As foreign policy is a strategy designed to manage mutual relations with other nations, it is vital for every sovereign country. The consolidation of foreign policy is highly dependent on a nation’s domestic situation. An impoverished nation may use foreign policy to extract concessions from other countries whereas a great power may use it as a soft-power strategy. Foreign policy can be used a vehicle for domestic changes as it can be used for developing the nation as well as protecting the national sovereignty. This policy is intrinsically linked to globalisation, liberalisation, increased connectivity, political ideology, technology transfer, domestic development and formation of alliances based on political and economic considerations.
The modern world is undergoing a momentous power shift from the Transatlantic to the Transpacific. China has emerged as a global power that has been able to challenge the global hegemony of the United States (US) and the West. Similarly, the emergence of Russia as a military power and India as a regional power has also challenged the domination of the West. However, the West, along with the US, still remains the major global power with their collective security guarantees through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU). The issues that plague the 21st century transcend borders as climate change, cyber security, terrorism, pandemics proliferate across international boundaries placing more importance on effective foreign policy and requiring coordination between nation states.
Within the coming decades, Asia is predicted to develop into a more significant economic and military zone. PricewaterhouseCooper, a leading multinational firm, predicted that by 2050 the gross domestic product (GDP) at Purchasing Power Parity will be ranked as follows: China ($58.4 trillion), India ($44.1 trillion), US ($10.5 trillion), and Indonesia ($10.5 trillion). Likewise, military capacity will also be vastly developed in Asia with the US, Russia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea ranked as the top powers. This clearly displays the emergence of Asia which is further reinforced by the fact that Asian powers such as China and India have taken massive steps in improving their technology to join the ranks of Japan and South Korea.
Analysing political instability has been neglected in Nepal by political parties and scholars alike. As it stands, Nepal’s image on the international stage is one of disunity, instability, and indecisiveness, all of which were reinforced with the recent MCC debacle. Parties seem to be frequently changing their positions based on their self-interests as opposed to pragmatic development of the nation. This results in instability and infighting amongst even their own parties. For example, UML chair KP Sharma Oli initially presented the motion for the ratification of the MCC Nepal Compact when he was leading the majority government. However, after being ousted from power and witnessing the strong anti-MCC sentiments within the country, Oli took a complete U-turn on the issue and criticised Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba for supporting its ratification. These domestic issues have international reverberations as Nepal has been unable to engage in an effective manner with global actors. This may make other nations unwilling to engage with Nepal in the future.
As a landlocked nation between two superpowers, Nepal’s diplomatic capability to balance as well as furnish cordial relationship with both neighbours needs to be enhanced. We should assure both neighbours about their security and other vital concerns as well as encourage trans-Himalayan connectivity among the three nations. Additionally, the nation also needs to look further than just their neighbours to create more flexible foreign policy opportunities. This would be appropriate for the nation to help prevent heavy dependence and influence of a single power in our politics and economy. It is equally important to have a stable and coherent foreign policy so that Nepal does not send mixed signals to other countries with whom it shares vital security, economic, cultural, and political concerns.
In a context of competing great powers, Nepal’s strategic geopolitical location will mean that it will be asked to be part of the strategy of these powers through political, security and economic alliances. They may be tasked with supporting these nations at multilateral institutions such as the UN. These difficult situations examine the diplomatic capability of a nation and Nepal should be able to project its stable foreign policy.
Some prominent foreign policy issues of Nepal are those relating to India. But the government has not taken steps to address them. Border problems, trade deficit, natural disasters, review on treaties are issues of vast importance, which, however, have remained unsettled. Foreign policy decisions must not be taken on an ad hoc basis followed by excessive populism. Only capable persons should be appointed as ambassadors. Otherwise, the nation’s image at the world stage gets tarnished.
All fissures of domestic politics affect foreign policy. Geography and history of foreign relationship of Nepal lies with its immediate neighbours. So, India and China will always remain at the forefront of our foreign policy. The government, whoever it may be, needs to ensure broad consensus among the political parties with regards to foreign policy so that Nepal’s vital national interests are not compromised. In the absence of political stability, Nepal’s development and international standing have been hampered. Nepali leaders must be able to manage them well to safeguard our national interests. Giving a clear signal to the international community that Nepal has stable and coherent foreign policy should be our goal.
(The author is a former government secretary.)