Nepal vis-a-vis Asia-Pacific security

The conclusion in Singapore of the annual International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Asia Security Summit (or Shangri-La Dialogue) on June 3, which witnessed the largest ever gathering of defence and foreign ministers, plus chiefs of defence staff and others, affords an opportunity for Nepal to examine its role and prospects in the broader scheme of Asian

security and defence dynamics.

It is a matter of regret that Nepal has diverted its attention from larger events in international politics by focusing on petty internal rivalries. The peace process is truly simple if the principle actors bear in mind that Nepal very realistically has the potential to be a fairly high-profile Asian state with the capability of exerting a modestly benign influence on the maintenance of overall peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

As a first step, Nepal must participate in the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore next year in order to take stock of the critical issues and to assimilate these into its foreign policy.

From Asia-Pacific perspective, the most profound weakness in Nepal’s strategy has been a narrow vision focused too closely on India. What is not understood is that an absence of a more diverse Nepali foreign policy is not only detrimental to Nepal, but equally to India as well. Geography or geographic constraints do not necessarily define freedom of action for any state. Nepal must play its cards astutely and devise an appropriate policy that places Nepal within the context of Asia more broadly.

In his address to the Security Summit, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong laid out the over-arching strategic environment in Asia focusing on the state of relations between major powers and over-riding regional concerns.

One important observation made by him was that the US, China, Japan, and India “set the parameters for long-term cooperation and competition among the regional countries” in the Asia Pacific.

In Nepal’s context, it is not yet clear how these four major powers’ intentions and activities are converging or diverging with respect to their particular interests. Is it undeniable that a Nepal which has spun out of control is strategically not suitable for any of the powers concerned. A mountainous terrain amenable to guerrilla warfare and a fairly substantial Muslim population are among the factors that must militate against any serious outside

intentions to destabilise this Himalayan state. Moreover, as Nepal shares long and porous borders with both India and China, the economic and political repercussions of a deeply unstable political milieu in Nepal will no doubt be widespread and even detrimental to the region.

In terms of China-Nepal relations and the latter serving as a possible conduit for China in South Asia, it is important to highlight PM Loong’s remarks that “what the Chinese are saying to their own people gives some insight into their thinking.” It appears that Nepal’s strategic interests and imperatives in more expansive relations with China will pose unnecessary challenges to Indian interests.

Nepal within the context of Asia-Pacific security thus essentially means that Nepal’s foreign policy must be sufficiently ‘entangled’ with the greatest number of other states to

ensure equidistance, neutrality and stable security environment.