Leadership is tested in the time of crisis. It is the quality of leadership that steers the nation out of crisis and lead to greater prosperity. Be it domestic turbulences or external threats, the quality of leadership matters. The fate and future of the country and its people rest primarily on the ability, intention and vision of the leadership. It is said that leader is the one who can dream more, think more, see more, do more and give or deliver more than others. Leaders emerge from among the people. As Joseph de Maistre says ‘in a democracy every nation gets the leaders and government they deserve’, people are responsible for having the type of leaders the country gets.
Politics is generally taken as a domestic vocation and politicians are required to focus more on internal matters. However, this is not always true. Politics and politicians have equally to do with international relations and foreign affairs. Politics is domestic diplomacy and diplomacy is international politics. This is the reason why foreign policy is said to be the extension of domestic policy. To a large extent, the domestic politics and policies influence and impact foreign policy and diplomacy. In other words, the quality of politics and calibre of politicians have to do a lot in international affairs, relations and diplomacy. The calibre of politicians and leaders build type of image and enhance the role in the international arena.
It is often said that diplomacy is a war waged without the use of fatal weapons. According to ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, 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 a civilian strategist in the international politics like a commander in war. We now live in peaceful yet tumultuous era. The global geopolitical scenario is complex and challenging. Geopolitics is the power emanating from the interaction of geography with human activities. The world consists of four spheres — lithosphere (land), hydrosphere (water), atmosphere (air) and biosphere (human being). The former three are geography that constantly interact and encounter with human activities.
Civilisations are the product of interaction and encounter between geography and human activities. So is geopolitics. According to Tim Marshal, countries and people are the prisoners of geography. Geography shapes and determines politics, geopolitics and international relations. Geography is more or less permanent feature but other factors keep on changing. With the changes in human activities and other factors, geopolitics and its centrality also change. The geopolitical change brings about changes in the international power structure.
The global geopolitical centrality is changing. The Atlantic-based international power is shifting to Asia more particularly in the coastal region of Indian and Pacific Oceans namely East, South East and South Asia for multiple reasons. United States and China are the principal players in the present global geopolitical and power rivalry, while Russia and India too are jostling to gain significant space in the international power politics. The present geopolitical reality is even more precarious and complex for Nepal especially when the two immediate neighbours are competing to assert their position in the global power politics. India considers China as its formidable competitor and a threat.
Dogged with China phobia from the 1962 border war, India has always chosen to align with China’s adversary. Indian general psychology has been to see China as greater threat and principal competitor, while China views United States as the main competitor and threat but not India. The China-fear psyche pushed India closer to the Soviet Union following China-Soviet rift in 1960s and accordingly formed strategic partnership between Moscow and New Delhi, while Nixon-Mao handshake dispelled misgivings between Beijing and Washington bringing them closer to cooperate mainly in economic front. Now the same psychology has pushed India closer to United States to form partnership with Washington against China.
Since the central theatre of international geopolitical rivalry is Asia, the new Cold War comes close to our neighbourhood. Our immediate neighbours are the important players in the new Cold War. This situation definitely poses a bigger challenge in the conduct of diplomacy and at the same time can be turned into an opportunity. It entirely depends upon how wisely and sensibly we conduct our foreign policy and diplomacy maintaining balanced relations with both the powers. However, slight miscalculations may land into trouble. Afghanistan and Ukraine are the case in point as to how these countries suffered due to failure of understanding the sensitivity of neighbours and other powers. This situation, thus, requires Nepal to tread cautiously in the international arena of diplomacy to ensure that our country may not be caught in the crossfire of this power rivalry of great powers.
Nepal’s diplomatic acumen has always been in crucial test right from the unification era and it is more so in the present geopolitical complexity. Nepal has always been a buffer between the two competing powers. Whether it was between British Empire in the south and Chinese Empire in the north, or between present day’s India and China, Nepal has continued to survive as an independent country maintaining friendly and cooperative relations with the both immediate neighbours. The global geopolitical scenario has continued to change. Once partners, the United States and China are now principal competitors while India has joined hands with Washington against China.
However, South Asia witnesses three-cornered contest as India considers the region as its sphere of influence and wants external force away from the region. In this three-cornered geopolitical contest in South Asia, Nepal has to handle all three powers with care and caution. All the three powers are equally important friends for us. Nepal has no luxury to choose any of the three in the expense of other two. Nepal’s stated foreign policy has been non-alignment which is equally relevant for our national interest as it was in the past. As Joseph Nye says “the national interest is predetermined by geopolitics or the history of the country’, national interest is the principal guide and motivator of Nepal’s foreign policy. At the same time, we need to be realist in this age of economically globalised and technologically inter-connected world.
(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. email@example.com)