Adopting Pragmatic Foreign Policy


By GP Acharya ( KATHMANDU, 26 June 2019) – As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is organizing a “National Dialogue on Foreign Policy” on June 29, 2019 with an objective to formulate a common view on foreign policy in the changed political reality, the government has to think transform its narrative of foreign policy and make a paradigm shift through proactive to perceptive diplomacy. The basic tenets of Nepal’s Foreign policy have been laid down by Prithivi Narayan Shah, who said: “Great friendship should be maintained with the Chinese Emperor. Friendship should also be maintained with the Emperor of the Southern Seas, but he is very clever. Do not engage in an offensive attack, fighting should be done on a defensive basis. If it is found difficult to resist in the fight, then even means of persuasion, tact, and deceit should be employed”. Yet, the geography remains same; sensitivities and significance of geo-strategic role multiplies.

Henry Kissinger once said- “For centuries, Nepal skillfully balanced its diplomatic posture between the ruling dynasties in China and those in India- offering letters and gifts that were interpreted as tribute in China but recorded as evidence of equal exchanges in Nepal, then holding out a special tie with China as a guarantee of Nepal’s independence via- avis India”.

Nepal is one of the sixteenth countries which has ever never been colonized in the history of world politics. Athvarvebed and Kautilya’s Arthasasthra both have mentioned about Nepal and its trade potency nearly 5000 years ago. Realizing the magnitude of geo-location, international organizations- WB, ADB, UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, OHCHR, ILO, ICRC and SAARC among others- have established their office in Kathmandu. Meanwhile, Nepal has established diplomatic relations with 158 countries and has maintained commercial and labor relations with more than 109 countries. Nepal hosts 29 and has stationed 38 diplomatic missions abroad including 3 Permanent Mission (New York, Vienna and Geneva) and 6 Consulate Office (Calcutta, Hongkong, Guangzhou, Lhasa, New York and Jeddah). Nepal has already been temporary member of UN Security Council twice (1969-70 and 1988-1989) and is incumbent Vice-Chair of UN-CEDAW. Nepal is also member of several organizations- SAARC, BIMSTEC, BBIN, WB, IMF, WTO, UNCTAD, G77, UNESCAP, UNGA (LDCs) and NAM.

How effectively Nepal is materializing these associations? Are Nepali missions/diplomats well marshaling their networks and knowledge to conduct public diplomacy or conducting seminars on contemporary issues or delivering lectures in foreign universities to advance Nepal’s national interest?

Re-defining Foreign Policy

With the changing dynamics of world politics and developments in domestic, regional and international spheres, our national interest needs to address the contemporary needs by using the available policy instruments and their options.

First, Nepal’s foreign policy has to be executed vis-à-vis the immediate neighbors where historic resonance, geo-integrity, geo-cultural reality and geo-economics need to be comprehended. Nepal has to make realize both the neighbors that Nepal’s stability and security or lack thereof is going to affect the security of either because of Nepal’s geo-political proximity. For now, Nepal can host Nepal-India-China (NIC) Summit in Kathmandu with a schema of ‘Nepal’s Cooperation on Global Outreach of India and China’by inviting both the PM of India and President of China where Nepal can project a concrete sketch to address both of their security concern first, and push an agenda of trilateral economic and security architecture, then seek long term security assurance from either.

Second, the cold war era NAM policy needs to be redefined as ‘constructive neutrality’ as the bipolarity today differs from that of US-Soviet in the past and is largely at virtual world, space, sea and on tech and trade. Thus, Nepal has to adopt ‘Three-Pillar Foreign Policy’ and bring India, China and the West into its confidence through a global level of political interaction.  Since India, China and the US are equally eager to maintain good relations with Nepal hoping to be actively engaged in Kathmandu, perhaps to balance their respective interests with one over other. With the balance and counter balance strategy, Nepal has to strengthen its relations to the West and get larger access to global world by making globalization, open world economy, multiculturalism and soft powers as its diplomatic tools.

Third, cultural, commercial, tech and trade diplomacy have to be adopted. Nepal has had huge social capital beneath Buddhism and Hinduism which need to be (re)assembled and cashed through cultural soft diplomacy.  Nepal can benefit massively from digital strategy. Nepal has to initiate virtual embassy that can help create meaningful interactions with the foreign publics and enable to manage Nepal’s global image, increase media visibility, attract FDI, promote tourism and amass soft power resources.

Fourth, controlling of foreign influence, cutting down foreign employment, building civilized and harmonious society, preparing global citizens, human rights and child rights, advocating for climate change, Himalayan and glacier protection among others should be in foreign policy priorities.

Fifth, consistent, coherent and cohesive stand needs to be projected in case of core policy. Careful calibration of words matter the most in diplomacy and foreign policy. “While speaking, speaking nothing is diplomacy” is an old saying now. ‘While speaking, speaking with a sense of diplomatic intelligence’ is an ideal of contemporary diplomatic practices. When we lose sense of intelligence while making decision in sensitive issues that might create ample ground for accidents and consequently nation has to suffer. For instance, the diplomatic quandary created in Venezuelan crisis and BIMSTEC military drill out (or in) may be perceived as Nepal’s immature Foreign Policy.

Sixth, Nepal has to be proactive in regional and global forums and needs to enhance its soft powers, culture and resources as globalization, technology, open world economy and multi-culturalism have been the driving forces of world economy today. Nepal had good trade and diplomatic relations with Britain and Tibet initiated in the 18th century even before the concept of globalization and the advancement of ICT and transport. So, Nepal needs to revive and redefine its historic trade relations it had with British, Chinese- Tibetan, European, American and Japanese government in the past.

Seventh, needs to maintain dignity and global diplomatic protocol while in high level visits and issuing of statements.

Eighth, needs to develop a consensus on significant domestic and foreign policy issues.

Ninth, diplomatic intelligence needs to be practiced as the core of diplomatic process, decision making and security concern. With the assessment of the diplomatic and intelligence failures in the past, Nepal has to realize the need of systemic reform to curtail diplomatic crisis management in the future and have to create diplomatic processes with clear institutional roles and responsibilities where top-level political leaders, diplomatic and foreign ministry team and security apparatus must be insightful in diplomatic processes and decision making. The Institute of Foreign Affairs (IoFA) and NITI Foundation, government initiated policy think tank, need to be proactive in policy formulation, research and analysis. The PM office needs to establish three special foreign policy desks- India, China, US and West- and recruit dynamic foreign policy experts such that they could provide warning of threats to Nepal’s national security, give analytical support to the policy communities and identify opportunities for advancing our national interest. The government must invest on aspirant diplomats and send them to the world class institution for research and training such that we’d have world class diplomats and foreign policy experts upon their return. Equally, Nepal needs to be prepared for back-channel diplomacy, plan-B foreign policy and even ‘propaganda diplomacy’, as and when required.

Handling Diplomacy

Since, Nepal does not possess any significant intelligence, counter intelligence or strategic intelligence mechanisms and has not been equipped with any defense technology yet; Nepal’s presence in regional and global politics should not create ample ground for others to cause trouble to us. Nepal can not apply the version of Newton’s third law of motion in international political or diplomatic sphere. How Nepal maintains its relations with Beijing and New Delhi is a closed concern of Washington, today. So, realizing the sensitivities and significance of geo-strategic role we’ve to make sensible move and balance the expectations projected under BRI, BIMSTEC, SAARC, Indo-Pacific Strategy and others.

Nonetheless, Nepal has to equally leverage from all the powers by maintaining its relations through inclusive political interaction, partnership and cooperation or balancing and strategic-hedging since Nepal is in a system affecting position right now. Yet, we’ve to develop a comprehensive diplomatic intelligence culture and project a stately foreign policy to advance Nepal’s national interest and heighten its gradually enlivening stature around the globe.

Acharya is a researcher and analyst who holds an M.Sc. in Computer Science,  M.Sc. in Statistics, completed M.A. in International Relations and Diplomacy, and studied MPhil in Management.

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