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Friday, October 21, 2011

Nepal’s Foreign Policy In 21st Century

Yuba Nath Lamsal

Geography is a crucial factor in determining the foreign policy of a country. However, geography is not the lone factor in shaping the foreign and strategic policy of any country. Other factors, too, have a key role to play although geographical compulsions are of a permanent nature. At times, other factors change the conditions dictated by geography.

Geo-politics is the term that denotes the inter-relationship of geography with other factors that determines the relationship between states. The geo-political setting and conditions changed in the world after the end of the Cold War. The enemies of the yesteryears have become bosom friends whereas yesterday’s allies have turned arch rivals. This has been particularly visible in our own neighbourhood. India and the United States were at two different poles during the Cold War era, but they have now become strategic partners and are cooperating with one another on various fronts.

Changing scenario

Pakistan was a close and a trusted ally of the United States, and Washington devised its South Asia policy with Pakistan at its centre. In other words, Pakistan was the most important strategic partner of the United States in South Asia during the Cold War. But the situation changed drastically after the Soviet Union was forced to pull its troops out of Afghanistan. The recent years have shown that Pakistan is no longer Washington’s priority in South Asia and it is washing its hands off Islamabad. India now occupies this place, and the United States has forged strategic, military and economic partnerships with India.

In the international campaign against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, China, too, cooperated with its ideological foe, the United States, whereas Beijing not only maintained a distance from Moscow but also fought a proxy war in Vietnam and Cambodia. Once arch foes, Beijing and Moscow, have now vowed to work more closely and cooperate with one another on several pressing international issues.

These are some of the instances that changed international politics and the power equation that have also brought about change in the strategic and foreign policy of many countries in the world, especially in Asia. The powerful and strategically better positioned countries may have more options on the foreign policy front, but poor and weak countries have limited options. But small and weak countries, too, can take benefit from the changing geopolitics and international situation.

So far as Nepal is concerned, its foreign policy priorities and options are limited. This is a landlocked country surrounded by two giants - China and India. These two countries are so big in terms of physical, population, economic and military size that Nepal by no means can match them. Nepal can never compete with them nor can it afford to antagonise any of these two neighbours. It would also be unwise to play one neighbour against the other. Thus, the wisdom of Nepal lies in having balanced relations with these two neighbours and winning their trust so that we can extract maximum benefit for our development.

In principle, our foreign policy is guided by the ideals of non-alignment characterised by the five principles of peaceful existence, which is in vogue globally. Being a landlocked country surrounded by China and India, Nepal’s foreign and strategic policy has remained a ‘strategy for survival’, which, to a large extent, is correct. Based on the survival strategy, Nepal adopted the policy of ‘equi-distance’ or ‘ equi-proximity’ with its two giant neighbours.

The policy of equi-distance was first mooted by Prithivi Narayan Shah more than 242 years ago, which is the basis of our relations with the two neighbours. Equi-distance is a military doctrine but not the basis of foreign policy. During Prithivi Narayan Shah’s period, the policy of equi-distance was appropriate as Nepal was embarking on its unification campaign. China in the north and the British in the south were imperial forces that were trying to spread their influence and presence far and wide in Asia. The British already had its strong presence around the world.

The British colonial power had gobbled up Indian states one after another through various tactics and pressure, including the use of force and the policy of divide and rule and the doctrine of laps. The defence of Nepalese territory from external aggression was the sole priority of the state, and the military doctrine was the basis for defending the interest of the country. Against that background, the military doctrine of equi-distance paid off well for Nepal.

Nepal’s expansionist campaign came to an end after the signing of the Sugauli Treaty in 1816, which confined Nepal within the present borders. This marked the end of Nepal’s military adventure and adopted the British appeasement policy to safeguard its independent political identity. During this period, Nepal’s foreign policy as such hardly existed. Nepal’s policy, instead, remained purely British-India centric, which continued until 1951.

The 1951 political change toppled the century-old Rana oligarchy and ushered in a multi-party political system. It departed from the old policy and diversified its international relationship. However, fortunately or unfortunately, Nepal continued with the same military doctrine as a foreign policy basis, especially in dealing with the two immediate neighbours. The military doctrine cannot be the basis of its foreign policy in the present era. A more pragmatic and mature foreign policy to cope with the 21st century’s reality needs to be devised.

Balancing the relationship between India and China is in the interest of Nepal. But Nepal has not been able to maintain this perfect balance at times in the past, which has cost us heavily at different points of history. The regimes and rulers in the past often pitted one neighbour against the other. But they miserably failed and their regime and rule collapsed.

In the past, Nepal, despite being landlocked, was virtually India-locked because of the Himalayan barrier in the north. The transportation, communication, trade and other opportunities were relatively less available in the north. Thus, Nepal was heavily dependent on its southern neighbour on trade and transit. Nepal has not been free from this compulsion even today.

But things are easing fast because Tibet is becoming an opening point for Nepal. This has definitely provided greater opportunity for Nepal economically and strategically. China has invested heavily in the development of Tibet. Its results are more visible now. Tibet has seen great change, and it is being slowly transformed from an impoverished society into a modern, industrialised and prosperous region of China. It is already connected with the rest of China by railway, and the railway connectivity is being extended up to the border with Nepal. This is expected to create great opportunity for Nepal.

More than that, China is already an economic superpower. China’s influence as a soft power image is spreading far and wide in the world. China is also emerging as a big investor in the world. Beijing has money, know-how and human resource to make its presence felt globally. Even the Western developed and industrialised countries are pinning hopes on China to help them recover from their worst economic recession.

China and India are also coming closer and cooperating with one another. The bilateral trade between China and India is growing by leaps and bounds. Located as it is between these two countries, Nepal is a bridge that connects these two Asian giants. This is a changed geo-political scenario which would benefit Nepal immensely if we are able to properly make use of this situation.

Gone are the days of dominating other countries though military power. Now it is the economy that rules the roost in the world. In the bilateral and multilateral relations as well, economic issues have far exceeded the military and political imperatives.

Trilateral strategic partnership

Against this background, Nepal, too, needs to shed the old hangover of the military doctrine of equi-distance and the concept of a yam between two huge boulders in its foreign policy. Nepal must adopt a more mature and pragmatic foreign policy based on mutual benefit and interest when dealing with its two immediate neighbours.

The concept of a ‘trilateral strategic partnership’ among Nepal, India and China has been mooted recently for which Nepal needs to take the initiative. This would not only serve the immediate and long-term strategic and economic interest of Nepal but also enable us to cope with the challenges of the 21st century.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Reform The United Nations In A Package

Yuba Nath Lamsal

Former Secretary-general Kofi Anan in 2005 had proposed a comprehensive package for reforming the United Nations system, in which he called for action, not mere words, to fulfill the pledges made to the people. In a report to the UN General Assembly, Anan had said in a more forceful and frank manner that the United Nations needed to reform in a package but not like an ‘a la carte menu from which nations could choose only those aspects they fancy’. This was perhaps the strongest worded report ever voiced by any executive chief of the world body on reforming the United Nations.

There have been demands for reforms in the United Nations for decades. From Algeria to Albania, Mongolia to Mozambique and China to Chile, all member states are of the opinion that the world body needed vigorous reforms in order to make the United Nations more representative, legitimate and efficient so that it can more effectively play its role in resolving the global challenges ranging from financial crises to peace and security to climate change.

Reform modality

Reform was abuzz also during the ongoing 66 session of the UN General Assembly as leaders voiced their concern about making the world body more representative. But the member states are not unanimous on the reform modality. As a result, the reform in the United Nations system has failed to materialise despite unanimity on the necessity of reorganising, restructuring and democratising the world body.

The composition and structure of the Security Council was raised more prominently. All countries except the five permanent members, or the Big 5, demanded the expansion of the Security Council. There are four main aspirants to the new permanent seats of the Security Council - India, Germany, Japan and Brazil.

These countries have their own strengths and weaknesses. Of the four countries, Brazil’s claim is more justified. The composition of the Security Council does not represent the present global reality. The United Nations was created by the victors of World War II, and the big powers of that time had a strong say in the structuring of the world body. This composition represented Europe and North America but not the world. Of the five permanent members, three are from Europe (United Kingdom, France and Russia). Two continents (South America and Africa) are not represented in the Security Council. Against this background, Brazil’s inclusion should ensure representation of South America.

Similarly, Africa is a continent that has numerous problems and also enormous potentials. This continent must be represented in the Security Council. The probable candidates are South Africa and Egypt. So far as Asia is concerned, China is the sole representative of Asia. Given the size of the country, its population and economic might and international influence, China’s seat in the Security Council is rightful and justifiable.

There is also no question about the justification of the United States’ place in the Security Council because of its lead role in global affairs, ranging from economic size, economic strength, military might and technological leadership to global presence. But what is not justified is the place occupied by the three countries of Europe - the United Kingdom, France and Russia - as permanent members of the Security Council.

In the first place, having representation of three countries from a small continent and leaving two big continents with almost half of the countries of the world without representation in the Security Council are both unjust and undemocratic. Secondly, all three countries (Britain, Russia, and France) do not possess the criteria to be permanent members of the Security Council in the present global reality.

Germany is Europe’s leader in terms of physical size, economic might and its contribution to the development of the world. Germany is, perhaps, one of the largest donors to the development of the developing and least developed countries. Germany has, thus, a rightful claim for a permanent seat in the Security Council. Although Britain, France and Russia were global powers during World War II and in the immediate aftermath of the war, these countries have lost their relevance in the present situation.

So far as Asia is concerned, this is the largest continent with more than half the world’s population. India and Japan are seeking their place in the Security Council as permanent members. India is no doubt a large country in terms of size and population. It is also emerging as an economic power. However, the question is whether India’s entry into the Security Council as a permanent member will ensure representation of the rest of South Asia and the Middle East. Japan is better positioned to claim the permanent seat of the Security Council because of its contribution to the development of the developing countries.

Military might should not be made the sole basis for a Security Council seat. Instead, economic strength and contribution to world peace and development are more important criteria. If economic strength and contribution to development of the world are to be made the criteria, Japan and Germany would be better qualified.

The reform of the Security Council is long due, and it has to be restructured to represent the present global reality. Although there are voices and demands for the enlargement of the Security Council to accommodate more countries in it, enlargement alone may not ensure genuine representation and democratisation of the world body. Strict criteria must be devised by the General Assembly on the basis of which countries can be chosen as permanent members.

Whether the Security Council is restructured or enlarged, it has to ensure that all five continents get equal representation. Europe deserves one seat whereas the remaining two seats could be given to South America and Africa. This arrangement will ensure equal representation of all the five continents.

If other continents are to be given more seats, commensurate with the number Europe is enjoying, the Security Council would be too large to handle. Three seats to each of the continents would mean at least 15 permanent seats in the Security Council. If three seats are alloted to each continent, Canada and Mexico would be the next permanent members.

As the world is getting more integrated, several regional groups have sprung up. If the Security Council is, at all, to be enlarged, it would be better if regional groups like SAARC, APEC, Commonwealth of Nations, Shanghai Cooperation Forum, African Union, European Union, Union of South American Nations, Arab League and the likes found representation instead of individual countries.

The chair of these regional bodies would get the opportunity to sit in the permanent seat of the Security Council, which would mean all countries in the world, irrespective of their size, military strength and economic might, would get a chance to be in the Security Council. This would be more representational and judicious.

Election of secretary-general

The system and provisions regarding the election of the secretary-general also need to change if the United Nations is to be made more democratic. The Security Council selects or elects the secretary-general and the General Assembly plays a rubber stamp role in endorsing it. There must be provision where the Security Council recommends the names for the post of secretary-general, while from among the short-listed candidates, the General Assembly elects the secretary-general either unanimously or through a democratic process. Thus, reforms in the United Nations system should be in a package and not on a piecemeal basis.

China's rise is opportunity for developing countries

Yuba Nath Lamsal

China's spectacular economic growth is world's miracle. This is a miracle
because Beijing has achieved this feat in three decades what other countries
could not do even in one century. In the period of three decade, China has
been transformed from a poor agrarian economy into world's economic and
industrial powerhouse, thanks largely to Deng Xiaoping's sweeping reform
programmes.

There are three key stages of China's development and modernization. The
first phase was the Chinese Revolution in 1949 that laid a foundation of
modern China. The revolution under the banner of Communist Party of China
established the People's Republic of China. Standing in the podium in the
Tiananmen Square in 1949, Mao Zedong had declared the victory of the Chinese
Revolution and said, "China has stood up".

True to Mao's words, China has stood firmly and confidently. The revolution
liberated China from foreign invasion and domestic exploitation. The
revolution made the people of China masters of their own destiny, which
paved the way for the people to take part in the political and developmental
process of the country in a spontaneous manner. Due credit, thus, goes to
Mao and his colleagues, who trekked a long and arduous journey to create an
independent and strong China. Had the Chinese Revolution not taken place,
China may not have been as it is today.

While Mao laid the foundation of modern China, Deng came in to change the
face of the country. The 1978 marked a turning point in the history of
China. Deng Xiaoping, who was often called as the tiny giant of a man, came
to the political stage for the second time in China. Deng was elected
chairman of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the
powerful organ of the Communist Party, in March 1978, which proved to be a
historic event for China.

Deng vowed to break from the old policies especially in the economic sector.
He introduced massive but cautious economic reforms to ensure that China
could cope with the modern pace of development and reap the benefit of
development. China had enormous resources, the most important of which was
its huge human resource. What China lacked was adequate fund. Deng realized
that China needed money to invest and mobilize the resources for the overall
benefit of the Chinese nation. The architect of economic reforms decided to
bring in foreign investment so that the enormous potentials of China could
be duly tapped to the best interest of the country and the people. And he
succeeded in it.

When Deng rose to power and opened up China's doors to the outside world, he
had, at all, no clue where to start and what to do. He often repeated the
phrase "China has to cross the river by feeling the rock by feet on the
riverbed". This is a reference to lack of experience and knowledge among the
Chinese leaders and the people how to cope with the new environment and
carry the process of reforms and economic development to the right
direction. In the beginning he was not sure whether his reforms would be
successful. He was completely unaware what course China would head for. But
he was certain that the old style and mentality would not work and a new
mechanism and approach are a must for the survival and development of China.
Deng said in public that there was no alternative to opening up and reforms
in order to catch up the changes taken place in the world. If China had to
survive, it had to change and keep with the change taking place in the
world. Thus, Deng was determined to pursue reforms and this determination
paid well for China.

China needed investment from outside. But brining foreign investment was not
an easy task especially in a communist country. The mere rhetoric of change
and reform does not appeal to investors. There are many countries in the
world that have opened up their economy and introduced reforms. But these
efforts have not been able to yield desirable results in terms of attracting
investment from outside. What China needed were pragmatic and investment
friendly laws and policies.

China had strictest laws on foreign investment, labour policy and trade and
currency dealing. Deng realized that simplification of laws and procedures
were urgently needed to bring in foreign investment. He was convinced that
investment does not come alone but comes with modern management and new
technology.

Market is magnet for investors. But market alone does not bring external
investment in the absence of necessary infrastructure. Along with investment
friendly laws and policies, infrastructure is equally important to attract
fund from outside. China's infrastructures were poor. Roads, communication,
power are some of the key infrastructures which are required for foreign
investment. The infrastructure building needed huge fund which China did not
have. Its national coffer was virtually empty. The first job, therefore, was
to create necessary fund to build infrastructure. The Chinese government
leased out public land and other public properties including some
state-owned enterprises. This yielded good results and China collected money
needed for development works. Armed with investment friendly policies and
laws as well as good infrastructure, China could convince the world that
investment in China is profitable and returns are lucrative. As a result,
China could achieve such a remarkable progress in 30 years what other
countries could not do in a century.

China's march to development and modernization is peaceful. Unlike other
Western countries that prospered and thrived on exploiting the developing
countries, China mobilized its own resources and sought investment and
technology from other countries. Most Western industrialized countries had
colonized and exploited the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin
America for the benefit of the colonial powers. As country that believes in
mutual cooperation, respect to one another's sovereignty and territorial
integrity, China never tried to exploit any other countries but focused on
the mobilization of its own people. Although China has risen so fast and
formidably, it does not want coercive policy with any other countries in the
world. This is China's long-cherished policy which continues even today.
China wants to share its experience with the developing countries and extend
selfless cooperation to the needy states. This is China's peaceful diplomacy
and soft power image.

China's fast pace of development is a global subject of debate and analysis.
The speedy growth and development of China has impacted the global economy
as well as world order. Some in the Western countries especially in the
United States take China's rise and development as a threat to their
security and economic interests. But China has repeatedly made its position
clear that it has no ill will against any country and its rise would by no
means threat to any country in the world. One thing is sure that China's
rise has broken the monopoly of certain Western powers in the global
affairs. In fact, many in the developing world have taken China's rise and
development as an opportunity to reshape the world order, which would
benefit the hitherto oppressed and backward countries.

China's peaceful rise is both its choice as well as compulsion. The peaceful
development which is marked by harnessing its own capability as well as
cooperation from other countries was what China needed to lift the tens of
millions poor people from poverty and transform China from a impoverished
agrarian economy to a industrial power. Now China stands as a second largest
economy and has developed strong industrial base. Even the Western world
that has been reeling under the history's worst recession is pinning its
hope on China. The future of the world now rests upon China's role and
course.

In view of present uni-polar world marked by inequalities and imbalance, the
peaceful rise of China has definitely great significance. China's growth and
development as a soft power is, indeed, in the broader interest of the
developing countries. The approach of China is peaceful in nature and wants
to cooperate for the mutual benefit of all countries in the world. This is
what the objective of China's peaceful growth, which is based on the
principle of ' win-win cooperation'. This model of cooperation which China
has adopted benefits Beijing and all developing countries.

With the rise of China as an economic power accompanied by military strength
and international clout, China has realized its international obligation.
Motivated by this spirit, China has adopted the policy of pursuing its soft
power image in the world. The soft power image is a policy that shuns
coercive diplomacy but pursues cooperative approach through which the world
can benefit from China and vice versa. It is against this background, the
Beijing Consensus was mooted which is viewed as a counter move against the
Washington Consensus.

As the developing world is cheering over the China's rise and economic
miracle, its neighbours should be more enthusiastic and jubilant. This is
more so for Nepal because the world's economic superpower is its next-door
neighbour. China is coming up more generously for the development of it
neighbours. Nepal can extract maximum benefit from China's progress and its
generous attitude as Beijing has expressed willingness to do everything
possible for the development and progress of Nepal.