Pursuing Pragmatic Foreign Policy

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Foreign policy is said to be the extension of domestic policy. Sometimes, it may be otherwise. External events in certain cases may influence country’s domestic policy. In the present globalised and heavily interconnected world, events and developments in the neighbourhood and around the world may alter foreign policy course.

The geopolitical contours of the world keep changing and it has changed drastically with the dawn of the 21st century. Accordingly countries especially big powers continuously change their strategy and policy to maintain their dominance and realise their strategic interests. Small and weaker countries, too, are compelled to adjust their policy with the change of international scenario and geopolitical landscape. Thus, foreign policy cannot be a static matter. It is a dynamic pursuit which requires timely adjustment and update depending upon the global context and developments in the neighbourhood.

Strategic course 

If foreign policy and strategic course are not updated, they might be outdated unable to cater the needs and interest of the country. Countries that were closer during the Cold War are now far apart while those which were in different camps were together at present. China and the US had come closer burying their ideological hatchets while India and US were in different direction. Pakistan was trusted ally of the United States during the Cold War. But the scenario is different now. China and the US are competitors now, while India and the US are closer strategically. Pakistan has moved away from the US and is getting closer to China. There are similar instances in other parts of the world.

The recent example is Finland. This Nordic country perfectly maintained neutrality between the two super powers of the day — United States and Russia -- during the Cold War. However, Helsinki has lately departed from its long-cherished ‘Finlandisation’ or practical neutrality with the power blocs and has joined the Western military bloc — North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO. The geopolitical rivalry between powers has rendered several countries vulnerable in terms of security. Europe has lately been turned into a theatre of war with Ukraine being in the front line.

While NATO continued to expand eastward in Europe, Russia took it as a threat. Moscow, instead, attempted to expand its sphere of influence through military adventure. As a response to NATO’s expansion, Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia’s invasion into small and weaker neighbour in Europe made Finland and some other countries in North and East Europe more susceptible thus seeking collective security umbrella from the NATO. Finland and Sweden finally joined the NATO while some other east European countries are seeking to follow suit. 

A fundamental goal of foreign policy of any country is to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity. When sovereignty and territorial integrity come under threat, the country takes any measures possible to defend itself. Finland’s joining NATO may not have its best choice but circumstances in its neighbourhood compelled it to take this measure. Ukraine’s developments changed the foreign policy course of Finland. Helsinki’s joining NATO is a complete shift in its foreign policy. This is a clear example of how external developments and events influence the foreign policy of a country.  We can find numerous such examples in the world wherein external events influence the foreign and domestic policy. 

Ukraine is a basket case which serves lesson for other countries, too, as to how a country lands in trouble for being unable to sense the psychology of the powerful neighbour and accordingly failing to handle its foreign policy in sensitive and wiser manner.  Ukraine is a neighbour of powerful Russia sharing border. However, it failed to understand the sensitivity and psychology of Russian state and instead chose adventurism in foreign policy handling. Ever since Volodymyr Zelenskyy came to power, Ukraine foreign policy handling lost balance, which is partially responsible for the present crisis. 

Nepal also can learn a lesson from Ukraine’s case. Nepal’s geopolitical position is more sensitive and vulnerable and even a slightest miscalculation and mishandling may land us in trouble. Nepal is a land-locked country surrounded by two competing Asian giants —India and China. Right from the formation of the state, Nepal has been confronted with this challenge. Nepal cannot choose foreign policy adventure. Nepal has to maintain delicate balance with our immediate neighbours as well as some other extra-continental development partners. India is our important neighbour as we are surrounded by India from three sides. Nature, culture, social values and family ties bind Nepal and India closer. Economically too, Nepal and India are closely connected more than any other countries.

Pressing issues 

At the same time, Nepal and India have pressing issues ranging from border disputes to trade and transit, among others. The relations between these two countries have undergone ups and down over the years but they, at the same time, have been able to maintain cooperative relations. Given the so much interconnectedness, they have no option other than harmonising their relations and working together. China is another important neighbour with which we share a long border in the north. China is also our important development partner and China has been significantly contributing to Nepal’s development. These two neighbours have close relations right from the ancient time.

Nepal has been maintaining friendly relations with China and these two countries have perfect cooperative relations. The United States is another important friend and development partner of Nepal. The role and support of the United States, too, was very significant in the past. The United States still supports Nepal in many ways. Thus, Nepal has always given priority to the relations with the United States right from the time these two countries established the diplomatic relations. Balance among these three major forces is key to Nepal’s foreign policy handling. 

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

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