Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Asian Century In The Making

The inherent character of political power is vying for control over resources. In the pursuit of control over more resources, rulers seek to centralise power and expand control in the larger range of territory. This is how empires are built. When the central authority weakens, the empire begins to crumble in a way Benjamin Franklin said ‘empire diminishes like a cake from the edges’. In this phenomenon of history, several empires came into being and eventually turned into footnotes of history.

In the words of Colombia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, ‘an empire is a state that uses force to impose rulers on another country’. The empire building started with the dawn of civilization. Until the mid-20th century, empires were built by means of force, war, coercion and sabotage. Roman, Ottoman, Byzantine, Egyptian, Chinese, Russian, British and several other empires were built and vanished. The empire is the manifestation of centrality of international power. The empire building is a perpetual proposition which continues even today. But the modus operandi has changed -- from the use of hard power to the use of soft and smart powers. Now the American empire is at work, which too is beginning to decline, thanks to phenomenal rise of China.

Power shift
The international power is constantly shifting with the rise and fall of nations. The 19th century was European century in which Britain was the imperial leader and Europe was the epicentre of world power. There used to be saying that ‘sun never sets in the British empire’ referring to Britain’s colonies in all continents. However, Word War II bled British prowess so badly that it could no longer sustain control over colonies in the face of liberation movements. The loss of colonies marked a sharp decline in its global presence and power. Another European power France itself had to be rescued while Germany was not only defeated but also divided into different occupation zones.

The genesis of the Cold War goes to the Potsdam Conference in November 1945 in which Allies powers charted out the map of Europe. However, some are of the opinion that the US’ act of dropping the atomic bomb in Hiroshima of Japan on August 6, 1945 without informing its wartime allies, in reality, sowed the seed of the Cold War. After the World War II, the world was divided on ideological basis with the United States leading the Western liberal camp and Soviet Union the communist bloc. However, the 20th century remained fundamentally American century. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States again emerged as the sole superpower dictating the world as the international rule maker.

With the dawn of new millennia, the world order has started to change. The Europe-America centric international power is shifting to Asia. Asia is rising fast both economically and militarily. Predictions have it that the 21st century is going to be the Asian century. There are 48 countries in Asia of which some have already become world powers and some are in the making. China has risen as a global power in terms of economic strength, military might and technological advancement capable to challenge the sole superpower USA. India is the fifth largest economy and has the potential and ambition to rise as a global power. Japan is the third largest economy. Israel is another Asian country having superior military and technological prowess. Turkey is a transcontinental military giant in West Asia. Indonesia is also a potential power of Asia.

Many are of the view that the Cold War ended with the fall of Berlin Wall in November 1989. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, US remained, as Professor Danny Quah of the Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said a sole ‘benevolent hegemon’ and there was no other power to challenge its dominant role. In the unipolar world, USA dictated whereas the rest of the world took notes. However, the Cold War did not end but remained in dormant state for some decades since 1989 which has recently resurfaced with the rise of China. Only the form of the Cold War and actors changed as the Cold War earlier was ideological and now it is economic.

Asia has come to be a new theatre of geopolitical rivalry. The big power rivalry in Asia is of quadrangular nature: 1. between the USA and China, 2. between China and India, 3.between US-India and China, 4. between China-Russia and USA. These countries are recalibrating their power projection and building their own strength in Asia. The central feature of geopolitical war is the containment of rival powers. From 1950s till 1991, the US and Soviet Union sought to contain one another for which they built alliances, unleashed espionage and propaganda wars. The NATO is the relics of 20th century’s cold war rivalry, which still remains whereas the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet bloc’s creation, ceased to exist after the collapse of the communist empire.

In the new Cold War, the United States and China are the principal competitors and their strategic goal is to contain one another for which they have devised different strategic initiatives and alliances. Washington has created a number of Asia-focused alliances. The Indo-Pacific Strategy, Australia-UK-US alliance, Tran-Pacific Partnership and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue of the United States, India, Japan and Australia are some Asia-focused alliances and initiatives undertaken by the United States, while Washington has entered into bilateral security and strategic arrangements with a number of countries in Asia and the Pacific region. India’s Act East Policy is guided by the motive of playing active role and building greater collaboration with countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

Pragmatic approach
China, too, is building counter strategy to its strategic benefit. The Belt and Road Initiative is China’s strategic project apparently under the fa├žade of economic cooperation seeking to enlarge its power projection in Asia and beyond, although Beijing denies it and says the BRI is an economic initiative for the shared benefits for all countries.

Similarly, China has built strategic partnership with a number of countries and also with some regional groupings. The new scenario in the international arena in which Asia is emerging as the centre of gravity, Nepal’s strategic and geopolitical position demands more strategic culture and pragmatic approach in the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy. It is said that foreign policy is an assertion of sovereign power in the international arena and we, accordingly, need to reorient our foreign policy conduct and diplomacy.

Published in The Rising Nepal on Jan 26, 2022


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Taking A Stroll Down Memory Lane


Yuba Nath Lamsal


“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep”
—Robert Frost
This is how American poet Robert Frost has described life as a journey. Life is truly a journey and we are all fellow travellers.
The 27 years of association with The Rising Nepal was a precious part of my life's long journey, which is both bumpy and exciting. In this part of the journey, there are thousands of incidents that go deep down in memory lane. However, a few of them are so momentous that they always keep on chasing in my mind.

Adieu to a man of principle
That was the sombre night of April 26, 1999. Piercing through the serenity of darkness, an unusual mid-night call woke me up. That was the age of landline telephones as cellular phones were not available in Nepal. Half-awakened and a little scared, I rushed to the next room to attend the call anticipating something unusual and bizarre. The voice from the other end was just brief and short: "Man Mohan Adhikari is no more." He then hung up without elaborating.

This made me fully awakened but was still confused not being able to believe my ears. I looked around within and outside. The clock was ticking at 01: 30. I checked with other people and the information turned out to be true. The senior communist leader and first communist prime minister of Nepal had, indeed, passed away at the age of 78.
It had been a foregone conclusion that he would not live long as he had already gone into a coma after a severe cardiac arrest a few days ago during an election campaign in Kathmandu as a candidate as well as the chairperson of the CPN-UML.

Now duty beckoned. I immediately called the office, there was none to respond, which was natural at almost wee hours. Then I called editor-in-chief Gyan Bahadur Rai and told him that this should be covered. "You are right Lamsal babu but how", the editor said. "Don't worry I will manage" was my answer.

Then I immediately rushed to the office. First, I asked to 'stop the press'. But colleagues in the printing department did not buzz and the chief editor had to intervene. By the time I finished the story, it was almost 4:30 and editor Rai also turned up. He got the front page layout of the paper changed. The news finally got printed with a banner headline. I heaved a sigh of relief. Perhaps it was only The Rising Nepal that covered the news that morning and later around 8 am the Nepali language daily, too, came out with an extra edition covering Adhikari's demise. Even our sister publication Gorkhapatra missed it. But none of the hakims (seniors in the Gorkhapatra Corporation) bothered to extend a word of appreciation.

The Gorkha quake
The clock was about to strike 11. Dogs howled and people shirked as the earth's surface started spinning. I felt as though the house was going to tumble down. Panicked, my wife hurried to the staircase to go out but I stood still clutching the wooden frame of the door. I felt as though time stood still and those 56 minutes were the longest waiting time in my life. In a moment, a roaring bang came with dust-filled up in the atmosphere as though the final day of judgement had come. It was the earthquake on the 7.1 Richter scale.

Soon the mayhem receded. We moved out of the house and found all people in my vicinity huddled in the open field—some crying, some praying and some in the state of utmost despair. I could see the tallest building in the vicinity had collapsed, killing several people inside. Telephones were dead and all channels of communication were disrupted. Someone told me Kathmandu's key landmark Dharahara crumbled and several heritages of Kathmandu perished.
Humans were so vulnerable before nature, despite the claim that man conquered the universe. Nobody was sure what was going to happen next as the earth continued to tremble. Everyone seemed to be at the mercy of nature.

All modes of transportation and communication were not operational and Kathmandu had virtually come to standstill. Nepal was in a way cut off from the rest of the world. Nature had unleashed its terror.
It was a tough time but humans had to be tougher. Being in the cockpit of the Rising Nepal, you have responsibility. I had to report to the office come what may because the paper must come out the next morning. Duty is cruel and begs sacrifice.

The distance between home at Kapan and office in Bhugol Park is about 6 kilometres. I would otherwise not dare but I had no other option but walk to reach the office. I walked along the road spattered with the debris of ruined strictures at different points. I finally reached the office aghast.

Occasional tremors of aftereffects continued. Fear had reigned within me but I pretended not to have been scared and tried to lift the courage and confidence of colleagues in the office. Most of the colleagues discharged their duty despite the tough time of the earthquake. Bijaya Lal Shrestha deserves special mention as he was available for duty anytime during those difficult times of the earthquake since he lived quite close to the office. Young reporter Pallav Bhusal was a terrific guy who did not miss even a single day and was always ready for duty. Pallav even drove me home in the evening on his motorbike. Office secretary Pususottam Baskota, too, displayed his devotion to duty during those difficult days. While most of the colleagues discharged their duty so well during that tough time, only one senior guy never turned up in the office for more than a week.

Handing Over the Torch
Everything is destined. A time has come for everyone and everything. As my departure from The Rising Nepal was due, Bijaya Lal Shrestha was the natural successor as he was the senior-most. But the moves were afoot from certain quarters not to let Bijaya take the reign of the TRN and bring in someone junior and less competent to that position. However, then Minister for Communication Surendra Karki did not buzz at the pressure and he instructed the Gorkhapatra Corporation management to appoint the senior, competent and professional one as the editor of the paper. This is how I handed over the torch to Bijaya Lal Shrestha, which he deserved.

Dec 16, 2021

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Nepal Faces New Geopolitical Reality


Yuba Nath Lamsal ( Jan 12, 2022)

Right from the time when Homo sapiens moved from African jungles to Asian and European landmass forming dots of civilizations, the concept of nationhood evolved. Since the first state evolved in Sumeria, (Tigris and Euphrates river basin in present Iraq), several states were born and disappeared from the map of the world. The process of birth and disappearance of states continues even now albeit in a slower pace.

Human history is chequered. Humans have changed so is the world. But the basic nature of human beings remains unchanged — that is to live in a group and seek collective security. The fundamental human nature of living together in a group in a particular territory and in a collective manner is the foundation of the modern statehood.

The world is interconnected and inter-dependent. The advancement of science and technology has reduced the world into a small global village. In this interconnected world, no single country is fully self-sufficient on all counts. All countries, big or small, powerful or weak and developed or developing, are intertwined together requiring cooperation and coordination among them. This is the defining feature of globalisation from which an individual, a society and a nation cannot escape.

Nepal Faces New Geopolitical Reality
The Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of the States has defined the features of a state. It says: the state as a person of international law should possess permanent population, a defined territory, government and capacity to enter into relations with other states. Territory, population, government and a set of rules or constitution are the key attributes of a state. However, these features alone do not make a de jure state. International recognition is a must to become a sovereign state or de jure state. International relation is, thus, a key component in the formation and development of modern states. It is only after international recognition as a de jure state, a country acquires the right to establish diplomatic relations with other countries, be a member of the United Nations and enter into treaties with other countries and international organisations under the international laws.

This is how the concept of foreign policy evolved as a dominant feature of the statehood. In other words, the concept of foreign policy was born along with the drawing of boundaries of countries.
Foreign policy, as observed by Christopher Hill, is “the sum of official external relations conducted by an independent actor (usually a state) in international relations”. The domestic policy influences and, to a large extent, determines foreign policy of a country. Domestic policies and priorities may change but foreign policy goals remain permanent as national interest is the principal guide and drive of foreign policy of a country. Former British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston has aptly stated how national interest dictates country’s foreign policy saying “there is no permanent enemy and permanent friend in international relations but there is only permanent interest”.

National interest is determined by geography and other geopolitical considerations. The constitution has clearly defined Nepal’s national interest. The Constitution, in Article 5 (1), has defined national interests as: “Safeguarding freedom, sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, independence and dignity of Nepal, rights of the people, border security, economic wellbeing and prosperity”. The core objectives and goals of Nepal’s foreign policy are, thus, protection of above mentioned national interests. The national charter has also stated the fundamental objective of Nepal’s foreign policy that includes enhancing national dignity by safeguarding sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence, and promoting economic wellbeing and prosperity. It also seeks to contribute to global peace, harmony and security.

The Directive Principles of the Constitution says: The State shall direct its international relations towards enhancing dignity of the nation in the world community by maintaining international relations on the basis of sovereign equality, while safeguarding freedom, sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence and national interest of Nepal. Similarly, the Constitution in the State Policy defines priorities of foreign policy as: to conduct an independent foreign policy based on the Charter of the United Nations, non-alignment, principles of Panchsheel, international law and the norms of world peace, taking into consideration of the overall interest of the nation, while remaining active in safeguarding the sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and national interest of Nepal, review treaties concluded in the past, and make treaties, agreements based on equality and mutual interest.

Based on the constitutional provisions, Nepal’s foreign policy is to be guided by following basic principles, which are: mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, respect for mutual equality, non-aggression and peaceful settlement of disputes, cooperation for mutual benefit, abiding faith in the Charter of the United Nations; and value of world peace.

Dynamic Vacation
Foreign policy is a dynamic vocation, which requires both continuity and change depending upon national political dynamics and international context. A country adopts its foreign policy priorities as a whole or in part while dealing with a particular country or with a particular international event taking into account its national interest. The national interests of a country may enlarge and its priorities may change due to geopolitical considerations and international dynamics. Thus, the dynamics of foreign policy priorities also change. Sometimes rigid foreign policy may handicap a country in a particular situation to maximise national interests. In such a scenario, foreign policy of a country requires to take a paradigm shift especially at a time when international diplomacy is in disarray.

Nepal’s foreign policy is also marked by both continuity and change. Nepal’s geopolitical reality has been the permanent feature, which guides our foreign policy conduct. Nepal’s location between world’s two giant nations — India and China -- has posed challenges as well as provided opportunities. According to a recent research report of McKinsey & Company, the US-based worldwide renowned consulting company, China has already emerged as the world’s wealthiest country surpassing the United States for the top position.

In terms of military might and technological innovation, too, China is capable of challenging the world’s sole superpower the United States. India, too, is the world’s fifth largest economy. These two countries have rising clout in the international arena. Both of our two neighbours are important players in the international politics. Thus, Nepal needs to direct its foreign policy conduct to maximise its national interest in the newer geopolitical reality winning confidence of both our two neighbours.