By Not Aligning, We May Be Already Aligned

2016-06-03-1464958846-8518405-SouthAsian-thumbBy Shyam KC–   

The global power shifts to the Asia pacific is remarkably reshuffling the structures and relations of the region. Nonaligned basically manifests the notion of not aligning with any bloc. It is also considered as the de facto alliance with no military character. Absence of comprehensive domestic consensus regarding the foreign affairs approach at home, in addition to that – considerably shifting geopolitical and geostrategic imperatives in the Asia pacific region, crafts the complexities in Nepal’s nonaligned foreign policy. Prior moving to the wide-ranging approach of such perplexities and prospects, squeezing the nitty-gritty of nonaligned foreign policy (NFP) and dynamics of the movement could lay on some significance.

Non Aligned Movement (NAM) had been credited for speaking about decolonization, providing stronger voice to the weak and newly formed nations, acting as a catalyst of détente in the bifurcated world order. NAM also, focuses on settlement of disputes by peaceful means, firmly opposing the nuclear arms race and fostering economic cooperation among the member states.

In relation to the military alliances, “…so far as bloc formation is concerned, we are not in favor of forming even a neutral bloc” the than King Mahendra said in his speech, at the first NAM summit in Belgrade. In the successive NAM summit representative from Nepal is continuously supporting the movement.

Nepal is one of the founding members of NAM.  The policy of nonalignment is formally adopted as the guiding principle of Nepal’s foreign policy – and one of the objective as stated officially is “to play a positive and meaningful role in the Nonaligned Movement in the context of a changed world”.

The very absence of the presence of executive power from Nepal in 17th NAM Summit on September 17-18, 2016 at Margarita Island in Venezuela, projects the perplexity of Nepal’s NFP approach.  Interestingly, Prime Minister from Nepal was receiving state visit in India from his counterpart, while in the other part, the world was hosting the NAM Summit. There is the reason; India skipping the NAM summit, diplomatic pundits considered move as the India’s gesture for even closer ties between the two countries, because NAM is generally perceived as the anti- US forum.       Without exaggeration, it would have been better if Nepal had managed bilateral and international relations, given its geostrategic sensitivity.

NAM had been criticized for a number of reasons, like not being able to prevent Iraq-Kuwait war and many other similar crises. Ironically, Nepal faced the economic blockade in 1989 and 2015 by the NAM member state itself and no member states came for our defense.

Notwithstanding lots of ambiguity, essentially, the three dimension of NAM will support the relevance in the context of Nepal. Firstly, it is true that like critic argue, many of the NAM countries fall under the rogue state category and are engulfed with inter-state conflict and leadership crisis within the NAM itself. Nepal needs to seize this opportunity to start the foray of international leadership–promoting peace and prosperity. Secondly, issues like sustainable development, south-south cooperation, economic governance, UN reform, peacekeeping operations, climate change, nuclear disarmament – inter alia can be promoted collectively. Finally and must significantly, geostrategic sensitivity and power shift towards Asia, added the pertinence to nonaligned policy of Nepal, due to the legacy of NAM resilient continued participation in it has some meaning.

Nepal’s NFP in Regional and Global Power Politics

In international system, the strategic paradigm is enormously shifting towards Asia. The actors are intensively busy in the process for power balance. Just this September, Chinese military conducted naval drill with its Russian counterpart in South China Sea, where as 12th edition of Indo-US joint military exercise took place in Uttarakhada of India, near to Chinese border.

Especially after the 2001, Indo-US relations took momentum. “The US is investing a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region”, as stated in 2012 U.S. strategic guidance.  In speech at US Congress on June 8, 2016, Prime Minister Modi described Indo-US relations as the ‘indispensible partnership’, also stating, “India is already assuming her responsibilities in securing the Indian Ocean region. A strong India-U.S. partnership can anchor peace, prosperity and stability from Asia to Africa and from Indian Ocean to the Pacific.”  Moreover, on July 2016, Japan, India and U.S. conducted the joint naval exercise in Okinawa Prefecture’s east coast and in the Philippine Sea.

On August 29, 2016, USA and India signed, Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), though it is not the kind of formal military alliance, unlike USA has with Japan, South Korea and with other East Asian nations. India and USA can access each other’s facilities around the world for the purpose of refueling and replenishment, stated in The Hindu, solely the logistic agreement.

Despite some contentious bilateral issues, like Russia’s concerns regarding the growing Chinese presence in Central Asia and encroachment in Russia Far East, Sino-Russian strategic partnership is evolving. From 2012 Sino-Russian joint naval drill has been taking place; just this September, eight day Joint Sea-2016 drill completed in South China Sea, considerably the high flash point of security crisis of 21st century. Both parties claimed that the drill is not aimed at any third party or region but to defend ‘common security interest’.

Sputnik International, Russian government-controlled news agency, quoted President Putin Saying, “We stand in solidarity and support of China’s position on this issue – not to recognize the decision of this court…” – supporting the China’s stance rejecting the decision by Permanent Court of Arbitration on July, 2016 in the matter of South China Sea. The decision of arbitration, favored the claim of Philippines on South China Sea. Similarly, despite the bewilderment of possibility of cancelation after Uri attack – Russia and Pakistan, former Cold War rivals, are currently holding first ever joint military from 24 September-October, 2016.

The Sino-India border disputes, extremely deteriorating situation between India-Pakistan –tension in Balochistan are the some of the major factor of South-Asian regional crisis.

In economic realm, the bilateral trade volume in 2015, between India and China has nearly US $100 billion, India-US more than $100 billion China-US $598 billion. Similarly, Indo-Russian trade volume $ 7.83 billion, whereas Sino-Russian bilateral trade is $ 64.2 billion in 2015.

To put it broadly, US Pivot to Asia, India’s Look East Policy, and China’s String of Pearl can be seen as contestation in power struggle. Reading between the lines, above picture provides the potential alliances in the extreme security crisis in the region.

Given to the multifaceted web of relationship and their maturity as geopolitical players in the international system it is less likely, that they will lose the pragmatism in their foreign policy making.  But in the other hand, it also doesn’t look completely inevitable at the helm of competition for being regional and global hegemon. As realist thinkers argue, economic interdependence doesn’t always suppress the security concerns. At the end of the geopolitical calculation, if greater security threat resulted as the final value; extreme security disaster can hit the ground at any given point, creating the hard or loose alliances.                                                                      

The likelihood of greater security crisis in the region will certainly shake Nepal too, being the frontline state of 21st century’s power struggle. Our nonaligned foreign policy approach may have to suffer from unprecedented threat. Even if we choose not to align, we may have compelled to align. Or, by not aligning we may be already aligned. Somehow, like in the case of India and Pakistan, being the NAM member, first is aligned with Soviet Union and second with USA during Cold War period but now alignment seems flip-flopped.

For Nepal handling those likely situations effectively, it demands the substantive discourse for scrutinizing the current  and future geopolitics of South Asia and Asia Pacific, in order to tackle any possible catastrophe in the region and it’s conceivable repercussion to the country with clear strategic calculation beforehand.

Internal-External Dilemma: Policy of Nonalignment                                                                                                     

In the quest of international power game, what country considers exclusively the internal matter, doesn’t always remain the same. Alike the current crisis in Balochistan, war in Middle East, case of Crimea, amplifying territorial dispute in South China Sea support the fact, internal issues becoming exclusively external in a hefty game of geopolitics.

Likewise story of East Pakistan, East Timor, Sudan among others evoked the repercussion of internal divergence of the country, with extreme external involvement. The economic blockade of 1989 and 2015 from the northern neighbors, replicates the internal-external dilemma in our context.  It reflects the security dilemma and survival of small state in self-help world, also raising the BIG question mark to the nonaligned foreign policy.

Greater national unity is the prerequisite for ensuring that the country is not being used for the larger geopolitical game. Nepal should acknowledge the fact, and discernible engagement is needed to address genuine interest of Madhesh and other ethnic group by resolving its internal disparity, placing national interest at the center. Along with domestic political consensus for handling foreign affairs, is indispensible.

Moreover, as our two immediate neighbors are taking tougher stance with each others, with the backing of their respective strategic allies, inner dissection of Nepal may provide enormous room for them to play their geopolitical game. Which will be not only possessing threat to Nepal’s NFP, also to the national unity and territorial integrity. Nepal must realize, the greater the internal unity; the higher the stake in the international power politics.

Interdependence with Independence                                                                        

‘Protection of independence while promoting interdependence’ is the fundamental tenet of the nonaligned FP approach. It provokes the nation’s right to enjoy liberty without compromising sovereign integrity.

Contemplating the geographical sensitivity of the country, it is vital to receive trust and confidence from both the immediate neighbors, by addressing their genuine respective security and other concerns. Engaging with north and south autonomously, nonalignment can be considered as the “symbol of independence” in making of foreign policy.

If we make comparison between countries who adheres the principle of nonaligned policy and those who fall under certain alliance system, the scenario may be different. Primarily our prolonged uncertain internal turmoil, utterly weak economic situation, not to mention geographic complexities, for now, thinking other way around reflects the feebleness of Nepal’s realpolitk.

Yet, nothing is completely black & white –major perplexities lies within, at least after some kind of internal stability if the promotion of national interest is higher beyond the Nepal’s NFP, if not completely – partial move is reasonable, but with serious ‘strategic maneuvering.’ The assertive rivalry amidst our immediate neighbors is anyway likely to create the situation for us that, “by not aligning, we may be already aligned.”

(Graduate- Master’s in International Relations, Warsaw University, Poland)              

Published on September 26 ,2016  







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