A dignified and principled foreign policy is what Nepal needs

Madhu Raman Acharya

Former Foreign Secretary, Nepal

National interests meet with the interests of others.

Any country’s national interests may have interface with another country’s interests. Sometimes, the national interests of two or more countries can be competing or mutually exclusive (e.g. territorial claims), while in others the countries may have competing but compatible interests. In other cases, the national interests of two or more countries can (be) converging or even complimentary to each other.

Safeguarding the security interests of neighbours comes within the parameter of national interest. Nepal’s premier diplomat Yadu Nath Khanal said some time ago:

“Our foreign policy will breakdown at the point where either India or China looses faith in us and concludes that her vital national interests and sensitivities do not receive proper recognition in our conduct of relations”.

Nepal’s national interest can be undermined if the security or vital political interests of either of big neighbours are undermined in Nepal. Despite the declared policy of not allowing the Nepalese soil against the security or political interests of the neighbouring countries, including India and China, the continued activities inimical to such interests poses a strong challenge to the Nepali state. For example, there is continued allegation of the Nepali territory used by anti-China activists and by the elements posing terrorist threats to India, including through the overt support of the intelligence activities of yet another neighbouring country. With case of the Tibetans seeking refuge in Nepal there is distinct dichotomy of humanitarian and political polices that Nepal has adopted. Politically, Nepal has always supported the “one- China policy” and pledged not to allow any anti-China activities in its soil. On humanitarian grounds, Nepal has always given asylum and safe passage to the Tibetan refugees. Nepal does not recognize the political authority of Daiai Lama, but is not against the spiritual and religious sentiments behind His Holiness, who has strong following among the Buddhist communities in Nepal. The Nepal Game Plan Report (2000) leaked from the Indian foreign intelligence agency showed how Nepal has been a playground of the foreign intelligence agencies. This exposed how Nepal is vulnerable to security and intelligence interests of other countries.

Political actors need to commit to national interests.

They need to commit publicly that they will not use foreign policy instruments in domestic politics. Ostensibly, every political party, group of individual have their vision and ideology for protecting the national interests and the interests of the people they are supposedly leading. They should avoid using foreign policy instruments or issues for their political, partisan or personal gains. Political parties should adopt an agreed code of conduct for their leaders and workers so that they are not allowed to seek personal favours from foreign powers making use of their positions of leadership. Such restrictions should apply to those seeking medical treatment, asking for foreign government-sponsored scholarships or admissions in foreign universities, refusing paid junkets to visit foreign countries and the likes. The country’s political party law should be amended for making the Code of Conduct mandatory in each political party. Similarly, the diplomatic code of conduct applicable to the officials and dignitaries should be strictly adhered to.

Political actors and sub-national groups needs to compromise their interests in the interest of the national interests. There will be certain derogation of individual, group or sub- national interests in the interest of the national interest. This factor is - often ignored in Nepal’s debate on federalism. The sub-national interests sometimes gets compromised towards the national interests. That is why many country’s constitutions have supremacy clauses, and pre-emption provisions, which allow the central government or parliament the supremacy over foreign policy issues. The individuals, groups and sub-national entities should give up certain interests for the interest of the national interest. This should be the core principle of federalizing the country and should be written clearly in the new constitution. As is explained above, there are hierarchy of national interests and interests of the nation, groups and individuals. In the interest of the national interests, the sub-national and group interests sometimes are derogated without undermining the core principles of human rights and democracy. This is a factor sometimes ignored in Nepal’s debate on constitution-making and state-restructuring. It must be adopted as a core principle in the conduct of foreign policy.

There is a need to address the security-first mindset

Often in our region, there is a tendency to assume security-first mindset, in dealing with every issue, which (is) not a problem in itself. But it must also be understood that security-first mindset is hampering smooth flow of people, goods and services, serving as a barrier to trade and economic development. For example, trucks in the transit through Kakarbhitta Banglabandh route operates only with Indian security escorts on workdays with a minimum convoy of 20 trucks. This cannot be exactly described as the best modality in the interest of trade and transit. This has to do with the security first mindset. It needs to change for better.

There is strong need for taking into account unconventional threats to national interests: There are several unconventional threats to national interests, mainly its security interests. The issues food security, environmental security, health hazards and energy security are primary among them. Nepal’s rural areas face perennial shortages of food supply and face hunger. Each year, Nepal faces devastating natural disasters including floods and landslides, which is aggravated by threats of climate change including the melting of the Himalayas. Nepal is also reeling under perennial energy crunch and load-shedding due power shortages. Occasional instances of epidemics also cause panic in the country. For example, Nepal is not yet fully prepared to deal with the Ebola virus, should it break in here. Thus Nepal must prepare itself to tackle all these unconventional threats to national interests.

Nepal has a few limited options and instruments available to protect the national interests. Nepal has only a few options and instruments available at its disposal to defend its national interests. They include:

• A dignified and principled foreign policy:

• Power of persuasive diplomacy

• Pursuance of economic diplomacy

• Instrument of military power (which has limited applicability for self-defense or for deterrence purposes)

# Using international instruments (treaties, conventions, institutions and multilateral diplomacy at the UN and other international institutions e.g. UN.

Use of regional instruments: It is in Nepal’s self-interest to engage proactively with the instruments of regional cooperation (such as SAARC and BIMSTEC) and the multilateral mechanism (such as the United Nations).

Building partnerships and cooperative security arrangements:

Though entering into any coalitions and alliances is against Nepal’s declared policy of non-alignment, partnership and cooperative security strategy can be used as an instrument to promote national interests.

There is need to evolve grand narrative based on national interests. Nepal does not have a national narrative of its worldview. National interest does not just lie in the domain of the state or the government. There has to be an active strategic and academic discourse on defending the national interests. Non-government actors like the civil society, non-governmental organizations, think tanks, academia, Track Two diplomats, and the country’s private sector must have a say in articulating and defending the national interests and in the development of national narrative based on national interests. This requires articulating the worldview through a prism of national interests.

“A further strengthening of our distinct national identity and pursuit of socio-economic progress in a democratic framework are Nepal’s cardinal goals into the next century”, said former prime minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai before the turn of the century. Nepal must set such longer-term strategic goals of foreign and strategic polices based on the national interests. This exercise must continue towards defining interest- based goals and objectives of foreign policy and defending them utilizing all instruments of national power, including political, economic, and diplomatic and military. Concluded. # Fifth part of the paper presented at seminar on “Defending National Interest in Emerging Internal, Regional and International Challenges”, organized by the Institute of Foreign Affairs (Kathmandu, 9 September 2014). Thanks Mr. Acharya and the organiser: Ed.

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