Nepal at UN: Perfunctory role is not enough

This December, Nepal will complete the 52nd year of its UN membership. During this long period Nepal got to distinguish itself among the member-states as a major supplier of peacekeepers to various troubled spots around the world. On two occasions (1969-70 and 1988-89) Nepal served as one of the non-permanent members of the Security Council. On some other occasions, Nepal was also elected to work as a member of the Economic and Social Council. It also played a leading role in the UN and its related organs and agencies as a promoter of the interests of the least developed countries, in particular, as champion among the land-locked countries.

However, in October 2006, Nepal failed dismally in its bid for a non-permanent seat in the Security Council and garnered the lowest number of votes in such an election. Of course, inept diplomatic handling and immature decisions largely contributed to this humiliating defeat. The event had unmistakably sent a message of trust deficit shown by the international community towards Nepal as seen in the General Assembly. The Nepali diplomatic circle regretted the total collapse of Nepal’s standing then and wondered at the naïve and inexperienced diplomatic leadership of Nepal at the time.

Realistically, the Nepali diplomatic body, if it was sensitive enough, might have learnt an invaluable lesson from the damning failure and considered it an eye-opener to walk through the diplomatic corridor of the UN with care and caution.

It is well known that member states can wield greater influence if they can play greater roles in the areas of establishing peace and security, making financial contributions and demonstrating diplomatic acumen for UN activities. These three specific areas assume vital importance in any operation undertaken by the UN for maintenance of peace and security — the foremost and primary objective for fulfilment of which the UN was born. In today’s context, development and humanitarian aid plays no less important role in maintaining peace and security.

Undeniably, Nepal has until today made appreciable contributions by making peacekeepers available for the UN. Among the 90 countries supplying such peacekeepers, Nepal ranks fifth. Today, however, such contribution of peacekeepers alone is not sufficient, nor is such an initiative as respected as a few years back. Nepal being one of the poor member-states is not in a position to make a great financial contribution, although it pays to the UN and its agencies regular and annual dues in time.

Conspicuously, Nepal also trailed far behind in making diplomatic contributions to the UN except during the fifties and early sixties. Since then, no diplomat from Nepal with capability to respond to the demands and requirements of the UN could emerge in order to make a substantive contribution to UN’s diplomatic activities. On this score, Nepal fared poorly as a result of its poorly-managed diplomatic service and wanton selection of representatives to head the Nepali mission in New York. Nepal has also not made any effort to send diplomats of various levels to serve under the UN system. In fact, Nepal made next to no effort to make diplomatic contributions to the UN.

Presently, Nepal is passing through a highly critical political phase. The current political leadership does not appear to have even a single leading political figure that can take an initiative or has the intellect and imagination to chart out a map for Nepal’s role in the UN so as to enhance the country’s deteriorating image.

Novel thinking and appropriate action backed by a close insight into the UN system will certainly help Nepal enhance its standing in this global forum. Today the question before Nepal is how to make the UN more development-oriented to meet the immediate needs of the least developed countries, how to decipher the ways to make it people-serving, and how to put on track the necessary mechanisms to fight terrorism and separatism. An equally important question is how to make the UN free from the clutches of big powers?

The annual session of the General Assembly is currently going on and Nepali delegation led by the Foreign Minister is now in New York to participate in its deliberations. The delegation certainly will not be serving the country’s true interests if the participants concentrate only on delivering perfunctory speeches instead of coming up with bold new initiatives. At the moment, the functioning of such delegations is anything but transparent since they never bother to inform the general public about the activities undertaken in UN forums.

Nepali diplomats need a crash-course in public diplomacy, which has today become a sine qua non for democracies. The common people should be made aware of what the delegates do at international forums like the UN. There is no use dispatching a large number of delegates devoid of creative ideas concerning the workings of the UN at such a high cost to the state coffers.

Shrestha is ex-foreign ministry official