Diplomatic Eye: Ep-13

Nepal and Non-Aligned Movement: Navigating challenges of future relevance (Video)

Before dissecting the main topic of today’s program, let me present to you some important global developments.

Following nearly complete tabulation of the votes, anti-Islamic populist politician Geert Wilders has emerged victorious in the Netherlands election. Mr. Wilders wants to call a “Nexit” (Netherlands Exit) referendum to exit from the EU, although he acknowledges there isn’t a national sentiment in favor of it.

1. Amsterdam based Professor and Management Expert Loek Hopstaken told this analyst that Mr. Wilders is considered a far right politician, who for two decades has been highly critical on issues like immigration and particularly, Islam. He has been “flirting” with extreme far right European politicians like Madame LePen. He won’t have an easy time forming or leading the Dutch government because several big parties find it impossible to cooperate with Mr. Wilders as quoted by Professor Hopstaken.

2. China issued a warning to the United States and the Philippines on November 22, 2023, stating that their recent joint naval patrols near Chinese territorial waters should not jeopardise China’s sovereignty and maritime interests. According to analysts, as quoted by the Global Times, Washington and Manila’s military actions demonstrate their lack of sincerity in attempting to defuse tensions.

3. Israel accepted Hamas’ offer to take hostages. According to CNN, Qatar declared on November 23, that a truce between Israel and Hamas would start at 7 a.m. local time (midnight ET) on Friday, the 24th November, and that civilian hostages would be released at 4 p.m. local time. We hope for the safe return of missing Bipin Joshi who was abducted by Hammas militants from Israel.

Let’s begin the 13th episode of the Diplomatic Eye–

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) emerged following World War II and advocated for emerging countries to avoid forming alliances with the US and the then USSR. The movement’s objective was to advance national self-determination in opposition to colonialism and imperialism. It was founded in 1961 during the Belgrade Conference and was led by prominent figures including Josip Broz Tito, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Jawaharlal Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah, and Sukarno. There are 120 countries that make up the NAM. It is the largest state organization in the world, second only to the United Nations. In spite of its support for international cooperation, multilateralism, and national sovereignty, the Non-Aligned Movement has grown more critical of global economic inequalities in the post-Cold War era. In 1961, King Mahendra made his trip to attend the First Non-Aligned Summit held in Belgrade.

In the current context, does non-aligned movement (NAM) have any significance? Why is that so?
I have asked a number of eminent academics, journalists, writers, columnists, diplomats, and military personnel this issue. With the exception of nine replies, columnist and management expert Dr. Narayan Manandhar does not think that NAM is significant in the present context. He says, “It is an outdated concept”. He believes that the idea of a “Yam between two rocks” is no longer relevant; nations like China, India, Nepal, the US, and the EU have all made substantial efforts to align themselves. He believes that Nepal’s foreign policy has changed over time, going from being isolationist to being pro-Indian. Further, historical events, geographical location, and a weak economy have all had an impact on Nepal’s foreign policy according to Dr. Manandhar. His view is somewhat similar with the view of conflict analyst Keethaponcalan (2016) who asserted that the significance and relevance of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) have diminished with the end of the Cold War. A permanent unipolar new world order was seen by many as the direction in which the international system was heading.

Despite the fact that the situation how NAM was originated some 62 years have changed, writer and columnist Dev Raj Dahal believes that for global politics the relevance of nonalignment may rise or decline but for Nepal located between two powers will remain as its normative principles help Nepal to judge events, enable to fight for justice and project independent identity. It also helps Nepal to escape from geopolitical determinism and seek space for independent maneuver.

The significance of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) in international relations, according to a senior Nepal army officer, depends on its geopolitical situation and national interests. Nepal, an independent state, faces challenges due to its geographical proximity to two major states with different political orientations. He adds that “You are either with us, or against us” is the greatest threat; so state has to take decisions independently.

Neutrality and non-alignment is not the same thing, according to Dr. Dinesh Bhattarai, the former Permanent Representative of Nepal to the UN. The issue should be examined impartially and assessed according to its merits and drawbacks. Dr. Bhattarai further states that the main argument put up by NAM is how important it is to evaluate each issue separately and in the context of their nation’s interests. The ability to pursue an independent foreign policy is a necessary component of this freedom of choice, allowing member nations to act autonomously and in line with their own national interests. Non alignment is not neutral, nor does it imply silence as quoted by him. Dr. Bhattarai, however warns that Nepal is “tightrope walking” because of its strategic location which makes it at risk.

Some experts suggest that concepts of NAM need to be revised. The NAM, or institutional framework, is still in place. However, it must be “reshaped and reenergized” (Keethaponcalan, 2016). Similar opinions are expressed by former Ambassador to Brazil Pradhumana Bikram Shah who believes that in the context of bilateral, regional, and global relations, NAM needs to be redefined. Mr. Shah, however, states that with the exception of the military and security aspects, NAM should be expanded. In terms of commercial connectivity and economics, nations are linked. Ambassador Shah further adds that we in Nepal cannot refuse the assistance of the non-member nations of the NAM. However, we must use caution at the same time.

Some domestic opponents claim that the country cannot maintain its neutrality in all situations and that Nepal’s actions in some circumstances do not align with the NAM values. A Senior Army Officer who refuses to be named says that NAM is not neutrality; it is the concept of taking the right decisions in contemporary political circumstances. Nepal must find a different political thought to secure its sovereignty and independence, advocating for a strong UN and a stronger NAM for a better future. In the meantime, as the nation is governed by its constitution, which states unequivocally that non-alignment is the foundation of Nepal’s independent foreign policy, the former ambassador of Nepal to France and president of the Centre for Diplomacy and Development, Mohan Krishna Shrestha believes that Nepal has not abandoned the principles of non-alignment. Ambassador Shrestha continues by saying that as it is a platform for raising concerns, the voices of 120 non-aligned nations are important in expressing their sovereignty.

While explaining The Policies of State in Part 4, article 51-m (1) of Nepal’s Constitution, it is clearly stated that “to conduct an independent foreign policy based on the Charter of the United Nations, non-alignment, principles of Panchsheel, international law and the norms of world peace, taking into consideration of the overall interest of the nation, while remaining active in safeguarding the sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and national interest of Nepal.”

One of the most crucial NAM principles, “mutual non-interference in domestic affairs,” was and remains in limbo in Nepal’s context due to various factors, including the series of blockade Nepal faced from its Southern neighbor and the role diplomats played in changing the country’s regime, the ideological orientation that our northern neighbor provided to our political cadres, or the imposition of secularism in our constitution by Western nations through our leaders ensuring the right to conversion. These aberrations jeopardize the sovereignty of the nation as well as being the antithesis of the non-aligned movement.

Indian Context
Karnataka based Journalist and Writer Sangamesh Menasinakai told this analyst that Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, had said in 1946 that India proposed, as far as possible, to keep away from the power politics of groups, aligned against one another, which led in the past to world wars, and which may again lead to disasters on an even vaster scale. Though NAM began as a policy of non-participation in the military affairs of a bipolar world, in India, now countrymen are in dilemma over future of India in the context of NAM. Reason for the dilemma, according to Sangamesh, is recent statement of India’s external affairs minister S Jaishankar’s statement that says, “NAM was a term of a particular era and a particular geopolitical landscape”. Jaishankar’s verb ‘was’ as quoted by Sangamesh has created whether NAM will become a thing of the past or India will continue with NAM in coming years.

Nepal’s Commitments to Non Aligned Movement: Contradictions between Principles and Practices
Writer Dev Raj Dahal argues that Nepal principally holds nonalignment principles but practically Nepali leaders’ attributional affinities of democracy, human rights, education, laws, economy and exposure are tilted toward those who support them to come to power. This has created contradictions between national imperatives for nonalignment, independence and progress and regime imperatives for survival in power and compulsion to deviate from nonalignment, according to him.

Maj General (rtd.) Nepal Bhushan Chand debates that bringing together weaker nations to create synergy is an excellent way to start committing to Panchaseel ideology-based on values and voices. Given the current, more complex environmental situation, it appears that deeper national alignment is necessary to confront tragedies and atrocities caused by both nature and man.

Prof Ram Kumar Panday who is also the President of International PEN Nepal Chapter, firmly believes that due to its important location and contributions to international politics, culture, and two civilizations, Nepal, an independent country, faces challenges from both external pressures and internal political weakness. Nepal’s internal politics is still weak despite its geographic homogeneity, and warfare is sometimes sparked by outside disturbances. Prof. Panday reveals that since Nepal had an unstable progress over the years, King Mahendra suggested non-alignment in order to maintain a balance in foreign policy. To serve their own agendas, political parties, however, have distorted foreign policy. Prof. Panday strongly suggests that prosperity, peace, and progress ought to be the top priorities in politics, and Nepal must set up a zone of peace and prioritize non-alignment.

Dr. Manandhar has a different view. He claims that in a multipolar world, it is challenging to be non-aligned since one must support national interests and be sensitive to geopolitical forces. The formation of regional geopolitical and economic alliances such as the BRICS, Quad, Asia Pacific, and BRI as stated by Dr. Manandhar, requires smaller nations to stay true to their own interests and preserve their place in a multipolar world.

Yubaraj Chaulagain, Vice chairman at Nepal Institute of International Relations who is also the Member of the central committee of CPN (Maoist Centre) states that Nepal was one of the major founders and actors of the NAM movement. One of the major pillars of Nepal’s foreign policy for over decades is neutrality. He further adds that due to lack of long-term policy and absence of the clear vision and unity on the issues of national interest, Nepal’s act on the international arena is not so strong. Nepal should overview its own stances and acts on the light of National Interest.

Gradual erosion on NAM and future relevance
Nepal voted in favor of the non-binding UN resolution on February 23, 2023 denouncing Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. The resolution passed by the UN General Assembly was supported by 141 countries out of the 193 UN members. It was unexpected to learn that Nepal supported the resolution calling on Moscow to withdraw its soldiers, despite South Asian nations like Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan abstaining from the U.N. vote denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. When India remained neutral, why couldn’t we?

Russian Ambassador to Nepal, Aleksei Novikov on September 01, 2023 said, “The way Nepal supported confrontational anti-Russian resolutions during the UN 11th emergency special session does not contribute neither to relations with Russia, nor to the traditional Nepali approach in the international organizations”(Annapurna Express). It is believed that the reason behind Nepal’s “anti-Russia stance” is its recent shift in favor of the US post its $500 million grant to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) later approved by the Nepali Parliament.

According to Dr. Bhattarai, there are two procedures followed in the UN voting process: “Explanation of vote before vote” and “Explanation of vote after vote.” Most of the time, we follow a silent protocol. It will be simpler for future researchers to use our speech there as a reference. Principally we are following NAM but we have not been able to explain convincingly why we take certain decisions.  We must keep in mind that our prompt action in an international forum will have a long-term impact on future events.

Prof.  Dahal asserts that Nepal’s foreign policy strategy must be compatible with its choice in hedging, balancing, bandwagoning, diversification, and adaptation to regional and global power shifts.

Mr. Chaulagain claims that big powers are always against the Non-Aligned Movement. As Nepal is in a sensitive geopolitical landscape, he proposes that we always have to strike a balance between two giant neighbors. In his view, the Non-Aligned Movement is still relevant to us as there are escalating tensions between China and India and China and the USA. Mr. Chaulagain criticizes that among the biased alliances like QUAD and IPS in the region, Nepal shouldn’t break its long-standing foreign policy measures of NAM. But yes we should make several changes to deal with the powerful nations to exploit the opportunities for the multiple interests of Nepal as quoted by Chaulagain.

Table 1

Respondents’ main focus on NAM

SN Respondents Main Focus
1 Associate Prof. Dev Raj Dahal (Columnist/Writer) Nepal’s foreign policy must balance nonalignment principles with regime survival to ensure independence, legal system, democracy, human rights, education, laws, economics, and exposure.
2 Dr. Dinesh Bhattarai (Former Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the United Nations) Neutrality and Non-alignment are two different things. Nepal is “tightrope walking” because of its strategic location which makes it at risks.
3 Prof. Ram Kumar Panday(Writer/Geographer/PEN Nepal President) Nepal needs a balanced foreign policy focused on wealth, peace, and growth because it faces both internal and external problems. King Mahendra, who had foresight, joined NAM as a result.
4 Senior Army Officer(Unnamed) The NAM’s importance in Nepal’s international relations is influenced by its geopolitical situation and national interests, advocating for a robust UN and NAM for a better future.
5 Dr. Narayan Manandhar(Columnist/Management Expert) The “Yam between two rocks” is obsolete as nations like China, India, Nepal, US, and EU align, and regional and bilateral alliances are expected to replace global alliances.
6 Mohan Krishna Shrestha(Former Ambassador/Writer) Non-alignment is the foundation of Nepal’s independent foreign policy safeguarded by the constitution.
7 Pradhumna Bikram Shah(Former Ambassador/ Diplomatic analyst) It is essential to redefine NAM in bilateral, regional, and global interactions while omitting military and security components.
8 Nepal Bhushan Chand (Maj General-rtd, Nepal Army) The environmental crisis necessitates national unity to address natural and human tragedies, requiring military cooperation and diplomatic efforts to mitigate concerns and promote national interests.
9 Sangamesh Menasinakai (Journalist/Writer from India) Indian context-

Jawaharlal Nehru aimed to avoid power politics, but the NAM policy has created a dilemma for India’s future, according to S Jaishankar.

10 Yubaraj Chaulagain, Member of the Central Committee of CPN (Maoist Centre) Nepal’s foreign policy lacks long-term unity post-Cold War, necessitating balancing geopolitical landscapes with big powers and exploiting opportunities to serve national interests despite tensions.


 Some Significant Cases

 Case 1: UN Assembly orders Vietnamese forces to leave Cambodia: Nepal voted for the resolution
The General Assembly passed a resolution overwhelmingly demanding Vietnam to remove its troops from Cambodia. Following a three-day debate, the result was 91 in favors, 21 against, and 29 abstentions. The five Association of Southeast Asian Nations members—Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines—sponsored the resolution, which did not specifically name Vietnam, according to The New York Times dated November 15, 1979. A clear statement stating that the “Resolution would have called for ceasefire and withdrawal of all foreign forces and requested the Secretary-General to report the progress towards implementation within two weeks” can be found in Meeting 2112 of UN. Despite the resolution not mentioning “Vietnamese forces” by name, it was clear that the foreign forces were intended to be Vietnamese forces. Nepal voted for the resolution.

Case 2: Nepal supported the UN resolution calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan
Although it likely would not actively participate in any attempts to put the UN resolution—which called for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan—into effect, Nepal backed it. Nepal’s response to the situation would ultimately be determined in large part by its geographic location between two powerful nations, China and India, whose approaches to the problem differed greatly. Although it initially backed the UN resolution, Sri Lanka has since shifted to a more reserved “wait and see” stance. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal have all denounced the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with great vehemence. The topic was debated in January 1980 by the Security Council, but failed to produce a resolution.

Case 3: Nepal’s decision to not vote in favor of the UN resolution against Myanmar
In November 2018, the UN passed a resolution on human rights violations against the Rohingya Muslims, who had fled their country to escape the horrors carried out by the junta. Nepal was one of the 26 countries who chose not to vote on the resolution. Despite being a member of the UN Human Rights Council, experts criticized stating that Nepal ignored the atrocities committed by the military government in Myanmar. Nepal made this decision, possibly considering the sensitivities of the Burmese residents who are of Nepali descent.

Despite divergent opinions among analysts regarding the current significance of the Non-Aligned Movement, I firmly believe that Nepal bears a great deal of duty to skillfully and impartially convey its perspective without fear or favor. Given our delicate geostrategic position, political leadership pressuring diplomats—and vice versa—to prioritize their personal and ideological pursuits over the interests of the country would have unnecessarily larger political and diplomatic ramifications in the future.

An increased emphasis is placed on the five NAM principles, which include mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; mutual non-aggression; mutual non-interference in domestic affairs; equality and mutual benefit; and peaceful co-existence.

One of the most crucial NAM principles, “mutual non-interference in domestic affairs,” was and remains in limbo in Nepal’s context due to various factors, including the series of blockade Nepal faced from its Southern neighbor and the role diplomats played in changing the country’s regime, the ideological orientation that our northern neighbor provided to our political cadres, or the imposition of secularism in our constitution by Western nations through our leaders ensuring the right to conversion. These aberrations jeopardize the sovereignty of the nation as well as being the antithesis of the non-aligned movement.

Isn’t it time to reexamine the NAM principles in light of contemporary global issues like good governance, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law?