Foreign Policy Conduct Needs Innovation

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Hennery Kissinger, a man gifted with diplomatic genius, has said ‘no foreign policy - no matter how ingenious - has any chance of success if it is born in the minds of a few and carried in the hearts of none’. By this he meant, the conduct of foreign policy must be in congruity with broader popular will and opinion. In the era of modern democracy, foreign policy is no longer an elitist vocation but a subject of public discourse. Technology has reduced the world into a global village wherein every citizen has access to information including the matters of public concerns. Foreign policy too has come to be a subject of public scrutiny and discourse about which foreign policy interlocutors are required to be well cognizant of this reality. Failure to cope with the newer concept of public diplomacy, the foreign policy is doomed to fail.

While foreign policy is a broader strategy of the state that seeks to protect and enlarge one’s own national interest, the government is the principal actor to execute policies set forth in the broader strategic template. The fundamentals of national interest may vary depending upon time, context, behaviour of other countries as well as international power architecture. Since foreign policy is the external arm of the state to protect its national interest, foreign policy priorities may also change with the change in the fundamentals of national interest. However, the core objective of foreign policy remains unchanged. Thus, foreign policy seeks more of continuity than change.  

Strategic perspective 

Foreign policy, therefore, finds special place in country’s overall strategic architecture as it is an important arm to deal with wider stakeholders in the global community. A state requires astute art to deal with countries, international institutions and even non-state actors on multiple issues in the best interest of the country. This is referred to diplomacy. In other word, diplomacy is an art and tool to achieve the foreign policy goals of the country in all given circumstances. 

Nepal has clearly and explicitly defined its national interests in the constitution. Article 5 of the Constitution of Nepal states:  Safeguarding of the freedom, sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, independence and dignity of Nepal, the rights of the Nepalese people, border security, economic wellbeing and prosperity shall be the basic elements of the national interest of Nepal”. But it does not spell out the strategy to achieve these goals. In other words, Nepal lacks strategic perspective and culture. Foreign policy is a part of national strategic outlook and a tool to achieve its strategic objective. In the absence of clear strategic template and goal, foreign policy priorities get mired in confusion in times of crisis of which we have experienced time and again. 

The Constitution of Nepal also spells out the fundamental principles and priorities of foreign policy. The Constitution, in its Directive Principles (Article 50.4), says: ‘The State shall direct its international relations towards enhancing the dignity of the nation in the world community by maintaining international relations on the basis of sovereign equality, while safeguarding the freedom, sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence and national interest of Nepal’. Similarly, Article 51 of the Constitution provides the guidelines for the conduct of foreign policy and international relations, which includes ‘independent foreign policy based on the Charter of the United Nations, non-alignment, and principles of Panchasheel, international law and the norms of world peace’. 

However, when it comes to practice, contradictions and inconsistencies come to be glaringly visible. Nepal’s foreign policy and diplomatic weakness was more visible while dealing with Bhutan on refugees. Nepal neither could persuade Thimpu to take back its own citizens who had been living in Nepal as refugees nor could it take support of the international community. Instead, third country settlement was, eventually, agreed upon, which was not the priority of Nepal whereas it was Thimpu’s diplomatic triumph. There are several other instances in our over two century’s diplomatic history wherein we have failed in diplomatic dealings with our neighbours on some key issues including territorial disputes. 

The weakness and problem lies in structural notion, strategic thinking and cultural legacy about which we must ponder to make diplomacy more efficient and result-oriented. Professor Yadu Nath Khanal, the doyen of Nepali diplomacy, is of the view that formulation and conduct of foreign policy require three basic approaches — strategic, political and economic.  Khanal also lays paramount emphasis on strategic approach in the foreign policy. Foreign policy strategy is more concerned with what should be our approach and perspective vis-à-vis principal powers, what is our views on the international power structure and what role we seek to play to take advantage from the new turns of events in the international arena.

 Foreign policy political requires action and relations with countries and international institutions at multiple levels — official, people, institutional, military, parliamentary, etc. while foreign policy economic deals with issues concerning investment, trade, aid, technology transfer and tourism.  Now newer issue has come up more strongly that is environmental or climate diplomacy. Climate change and its impact have emerged as a burning issue on the diplomatic debate. As the Himalayas are facing the brunt of climate change, Nepal, being the Himalayan republic, needs to take lead role to save Himalayas.

Multiple issues

In the present turbulent world coupled with multiple issues coming up simultaneously, country like Nepal needs to embrace a more proactive, efficient and action-oriented diplomacy. Diplomacy is the only strength we can rely on as we do not have other leverages to influence the international stakeholders and turn the diplomatic table to our favour. However, our diplomacy seems to be less effective, if not at all ineffective, in order to make maximum gains. The fundamental flaw lies in the political leadership and its principal agency to deal with diplomacy. The approach of foreign policy and diplomatic conduct still suffers from the hangover of 19th and 20th century, when secretive and seductive diplomacy was in vogue. 

Foreign policy has not been the priority vocation for politicians and parties. Parties and politicians focus more on political power and other financially lucrative ministries and foreign ministry is the least choice for the leaders. While foreign policy is neglected vocation for politicians and political actors, our foreign ministry suffers from bureaucratic and mechanical phenomenon lacking creativity, innovation and risk-taking. Against this background, it is now high time to reverse these trends and turn our foreign policy conduct and diplomacy more innovative and result-oriented to face the challenges of the 21st century diplomacy.  

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

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