Foreign Policy Challenges And Opportunities

Dr. Rajendra B. Shrestha

                                                                       

The Constitution of Nepal (2015) has outlined the directive principles, policies and obligations of the State regarding its foreign policy. The foreign policy of Nepal is guided by the abiding faith in the United Nations and policy of non-alignment.

 

Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, respect for mutual equality, non-aggression and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and cooperation for mutual benefit are the basic guiding principles of our foreign policy. 

 

The fundamental objective of the foreign policy is to enhance the dignity of Nepal in the international arena by maintaining the sovereignty, integrity and independence of the country.

Challenges

In the past few decades, the environment for international relations between nations has changed significantly, both at the regional and global levels. There has been a shift from one of geo-political security and stability concerns to more of economic and social security concerns. Realisation of economic inter-dependence between nations, and relations based on a mutually beneficial win-win situation are becoming the new norm that is more sustainable.

Given the current state of affairs, there is an urgent need to review Nepal’s current policies and relations vis-à-vis its neighbours. Lack of consensus on issues of national interest among the political leaders has remained an obstacle in defining our policy priorities. Partition politics and conflicting interests of the leaderships in response to international and regional issues have tarnished our national image. As a result, Nepal does not seem to have an effective foreign policy that is coherent, up-to-date, comprehensive, pragmatic and flexible enough to protect the national interest. 

It is reassuring to learn that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) is in the process of reviewing and preparing a foreign policy that is in keeping with the changing regional and global context. Hope the team comprises of professionals with competence and good track records, not based on political patronage as is the case with the ambassadorial list being floated in the news.

Foreign policies well-grounded on domestic needs and priorities have proven to be more successful and sustainable in the world, whether a country is big or small. Our closest neighbours, India and China, have successfully demonstrated this and have become one of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world. Nepal can learn a lot from these glaring examples and redesign its foreign policy (FP). Nepal cannot miss out benefiting from such opportunities.

 

Focusing on economic rather than conventional diplomacy has become more urgent. Application of tact, negotiation skills and intelligence in promoting development, trade and investment constitute an integral part of economic diplomacy. Attracting foreign direct investment from China, India and others along with transfer of new technologies, skills and managerial expertise in areas of comparative and competitive advantages, i.e., hydropower, infrastructure, agro-forestry-based industries, and tourism (religious and adventure) can boost our economy. However, effectiveness of economic diplomacy hinges on several factors.

Overhauling the foreign policy apparatus demands greater attention. A pro-active role of MoFA, to engage in various issues of bilateral and multilateral relations, is a must. MoFA and its diplomatic missions abroad lack a clear sense of direction. They are often ignored and not equipped to deal with newly emerging foreign policy issues. This has resulted in confusion over the country's foreign policy choices and priorities.

Lack of timely efforts towards institutional strengthening of MoFA and missions abroad in terms of qualified staffing, avoiding long vacancies of senior positions has resulted in sub-optimal performance of missions abroad. This has compelled the government having to rely on foreign missions from time to time, which has promoted disregards to maintaining diplomatic protocols, decorum and outside interference.  

At the policy level, MoFA should be accorded the most important portfolios of the government (headed by a senior minister  second to the Prime Minister as in many countries) and provided with necessary resources to enable it to coordinate with other closely related ministries, such as finance (international cooperation), industry and commerce.

The reforms that are required at MoFA to be more effective and timely are institutionalising the criteria for the selection of ambassadorial and key diplomatic positions based on meritocracy (i.e., right qualification and proven track record), not political affiliation, quota and nepotism; missions abroad are opened only after careful assessments of their needs, likely benefits and importance; missions abroad are provided with adequate human and financial resources.

Regular training to upgrade the skills of foreign service personnel is very important and is  grossly ignored at present; ensure specialised units (desks) within MoFA; possess necessary  knowledge, analytical and managerial skills, and technical know-how to respond  to emerging challenges in the field of international economic relations  and diplomacy; capacity at the Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA) needs to be strengthened to provide necessary training, research analysis, and act as a resource centre to support the government’s policy and programmes.

It is appropriate that MoFA seeks timely support from “think tanks” like the Nepal Council of World Affairs, Department for International Relations, TU and a host of other like-minded institutes in the non-government and private sectors. Both China and India have been successful because the government values the contribution and support from “think tanks”. Nepal cannot miss the opportunity. Recently there have been interactions of “think tanks” from China and India with Nepali think tanks on contemporary issues of importance. Government investment in “think tanks” results in very high dividends.

 

Opportunities

India has reoriented its foreign policy to boost bilateral ties with Nepal, especially after Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Another reason for the Modi government to engage Kathmandu at the highest political level is China’s increasing investment in infrastructure, energy and other sectors of Nepal as well as a consensus among Indian strategists and experts that Pakistan already enjoys goodwill with some sections of the Nepalese.

With recent political and economic developments of Nepal vis-a-vis its neighbours and India’s neighbourhood first policy, it is time to review our bilateral relations with India from a new but realistic perspective. The formation of a mutually agreed Eminent Persons Group to review the 1950 Peace Treaty should provide practical guidelines for new economic and security cooperation between the two countries for a win-win situation that will ensure mutual respect for sovereignty, interdependence and prosperity. It is high time our bilateral relations focussed more on economic and development cooperation rather than on the conventional political and security concerns. 

(To be continued)

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