Foreign Policy, as the name suggests, is a policy adopted by a nation in its external dealings. It is the substance of foreign relations. It includes the bundle of principles and practices regulating state behaviour. It is, therefore, the external behaviour of states. The policy differs from one country to another according to differences in geopolitics and priorities of the countries.
It is through objective foreign policy and its sound execution international image of a country will be promoted and national objectives achieved. It is the systematic statement of deliberately selected national interest, as Hartman suggests. Formulation and execution of foreign policy is the sole domain of the national government, in Nepal's case, the Federal government.
Foreign policy is carried out to protect and promote national interest and achieve a national objective. Amity with all and enmity with none is the overarching principle of Nepal in its interaction with other countries and international communities and organisations at large.
Foreign Policy Provisions
The foreign policy of any country has special guiding factors and frameworks which show the path towards its expected goals. These policies have been reframed in a new political and socio-economic context after Nepal turned itself into a republican country. In this sense, some policies thus far changed and some with continuity derived from historical experience and geopolitical drive of Nepal.
Like every country, it has its national interest to serve its national objectives in the form of political, social and economic fronts. Nepal has made it pretty clear in the new constitution in its Article, 5 (1) which describes national interests as Safeguarding the freedom, sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, independence and dignity of Nepal, the rights of the Nepalese people, border security, economic well-being and prosperity of the country.
Also, the constitution in its Policies relating to International relations (IR) under State Policies has mentioned of following provisions:(1) to conduct an independent foreign policy based on the Charter of the United Nations, non-alignment, principles of Panchasheel, 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 along with review treaties concluded in the past and make treaties and agreements based on equality and mutual interest.
These state policies and documents highlight the importance of foreign policy along with the new drive Nepal so far taken in the pursuit of conducting independent foreign policy and diplomacy in a true sense. All the state organs and individuals will be liable for the compliance of these principles and policies and contrary to it shall be punishable by the law.
The world has been divided in terms of geographical regions, political ideology, socioeconomic wellbeing and so forth. One such division is Global North and Global South. Northern countries are well-off and strong in terms of politics, military and economic security and the like whereas southern have fared lowly in such standards thus remained underdeveloped, least developed and developing ones. Now this division of the countries is working no more. Some developing countries including India, China, Indonesia, Brazil and Turkey have emerged to be aspiring regional and global leaders.
As Henry Kissinger, an American veteran diplomat stresses the non-existent of real-world order in his masterpiece 'World Order' asserting that the so-called unipolar system led by the United States of America has shaken while it is yet to emerge to replace the existing system. A multi-polar world is today's reality. The shift in the global power centre is drifted towards Asia with the rapid and steady growth of the economies and military strength of the Asian countries, particularly India and China. In this context, Ramesh Thakur and Oddny Wiggon's view in their book 'South Asia in the World' is worth pondering as they claim, What happens in South Asia will surely shape the contours of the global community in the decades ahead. With the post World, war-II global institutions (including the United Nations and Bretton Woods Institutions) becoming sclerotic and irresponsible global governance is going to no avail. Alternatives to these institutions, BRICS bank and AIIB have come to the fore which seems necessary today. The notion of the New Asian Century located between two of its main pillars China and India and the central Himalayas would emerge as one of the epicentres of the post-Cold War paradigm flux can't be discounted.
In such evolving scenario, where does Nepal find itself and what role can it play? in the changing milieu is rather important. Since Nepal is not a military and economic power, its role in the changing world dynamics is constricted but its role appears imperative due to its strategic location between China and India as well as the rising interest of the powerful countries in it. In recent time, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and its consequent crisis all over the world's so-called great powers and their hegemony seems to evade due to their inefficacy in handling the crisis and leadership deficit, particularly, America.
The resurgent China and India which have exhibited greater skill and cooperation in containing the crisis and also winning the confidence of their community are praiseworthy, thus becoming the world leaders born out of the crisis. This tumultuous global situation is scary where cooperation among countries is infinitesimal while confrontation, giving a new alarm bell.
Priorities In New Context
Foreign policy first operates with neighbours. India and China are our immediate neighbours and rising world leaders. With the likely change in the present world order and consequent arriving at New Asian Century Nepal can't remain unaffected. It will be of great concern for Nepal as she posits herself in between two of the largest economies of the world, China and India. The geopolitical challenge appears in dealing with both of the countries which are huge asymmetrical in size and capacity with Nepal.
Nepal needs to tread carefully while walking a tightrope as a simple imbalance in relations can hurt the long-term interest of Nepal. However, due to her geopolitical location, options for leveraging with its neighbours are limited as are the choices in its foreign policy. Balance neighbour relations is today's need and also should be our priorities.
Nepal is a landlocked and least developed country. If Nepal can change the geographical revenge into reward by turning into a land-linked transit economy between two neighbours it would be a great boon for the Nepalese. Our foreign policy priority has to be oriented towards fulfilling this historical need. Further, its strategic location can be aptly utilized by strengthening connectivity and trade with both of the countries. Nepal can't become further marginalized and poor in the comity of nations either in the name of politics or democratic change.
With this, Nepal's aspiration to graduate from the least developed country anytime soon and also crucial in attaining Sustainable Development Goals will be duly achieved. Nepal's international stature, identity and image shall change with the change in the socio-economic status of Nepalese at home.
Along with these long term benefits, Foreign policy conduct should focus on cashing the immediate benefits out of its location. India and China are big sources of tourists, investment and trade. Both the countries have increased their aid amount to Nepal in later days. They are the market opportunities for Nepal. They have strongly attached Nepal into their neighbour relation under neighbourhood policies. Most important of all is Nepal gets the benefit of spill-over effects of their economies at least, marginally.
At the same time, Nepal has got to maintain the best of its relations beyond its neighbours along with great powers and donor countries. Her relations with development partners bilateral or multilateral ones is also equally important. In this periphery, Nepal needs to develop balanced and trust-based relations with all the countries which are also in the interest of Nepal.
At the same time, Nepal should equally focus on diversifying and extending its arms of relations with all the countries small or big. The importance lies for Nepal in increasing active and productive role in regional and multilateral fora including SAARC, BIMSTEC and the United Nations. In this complex cosmopolitan world, Nepal can't remain an island so needing to integrate its economy with the world around. An active beneficial role is pursued in WTO as a least developed and landlocked country.
However, it is easier said than done. For this to happen both of the neighbours should be kept in confidence with their security and other sensitive interest addressed. It requires diplomatic acumen and smart negotiation skills. In doing so, Nepal should formulate an independent foreign policy. The policy should be clear, consistent, credible, coherent and consensus-based. The most important lag behind the execution of foreign policy and diplomacy is its over-politicization thus increasing outside interference.
And internal political order is to be maintained on its own without outside fear or favour. Internal security has to be kept intact with effective border security. At the same time, Nepal's relations with both of the neighbours is its independent affair and should be dealt with independently. Relations with one shouldn't hurt the relations with the other, nor playing card one against the other is justifiable.
Equally, Nepal has to seek confirmation of the same pattern of relationship from both of the neighbours quenching our legitimate interests. The sensible matter requires a comprehensive understanding of the bilateral relations putting its national interest at the centre including the changed national and international context.
Wrong calculation and mishandling of it will erode the international image of the country while keeping national interest at risk. With this assertion, John F. Kennedy, 35th American President once pointed out that Domestic policy can only defeat us but foreign Policy can kill us. This notion about foreign policy is what Nepal should never forget in dealing with other countries and the neighbours, in particular.
(Bhandari works at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
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