Think Tanks: Shaping the Making of Foreign Policy

unnamedBy Shyam KC         

Universities without Students, metaphor often used to denote the thinks tanks. Synthesizing the large bunch of available literature, fostering the robust public discourse, conducting the argumentative analysis and providing incisive advice for policy reform is the key role of the think tanks – based on objective analysis supported by facts.

The think tanks, the group of acumen experts, do possess the competence to influence enormously in the making – many of them also play the decisive role in the shaping of foreign policy. Think tanks, as a maker and shaper of foreign policy, act as a bridge between the world of idea and action. Generate the blueprint with new ideas, for capacitating the government in the due process of prioritization of the issues, in order to meet the daunting challenges in the international affairs.

“The Brookings Institution [is] a think tank as respected as it is long-lived. Over the last century, empires have come and gone, the world order has changed but Brookings has sailed on, not just commenting on events but shaping them.” remarks by Lord Jonathan Hill, Member, European Commission, regarding the world’s number one think tank in 2015 including the category of Foreign Policy and International Affairs, resembles the significance of think-tanks shaping the events in numerous spectrum.


Observing the statistics, nearly 2000 think tanks are active alone in the USA; similarly India and China have the many vibrant think tanks recommending the policy advice to government. In fact they are not just commenting but shaping the events, like “Mandate for Change” the Heritage Foundation’s publication which was taken as a blueprint for governing by Regan administration. It had been reported that the after 9/11, journalist were scrambling towards the think tanks to find the answer for who is responsible for the attack and for further policy advice. So there are hundreds and thousands of individuals who just are thinking, reading and writing – that’s how they are promoting their national interest and fostering the presence in international system.


Foreign Affairs Think Tanks in Nepal                                                  

Looking at the relatively short history of Nepal’s think tanks on foreign affairs– research work and their influence in foreign policy making doesn’t exhibit the gratifying scenario.

Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS)-1977 is the independent, multidisciplinary and statutory research centre under Tribhuban University with sixteen full time researchers – publishes the journal which is extensively focused on Nepal studies with limited foreign relations and policy issues.                                                                                                            

Institute for Foreign Affairs (IFA)-1993, semi-autonomous body as an integral part of Ministry of Foreign Affairs – provides research oriented foreign policy advice, along with facilitating the training for Nepali personnel servicing in foreign affairs. Primarily publication of IFA locates Nepal foreign policy at centre, but the publication is largely dominated by the reports of its conference and talk program. Some commentators questions about its inability to show institutional strength even after the more than two decades of establishments, basically due to the high level of politicization.

Similarly, the autonomous think-tanks like Centre for South Asian Studies (CSAS)-2010 organize the conference and events on regional issues of South Asia along with publications and Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs (AIDIA)-2014 basically focuses on organizing the talk program, seminar, and conference – making public the video of its events is appreciable.

The op-ed entitled ‘Polity-policy interface’ published in Kathmandu Post some years back, reflects the dire situation of the foreign policy institution, as stated “…..the foreign ministry’s Institute for Foreign Affairs is a joke, with ministers picking up cronies as heads. Both Sridhar Khatri and Nischal Panday’s South Asian institutes get some good speakers, but are one-man shows….Sangam Institute has disappeared as murkily as it first appeared.” Unfortunate to receive the notification ‘domain name is expired’, while trying for accessing the webpage of South Asia Centre for Policy Studies (SACEPS) and Sangam Institute for Policy Analysis and Strategic Studies – situation may have been occurred due to the problem of investment.

Back to his Prime Ministerial tenure, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai floated the idea of establishing Institute of Strategic and Foreign Affairs Studies and Institute of the Economic and Development Studies via government grant – purely remained the idea.  In an interview entitled, “Foreign policy institution building not state priority” in Republica on September 1, 2016, Dr, Khadga KC, Coordinator and Associate Professor of Tribhuvan University’s Master’s Program in International Relations and Diplomacy (MIRD), talked about  government not showing the enthusiasm for establishing the foreign policy institutions – many other scholars are urging the need for establishing such institutions.

Shaping the foreign policy not just commenting                                                                                                                         

Nepal’s asymmetrical power relations with immediate neighbors and its disarray conduct of foreign relations, is vehemently questioning to the promotion of Nepal’s national interests. Only the accessible policy-oriented research can provide a comprehensive consensus based backing in our positioning and repositioning in the conduct of foreign affairs.

The Nepali side reiterated for the revision of 1950 Treaty in recently held second Eminent Persons Groups (EPG) meeting in New Delhi – the EPG was formed on July 2016. It is hard to find any exclusive publication which deals with the revision of treaty – that can be obliging to government for tabling the agenda forward. Similarly, not only the immensely polarized party politics but also the scholarly written writings are making things more unclear to our respective bilateral, regional and international relations. Some argues for the redundancy about non-aligned movement and SAARC, while other argues for its relevance with appropriate restructuring– turning Nepal from buffer state to bridge, trilateral cooperation are some other approach being debated in the Nepal’s foreign policy realm. The foremost function of the think tanks is to accommodate the scattered idea for discourse by framing and synthesizing – and provide reliable advice to the government for making and conducting her foreign policy.

The outcomes of the all-embracing foreign policy research from think tanks will ignite the strategic spark for concentrated rational critical discourse in press, political circle and public sphere – clearing up the unclarities. Shaping the making of foreign policy with incisive analysis rather than just commenting –while centering the national interests.

Only praiseworthy thing is – we are not in the state of nothingness in regards to the foreign policy thinks tanks. Their initiation and contribution must be praised –wishing and expecting for larger irrefutable policy influence in coming years. The mounting amount of literary work about Nepal’s foreign affair by native scholars– that is providing the foundations for looking the international affairs from Nepal’s perspectives and the academic discipline on International Relations and Diplomacy launched by Tribhuvan and Mid-Western University are some sound signal for strengthening our conduct in foreign affairs.

In the context of our fragile economic development, due to the limited investment source – survival of independent think tanks is in question. In such a case, the government, firstly, should take steps for strengthening in existing semi-autonomous institution-IFA, it do have  panel of experts supporting for their projects and program but it must add  the permanent team of researcher and scholar with well equipped infrastructures, library and system in place. Secondly, government needs to take initiation and provide grant for establishing independent institutions related to foreign affairs with proper academics and practitioners – for instance (Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses) IDSA of India has around 60 fulltime scholars and researcher and is funded by the Indian Ministry of Defence. Prior to that, government can work with collaboration of existing independent think tanks or can form the independent team of scholars like EPG in contractual basis in order to meet her current foreign policy necessity. Beyond the government, independent think tanks need to boost up there research work with investment diversification – relying on specific foreign investments fetches the donor’s influence in research.

Every endeavor need to be oriented to deal the delicacies in the foreign policy consensus without conceding heart of  research – namely intellectual integrity and intellectual depth. Moreover, developing such institutions will not be only limited to providing foreign policy advice for government but for the time being, it will also endow the caliber human resources for government to effectually conduct her foreign policy. If we see the practice of USA for stance, most of the President turns to the think tanks for drawing the qualified personals – serving the people better from the White House.

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