GP Acharya (KATHMANDU, 12 June 2022) – While South Asian geopolitics has witnessed a dramatic geopolitical competition between the powerful countries, the geopolitics of Nepal has been largely influenced by such competition. The global geopolitics has shifted to Asia, particularly South Asia, including the Indian and Chinese span, where Nepal is located — both physically and geostrategically — at the center of two regional powers and is encircled by three nuclear powers. The great powers of the world have been constantly focusing on this region, particularly Nepal. They may have chosen to do this by assessing the geostrategic ambience of this sub-continent or by appraising the strengths of Nepal’s immediate neighbors or perhaps by assuming that Nepal can become an enduring hub or easy access to pawn them. The other factors in shifting the global geopolitics include the ‘tectonic shift’ of Cold War location followed by the changing dynamics of world politics including the geopolitics of technology.
The enduring geopolitical chess game may induce economic and political instability in South Asia that may have a ‘domino effect’ on the security of this sub-continent, which can affect the security architecture of the entire region including Nepal and its neighbors. Thus, the discourse on Nepal’s foreign policy should be rationalized such that Nepal could adopt rational foreign policy amid the changing dynamics of geopolitics.
Changing Dynamics of Geopolitics
The dynamicity of regional politics has transformed following the economic emergence of regional powers — India and China — who are economic partners on the one hand and strategic rivals on the other. These perplexing relations between them have induced ambiguity and chaos in regional order, which has made the geopolitics of South Asia geostrategically volatile. China has tried to influence many of the South Asian nations through various prospects — economic, diplomatic and developmental. Meanwhile, India and the US have not recognized China’s rise and influence in the region and beyond. India considers South Asia as its ‘historic zone of influence’ and the US envisages it under its universal sphere of influence, while ‘both of them have to compete with China’ at the moment. The India-China or the US-China rivalry and suspicion have deepened ubiquitously, while India has been actively engaged in various military and strategic alliances, including IPS and QUAD, inducted by the adversaries of China.
Meanwhile, the issues of Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South-China Sea are ever blistering due to consistent western concern, particularly the US. Tibet is another sensitive issue for China, which is expected to strategically link Nepal under BRI. The US and its allies have initiated various economic and geostrategic prospects including B3W, IPS and AUKUS to counter or contain China and its geo-economic strategy — BRI. The massive ‘strategy-loaded’ competition between such great powers has contributed to altering the dynamics of geopolitics. Meanwhile, the existing crisis in Ukraine and corresponding roles or counter-roles played by powerful countries have made the geopolitics shrewd. China’s abstaining from the UN vote to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council may not be perceived as a bewildering move undertaken by China as Russia and China are all-time friends, while India’s stance on the same issue is certainly a huge blow to the US and its allies. India’s closeness with Russia, massive economic partnership with China, and mounting strategic relations with the US are certainly stimulating to (re)shape the geopolitics of Asia. Yet, how India balances its relations with QUAD, Russia, and its immediate neighbors, including China and Nepal, would determine whether India is truly prepared for global leadership and to shape the dynamics of geopolitics.
The dynamics of geopolitics mostly depend upon the dynamics of geography and geo-location. When geopolitics is analyzed through historical perspectives, the geopolitics of Asia, particularly Central Asia, is mostly influenced by Russia. The ‘strategic partnership between Russia and China’ is more likely to pawn the US influence in their respective backyards, while Russia recently dominates the geopolitics of Europe. India aims to influence the geopolitics of Asia, while China has already marshaled the power of AI and swayed global geopolitics. By now, the US is the only ‘Tech Superpower’, while China is marching ahead to attain the goal of ‘Tech Supremacy’ and ‘Global Leadership in AI’. With the world witnessing the ‘Tech Bipolarity’ between the US and China, both the rivals remain instrumental in intensifying the geopolitics of technology.
Geopolitics of Technology
Technology has significantly contributed to shaping the global economy since the beginning of the technological revolution. Technology has equally contributed to changing the dynamics of geopolitics and inducted threats to the nations’ security and sovereignty — both physical and digital. Technology has transformed ‘the dynamics of international cooperation and competition’, which has been shaping world politics, economy, diplomacy and international relations. The diplomatic notion of ‘collaboration’ and ‘cooperation’ between the powerful countries has transmuted to the shrewd idea of ‘containment’ and ‘confrontation’. Subsequently, the geo-economic interest of the tech superpowers has shifted to geo-tech interest and tech bipolarity, which is propelling the geopolitics of technology.
The powerful countries are exploiting technology and digital capabilities to contain or dictate their adversaries. They are perpetrating crucial tech threats against their adversaries such as cyber threats, the misuse of AI, disinformation, threats to sovereignty — both physical and digital — and transnational threats. Likewise, tech giants and big multinational companies are challenging the economy, diplomacy, governance, and even the sovereignty of nations.
The geopolitics of technology may induce a crucial threat to Nepal’s security and sovereignty as well as open significant opportunities. To leverage from the cloud of this geo-tech environment, Nepal’s foreign policy should be rationally directed on data and information security, intelligence systems, tech education, digital economy, and information economy. Most importantly, Nepal should define its national tech foreign policy by adopting a rational foreign policy.
Adopting Rational Foreign Policy
Amid the changing dynamics of geopolitics, following the geopolitics of technology, the future prospects of Nepal’s foreign policy must be directed, not limited, to some of the contemporary concerns (“Adopting Pragmatic Foreign Policy”, NFA):
First, Nepal should execute its foreign policy vis-à-vis its immediate neighbors, where historic resonance, geo-integrity, geo-cultural reality and geo-economic potentials could be comprehended. Nepal should make both its neighbors realize that Nepal’s long term stability and security or a lack thereof can affect the security of both the nations because of Nepal’s geopolitical proximity.
Second, Nepal should redefine its long-standing ‘Non-aligned Foreign Policy’ as ‘Constructive Neutrality’ as there is a clear shift in Cold War geo-location and its nature. Nepal should bring both its neighbors into confidence through sensible diplomacy, and practice diplomatic maneuvering to strengthen its relations with the west such that it could get larger access to the western world.
Third, considering the achievable soft potential, Nepal’s foreign policy should be focused on preparing ‘Great Human Being’, ‘Civilized Society’, ‘Compassionate Future Generations’ and ‘World Class Citizens’, which could result in a huge soft power.
Fourth, contemplating the global geopolitics, technological advancement, and intensity of war, crimes and terrorism, Nepal’s foreign policy should be focused on accentuating the health, well-being and psychological security of its citizens.
Fifth, apprising the sensitivities of the geopolitics of technology, Nepal should define national tech foreign policy, adopt tech diplomacy, and appoint ‘Tech Ambassadors’ to specific countries such that they could promote Nepal’s national tech interest and enhance techno-economic cooperation. Nepal should get better intelligence in advance — particularly focusing on AI and big data, information security and cyber intelligence.
Sixth, considering the geo-location, climate, water and tourism potentials, Nepal should explore cultural, yoga, hydro and tourism diplomacy, and appoint ‘Tourism Ambassadors’ to specific countries such that they could promote Nepal’s cultural and tourism interests.
Seventh, Nepal should practice ‘diplomatic intelligence’ as the core of diplomatic processes and foreign policy making. It should invest in potential diplomats and foreign policymakers and send them to world-class institutions for study, research and training such that Nepal would have world-class diplomats, intelligence and foreign policy experts once they return.
As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is organizing a ‘Talk Series’ on June 7, 2022, perhaps the first of its kind, in the name of veteran diplomat Prof. Yadu Nath Khanal, whose contribution is always commendable in the history of Nepali diplomacy and foreign policy, the contemporary diplomats and foreign policymakers are expected to be pragmatic and pursue the path of Prof. Khanal such that Nepal can execute sensible diplomacy ahead.
Executing Sensible Diplomacy
Nepal’s foreign policy is mostly conditioned by fear psychoses of geopolitics which has impaired the country’s ability to take advantage of geopolitics. Nepal’s geo-location, proximity with India and China, and being within the ‘geo-strategic frontier’ of three powers — India, China and the US — has increased its geopolitical credence while the prevailing geo-strategic environment has posed crucial challenges to Nepal’s national security. Since “geopolitics itself is one of the elements of power”, Nepal should capitalize on its location and materialize the increased geostrategic credence by making a sensible move on every aspect of bilateral and international affairs.
Nepal, however, cannot avoid the engagement of great powers or stay away from the changing dynamics of geopolitics. It should rather address their genuine interests cum strategies and balance their expectations by adhering to the policy of ‘Constructive Neutrality’ along with inclusive political interactions, partnership, cooperation and diplomatic maneuvering or strategic hedging. Essentially, Nepal should adopt a rational foreign policy and execute sensible diplomacy based on pragmatism regarding the issues in global geopolitics.
(This article first appeared in Republica.)