Tuesday, April 26, 2022

NATO expansion and its consequences


Yuba Nath Lamsal

The war in Ukraine will leave deeper mark in the geopolitical landscape of Europe. History is witness that invasion in a sovereign country has always been costly no matter how big or powerful the country might be. The world history is littered with the rise and fall of empires. The empires that once boasted as invincible did not last forever and were eventually dumped in the trash of history.

Let us go back to recent history. Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded its small neighbour Kuwait in 1990. The Kuwait invasion brought his downfall.  Soviet Union, which was a superpower of that time, invaded Afghanistan in 1979 that proved costly for Moscow and Soviet Union disintegrated in 1992 and lost its super power status. The United States got into military conflict in Vietnam in 1975 to contain spread of communism but Washington had to return in humiliation losing more than it gained as the same Vietcong communists against which America fought 20 years came to power after the US withdrawal. Washington met with Vietnam like fiasco in Afghanistan very recently. The United States attacked Afghanistan in 2001 in a furious response to the terrorist strikes in Washington and New York, the responsibility of which was claimed by Al Qaeda. America entered into Afghanistan war to wipe out Al Qaeda terrorists and teach Taliban a lesson for giving shelter for Al Qaeda terrorists. America got badly stuck in Afghanistan war and it had to come out in utter disgrace even after its military engagement for two decades. America somehow came out of Afghanistan quagmire but the sole superpower is facing a challenge to maintain its position as the mightiest and richest country.

Hawkish powers may apparently emerge winner but ultimately they lose. Only pacifist ones could gain in the long run. Empires like Roman, Byzantine, Mongol, Japanese, British, French, German, Russian and several others rose and fell. The hawkish Germany and imperial Japan were badly crushed in the World War II. Germany and Japan have emerged as economic powers only after they gave up military adventure and embraced the pacific policies. Now, it remains to be seen what consequences Vladimir Putin’s gambit in Ukraine brings to Russia itself.

The newer developments in Ukraine will certainly have repercussions in Europe and more particularly in Europe’s eastern flank and Nordic Region. The security architecture of Europe is likely to take a paradigm shift. Russian adventure in Ukraine has made countries in Europe particularly Eastern Europe and Nordic Region more susceptible. Nordic countries like Finland and Sweden are now contemplating to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the transatlantic defence architecture under US leadership. According to the opinion polls in Finland, 62 per cent Finns want to join the NATO, Swedish public opinion too seems to be inclined to NATO membership. If Finland and Sweden join the NATO, other European countries may be tempted to become part of the western security umbrella further isolating Russia. Ukraine has already initiated the process and Georgia, Moldova and Kosovo may follow suit.

Currently, NATO has 30 members of which 27 are European countries. United States, Canada and Turkey are non-European NATO members. Similarly, six other countries namely Finland, Sweden, Ukraine, Georgia, Australia and Jordan have status of enhanced opportunities partnership for dialogue and cooperation (EOP) of NATO.

Finland maintained its neutral position even during the height of the Cold War, which used to be taken by some countries as a role model. In the aftermath of Russian action in Ukraine, these Nordic countries seem to be shaking off the luxury of neutrality and embrace the European collective defence alliance.  Russia’s action in Chechnya in 2014 led the Ukraine and two Nordic countries to become EOP of NATO. The Ukraine war pushed them further towards the west.

Even if these countries want to join NATO, it may take months to acquire membership due to long membership procedures. The first step requires a country to write to NATO headquarters expressing its intent to become the member. Then all members need to unanimously decide in the North Atlantic Council, executive body of the NATO, and extend invitation for necessary talks relating to new membership. In the accession talks, the aspirant country has to convince the NATO experts that it meets all the criteria and obligations the NATO requires. Then the aspirant country has to write a letter to the NATO secretary general clearly expressing commitments to abide by the obligations of the Alliance. There are specific criteria to become the NATO member which include: democracy, diversity, free market economy and military under civilian control. This has to be ratified unanimously by all member countries in the North Atlantic Council. Once it is ratified by all members, the aspirant country is notified about the approval for the new membership.

Normally it would take more than a year to complete the procedures. Since President of Finland Sauli Niinist√∂, in New Year speech, indicated Finland’s intention and urgency to join the Alliance, NATO members may choose a fast track method to take in the two Nordic countries as Finland and Sweden meet all criteria. However, there are question marks even about the relevance of the NATO and its capability to defend Europe. The NATO is the relics of the Cold War and some even demand it be disbanded. Former US president Donald Trump called NATO ‘obsolete’ while British politician Jeremy Corbyn, who was once chief of British Labour Party and leader of the Opposition in parliament, said ‘NATO as a Cold War product  should have shut up shop along with the Warsaw Pact’. French President Emanuel Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Markel floated the idea of creating separate European Army under the EU. But creation of EU Army may not be plausible at the moment. After the Brexit, Europe is a house divided as major powers of Europe are not unanimous on many issues. Given the new scenario and developments, NATO expansion to the Nordic region seems to be likely. But it remains to be seen what consequences and ramification the newer developments in Europe will have in the future security and geopolitical landscape of Europe and the world.




Sunday, April 17, 2022

Nepal Amidst Triangular Geo-political Play


Yuba Nath Lamsal

Diplomacy is a litmus test of an individual or state especially in time of crisis, which should be visibly seen to maximize the engagement of counterparts and get things done in the larger interest of the country. Sun Tzu, a military strategist and philosopher of ancient China, said in his famous book ‘The Art of War’, diplomacy is “a supreme art of war to subdue the enemy without fighting”.  In a way, a diplomat is a warrior without fatal weapons and strategist like a commander in war.  The real test of a diplomat is, thus, seen at the time of crises between countries.

Given Nepal’s stated non-aligned foreign policy, we have no enemy but friends all over the world. But sometimes, geopolitics is so cruel that it drags even a neutral country into difficult position although the country itself may not be responsible for it. At times, countries fall victim to geopolitical rivalry between big powers, while the slight miscalculation and mishandling of national and foreign policies by a country may land into trouble. Ukraine is the recent case in point. The sheer negligence towards the sensitivity of its next-door neighbour, which a global power has brought devastation to Ukraine, although Russia’s military aggression and invasion over a sovereign and independent country can by no means be justified. The aggression into an independent country is a violation of the United Nations Charter, international laws and norms.

Geopolitical position is both opportunity and curse. If handled delicately, geopolitical position can be of immense benefit and a country can enlarge its influence in the larger international chessboard. However, if a country fails to understand the geopolitical reality and sensitivity, it may invite catastrophe. There are several countries in the world which have fallen prey to such geopolitical curse and their miscalculations. Afghanistan is yet another case in our neighbourhood.

Asia is emerging as a new theatre of great-power rivalry. The United States and China seem to be in the front line of this rivalry while other international powers like Russia and India also seek to throw their hats into the ring of international power wrestling. Russia has already started flexing its muscle and projecting its imperial intention by invading a sovereign and independent neighbour, while  India, too, is benignly advancing its ambition in the region and beyond as a junior partner in the international power play.

Asia is a key priority region of the United States’ strategic roadmap in the 21st century primarily for two reasons—one is the oil of the Middle East and the other one is the rise of China as a new and clear challenger to the might of America. The United States’ foreign policy and strategic primacy has been to contain and prevent China from further rising and enlarging its influence in the region for which it has adopted a number of initiatives including alliance building including those with which it has already treaty arrangements, cultivate others to join the alliance; promote cooperation mechanism with non-treaty countries; and create mechanism of cooperation with regional groupings region namely the Association of South Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Pacific Islands’ Group. In future, the US may seek to have similar mechanism with BIMSTEC and SAARC as well.

With international power shifting to Asia heralding the Asian Century, Nepal is in the heart of this new geopolitical game. US sees some geopolitical fault lines of China through which Washington seeks to pulls its trigger. These fault lines are the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea, Tibet and Xinjiang. Tension is already building in South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait but southwestern frontiers are relatively stable. With US pull out from Afghanistan, China has heaved a sigh of relief in the western frontiers. Beijing thinks the United States may try to use the southern front to irritate China.  It is perhaps with this notion that China is susceptible about the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement the United States and Nepal signed for the construction of an electricity transmission line and widening of a key highway. While the issue was in Nepali parliament in the process of ratification of MCC, China and the United States came face to face in verbal war.  China termed the MCC as an arm of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy brought about seeking to encircle China. But US called it purely an economic grant for the development of Nepal and any attempt to scuttle the MCC agreement would be construed as tantamount to being motivated by external force clearly referring to China. However, Nepal parliament ratified the MCC.

China, perhaps, had been under the impression that Nepali communist parties would not support the MCC. However, the ratification of the MCC stunned Beijing. A three-day whirlwind tour of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Nepal immediately after the ratification of MCC is evident of China’s serious concern in Nepal.  More than that the remarks made by Chinese foreign minister Wang during the meeting with Nepali foreign minister Narayan Khadka, as reported by Chinese state-owned The Global Times on March 27, has made many in the diplomatic circle do some more guess works on the state of relations between Nepal and China. According to The Global Times, the Chinese foreign minister said “China believes the affairs of Nepal should be decided by its people, and China opposes any attempt to undermine Nepal's sovereignty and independence, interfere in its internal affairs and engage in geopolitical games in the country”. Chinese foreign minister’s remarks, if they are at all true, does not clearly states from where Nepal’s soverigny may be in danger but points to the fact that Nepal is in the midst of triangular geopolitical rivalry among three great powers—the United States, China and India.

What is intriguing is the fact that Nepal has maintained conspicuous silence on the remarks of the Chinese guest.  In fact, our foreign minister should have politely thanked Chinese foreign minister for his concerns about Nepal’s sovereignty and independence and said that since Nepal had no enemy in the world, it does not feel any kind of threat to its sovereignty and independence from any country. He should have further said that if there is any threat from anywhere, Nepal is capable enough to defend its sovereignty and independence.

Nepal is one of the oldest countries in the world and perhaps the oldest one in South Asia. In its long history, Nepal has maintained its sovereignty even when a large part of Asia was under the colonial rule. So we should be proud of our history and clearly convey this message to our friends in the neighbourhood also in the western world.

Nepal’s diplomacy has come under the radar of crucial test especially when global powers are currently seeking to wrestle to get the geopolitical pound of flesh in Asia. Nepal needs to delicately handle our foreign policy and diplomacy at this crucial juncture. Nepal should not shy away in telling our neighbours and friends including India, China, USA frankly and diplomatically that we care about our friend’s and neighbours’ sensitivity and will never allow our territory to be used against the interest of our friends and neighbours and at the sometimes we should politely ask them to refrain from getting bogged down in our internal matters.