment and the World
Critics write that non-alignment on the global stage has gone down much in term of its significance; certainly, it will lose its worthiness, unless and until it could add newer elements to tone up its mechanisms for its effectiveness as demanded by the changing environment in the global scenario, wherein economics of self-motivated interest visibly and invisibly play an intrusive role in the national behavior and attitude of every member of the international community with more powerful and bigger countries having larger say and influence in the emerging international order. This growing tendency has, in fact, pushed the political ideology to the sidelines and security concern to the backburner. In such a circumstance, the non-aligned group with its greatest number of members from three bigger continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America could veritably become a mammoth political force and a towering beacon to make impressive impact the world over to the advantages of its member states. However, this group is currently moving randomly with a conspicuously felt absence of charismatic leaders to guide the movement towards the proper direction of socio-economic advancement of the developing and underdeveloped countries of these three continents. Ideas are not lacking; however sadly, actions and accomplishments are lagging far behind the time and situation. Useful and reliable literature and information abound in the research centers of various important cities of the world. Only the question is who will prod the political leaders of bigger and influential non-aligned countries to bring them to the political tables for better utilization and dissemination of those ideas and information on the global scale.
Geographically disadvantaged country like Nepal had been suffering tremendously from the political instability and security nightmare for the past decade. Consequently, its foreign policy at most has remained reactive in nature and activities. Now Nepal has become a politically transformed country with a much greater need to pay attention and to allocate resources towards socio-economic uplift of its masses. If a serious thought is given to our foreign policy in particular and our connectivity with the countries of non-aligned group in general, we can float and disseminate great ideas and useful information among non-aligned countries for the benefit of the majority of its member states. True, the majority of the non-aligned countries are still developing and some, until now, underdeveloped like ours. Currently, if we give a good deal of thought about the non-aligned countries, they are now not very weak and powerless as had been during the initial years of the non-aligned movement.
At present, non-aligned countries have now become influential suppliers of goods and services in a much larger scale. Its current international trade share has jumped above 43 percent of the world trading volume. Capabilities are always on the rise in this vital sector of the economic life. Energy as the lifeblood of every nation is supplied by the developing non-aligned countries to the developed ones. Technical know-how and productivity are fast improving in non-aligned countries. Education and health are getting far better now than four decades earlier. Still vital is the fact that non-aligned countries themselves have amassed more than US $ 2 trillion as foreign exchange reserve. All these facts and figures point to the growing strength and importance of non-aligned countries in the global arena. These are real, not fictitious. With all these things in mind, Nepal and like-minded countries can utilize their wisdom and ideas to reinvigorate the movement to make it more purpose serving. Unless new turn is given to the movement, it will fast become just a series of obsolete international events not having left any legacy to the future generation. The serious concern before the non-aligned group is how to address the contemporary socio-economic issues of its member states together and to look ahead in making united efforts to meet political challenges to keep up its relevance in the 21th century.
Non- alignment and Neighbors
Viewed from Nepal’s geo-strategic position, the culture and policy of non-alignment is pragmatically still relevant. It should not be an. attitude to be taken so summarily. The questions of national security and concern of socio-economic development of Nepal are inseparably linked with the interests and desires of our two close big neighbors. It is true that the last few years have witnessed the developing of closer links between our two big neighbors with mutual suspicion steadily receding and reciprocal confidence increasing each passing year with the growth of trade and economic cooperation between them going mutually satisfactorily. Even the military engagements in an understandably cooperative way have made a good impact over their bilateral ties. Such an increasing trend of cooperation has indeed reduced Nepal’s burden of tension in managing our relations with them.
The initial proposal of India agreed by Nepal to make it a transit route between India and China could work as a catalyst, if implemented. It would be highly useful to develop the underdeveloped regions of North India and West China alongside contributing to Nepal’s physical development and economic progress. H would also certainly enhance the understanding and reciprocity among three countries. Nepal’s impartial and fair deals with strict adherence to the policy of non-alignment have a lot more to do in bringing those two big neighbors closer to each other. This has indeed come as a clear outcome of our non-aligned behavior vis-à-vis India and China. Had we been aligned with either of them, the regional scenario would have been different from what it is today. Hence, the value of non-alignment remains useful, which has created a relaxed atmosphere and reduced tension. In reality, it is a substantial contribution of Nepal’s non-aligned policy and post-tire long adopted with foresight and experience gained from the dealings with both of them in particular and lesson learnt from examples gleaned from other countries having similar geographic position like ours. We can say safely; Nepal would stand more as a land linked territory for greater connectivity in the economic and social spheres between the two fast growing economies of India and China. More importantly, it would steadily wipe out our deprived sense of the land locked status. We could achieve a position better appreciated everywhere as art example shown to other similar countries of Asia and Africa to follow the way Nepal has been treading.
Nepal and UN
As it is a usual tendency of every weak nation, Nepal has also reposed its complete faith in the purposes and principles of the United Nations. The current involvement of the UN in the ongoing peace process in Nepal itself has come as an inherent example to prove the tendency. Despite its unbounded belief in the policies and actions of the UN and also in view of its long association with the UN and its various organs and agencies, Nepal could not yet play its role effectively in financial contributions and diplomatic activities because of its highly limited financial resources on the one hand and on the other, the dearth of opportunities for its well talented and suitably qualified diplomats. However, Nepal has set an example of contributing armed troops for peacekeeping operations in various troubled parts and countries of the world. On this score Nepal ranks one of the top five out of 89 contributing member-states of the UN. This contribution reflects a good connectivity Nepal could maintain with the - UN and its security operational system.
However to the great chagrin of all, the humiliating defeat of Nepal in the election to a non-permanent Asian seat in the Security Council in October 2006 has come as a bitter pill to swallow. Nepal has learnt an unforgettable lesson from the defeat, which will certainly make our foreign policy formulators and diplomats mature and correctly thinking in any future initiatives and actions to be taken as far as our relations with the UN are concerned. Nepal as a small and disadvantaged country needs to utilize its wisdom and energy to make our long association with the UN more beneficial and rewarding in view of its current needs and aspirations. If common approach could be formulated and fostered with like-minded countries, success will not elude us. Pragmatic efforts will pay in the long run in some much needed areas of reform in the UN working system.
The working modality evolved through the past six decades in the UN system clearly lacks democratic process with many disadvantages to smaller member-states, especially in the management of security affairs and concerns worldwide Nepal needs to pay continued attention to eliminate as far as possible with the support and advice of smaller member-states such inherent defects festering in the functioning process of the UN. If determined, success may accrue steadily as weaker member states enjoy a majority in the General Assembly. Socially and economically remaining far behind richer and more developed countries, Nepal should consider to gear up to gain influence over the development policies and programs of the UN. Nepal will not have to remain isolated in such efforts but can work ahead to contribute substantially, if concerted efforts in closer collaboration with disadvantaged member-states like ours are initiated towards obtaining greater share of socio-economic advancement of the underdeveloped world. Also not least in importance is the much talked about democracy fund of the UN. The contributing role of democracy fund would be crucially important to provide a greater boost to those member-states, which are struggling hard to put democratization process on track. Nepal belongs to such a category of countries too, and hence, need not lag behind in making greater voice heard in creating such fund on a larger scale.
A new Nepal fighting for a place of dignity and honor in the comity of nations must mull over in concentrating its efforts to make gains in the democratization process in the UN working system and aspire to play a visible role in the development related Organs and its agencies and finally endeavor for greater utilization of democracy fund for the needy countries.
Nepal and Globalization
Unfortunately, unpleasant is the fact that Nepal can be hardly spotted on the economic map of the world. Its contribution to the world economic production is less than 0.02 percent of the total global production. Only last year, it has come to be known that the competitive capability of Nepal stands at the 110th position among 125 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) of Switzerland. On the world economic front Nepal’s status is hardly better than those of a host of the Sub-Saharan countries of Africa. This serious challenge is emerging as a threatening condition to be dealt with effectively by the government of the transformed Nepal. In the daunting task of solving this formidable problem Nepal’s lone efforts and capabilities are hardly enough to get a success of any consideration. Nepal needs to brace up to get it involved in the most recent trend of globalization process through regional integration approach. Until today, Nepal’s participation in the SAARC integration process in the peripheral economic activities and more recently through SAFE A modality can hardly provide any promising future for the economic growth. However, emphasis put on the physical, economic and human connectivity by the 14th Summit alongside, the people’s immediate concerns for food security, energy, environment etc. has generated hopes for the socio-economic development through the integration process.
Our expected participation in the BIMSTEC free trade process cannot bring any substantial growth either. South Asian Growth Quadrangle of four Southeast Asian countries including Nepal and India has remained almost non-existent and non-functioning. Given the current regional economic integration process developing in the South Asian region and in Asian continent as well, Nepal must set itself ready to explore new possibilities and seek association with other regional organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that includes China, Russia, and four central Asian States in which our southern big neighbor India and Pakistan have already become observers. Within a short span of time, this organization, much younger than SAARC, has been achieving substantial progress on the matters of trade, investment, and energy and infrastructure development. On the questions of terrorism, extremism and separatism too, this regional organization has come up as a reliable body to deal with the current challenge. Possibly these may be main reasons that India and Pakistan are eagerly awaiting to have greater connections with SCO along with its other observers like Iran and Mongolia. While formulating foreign policy the Nepali authorities and decision makers should give a serious thought to be included into this fast rising regional organization. Opportunity at hand must not go slipped away.
Nepal has been, it is felt, sidelined from the mainstream of globalization process partly due to the domestic political instability and security uncertainty, and mainly because of poor governance, and raw and insufficient physical infrastructures existing in the country. If Nepal wishes to show any real presence on the economic map of the globe, the interim coalition government including the Maoists must gear up to glaringly improve domestic situations, both physical and political, along with the declaration of our foreign policy getting along with the most recent trend of the globalization through regional integration process. There is no other option on the foreign policy front except putting our external economic policy on proper trajectory. Even the common people believe that Nepal will never achieve sizeable economic growth just because of donations and remittances received from abroad. Appropriate actions, if well thought out and pragmatically implemented, would be the only solution to our awfully deprived status of economic owes. Forget we must not that globalization is a ‘desirable thing’. Joseph Stiglitz suggests a ‘global greenbacks’ arrangement- a global reserve fund of national currencies contributed by each country to meet the national need when it arises. This proposition may be helpful to the needy countries like Nepal in the wake of globalization. Exploratory measure is advisable in this respect.
Text courtesy: Author’s paper published in Nepal Council of World Affairs Magazine, 2007, Nepal. Mr. Shrestha is currently Co-ordinator of the NCWA Publication Sub-Committee. He has already served in the Foreign Ministry of Nepal for several years-ed.