Former senior diplomat
Foreign Ministry of Nepal
Former Executive Member of Nepal Council of World Affairs (NCWA)
Geopolitics across the globe is recently developing with its own surge affecting geographical, social, economic, security and foreign policy domains. The inauguration of U.S President Joe Biden in January 2021 after his decisive victory over his rival Donald Trump and his subsequent foreign policy actions have explicitly impacted the global politics. The developing trend has visibly made its effect strategically noted as the announcement of AUKUS(Australia, United Kingdom and United States) as the organization of the nuclear weapon powered submarine alliance has its ripples felt on the security concerns over the huge Asian continent. Tensions between the United States and China have also been growing apparently concerned with the Taiwan issue, Indo-Pacific Strategy and QUAD in Asia. Meanwhile, the United States with support of NATO has been harping on the suspected Russian invasion of Ukraine as Russia has allegedly deployed a large number of its troops in the three directions of the Russian Ukraine borders. Obviously, the global geopolitics has been dominated by the three great power politics of the United States, Russia and China.
True, Nepal has to be sensitive and cautious about the emerging geopolitics since it is happening in its next door, especially involving China and India to some extent. Naturally, Nepal must navigate its foreign policy and conduct its diplomatic affairs with the farsighted vision as dictated by its geographic location and also guided by the provisions of the constitution of Nepal 2015. Also, it has to take note of how climate change and corona virus have affected the developing global geopolitics. For all that to handle, appropriate visions and relevant policy actions by the top political leaderships of Nepal are highly warranted for the stability and peace.
Even common people around the globe with some knowledge about geopolitics are aware of the emerging global scenario. Interest on the subject is ever increasing as the inflow of the relevant information on the developing events. Today, geopolitics has become a much talked about topic as it has implicitly or explicitly impacted the masses in general and national authorities of states, especially the decision makers of diplomatic domain and top leaders of the super and major powers alike.
The Webster Dictionary describes geopolitics as “a study of the influence of such factors as geography, economics and demography on the politics and especially the foreign policy of a state.” At the moment, this definition appears little limited in its description and ramification. Experts on the thematic extent of geopolitics point out that the said definition does not cover the sensitive concerns of the security and strategic concerns which do indeed prominently figure up in the most recently evolving geopolitics across the world.
The initial years of the third decade of this 21st century have witnessed new developments and events in the global geopolitics. They are the inherent products of policy initiatives and actions taken by the influential powers especially the super power the United States and the emerging super power China as they deem necessary to safeguard their interests.
The years 2020 and 2021 brought in new elements in the global geopolitics although the seed of some emerging developments have already been sown, which have sprout up and helped the current geopolitics to spurt in the strategic regions in the world at large.
Emerging Global Geopolitics:
The inauguration of President Joe Biden in January 2021 following his victory in the U.S. election in November 2020 has made visible impacts in the global geopolitics. He did not lag behind to revive and re-invigorate the military alliance like NATO in Europe and security alliance with the East Asian countries Japan and South Korea, which were reduced to the lesser interest of the United States during the Trump administration. The other strategically sensitive alliance that Biden initiated is the AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom and US). The newest military alliance created on September 15, 2021 has ensured to equip Australia with the nuclear weapons powered submarines within a specific timeline. This fearsome trilateral act to provide nuclear weapons powered submarines to hitherto a non-nuclear weapon power Australia has caused rising ripples of security concerns in the whole of Asia especially in East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Pacific region and the world at large. Experts of security affairs and the international media have observed this newly launched military alliance as an act to contain China by encircling through military pact.
President Biden has also continued to maintain the U.S. policy toward China as spearhead by his immediate predecessor Trump. However, Biden’s China policy seems little nuanced and a little polite with regards to the matters concerned with trade, technology, intellectual property rights etc. But on the sensitive and touchy concerns of weapon competitions and more on the question of Taiwan issue, Biden’s approach is not less hardened than that of his predecessors. The Taiwan issue has been drawing the global attention as if the issue has emerged as a flash point in the Pacific region. China has taken the Taiwan issue as a core concern of its national sovereignty as the said territory belongs to the main land China which the US had already recognized under the One China policy during the establishment of their diplomatic relations in 1979. It is evident that under no circumstances, China will tolerate any act of the United States to make Taiwan as an independent entity. But the US seems to maintain Taiwan’s current status as a democratic society. The conflicting policies of both great protagonists are much feared to disturb the peace and stability in the region, which, if not managed through diplomatic foresight, might have profound effects around the world.
The region has also continually drawn the attentions of the global politicians and diplomats. The US has also stretched its big hands in the formation and strengthening of the Indo Pacific Strategy and Quad as well. Both those two organizations are reportedly said to contain military contents and security concerns mainly targeted toward China. However, they have yet to appear in their true forms with their clear intent and motive developing in the course of times to come. Experts believe both contain military and security concerns rather than other matters related to socio-economic and trade affairs.
India is involved in both organizations in some form. It has also participated in another QUAD like organization with the United States as a lead member alongside Israel and the United Arab Emirates as partners, which has been initiated in the fall of 2021. The development of geopolitics in Asia is more tinged with the military and security matters than with socio-economic interest.
As a global super power equipped with techno-economic might and military prowess, the US has also been displaying its strategic policies not alone in Asia but also in Europe and elsewhere in the world. The simmering trouble in Ukraine might also play out to be a grave issue since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. The main teasing issue is the security fear of Russia about the possible inclusion of Ukraine as a member of NATO. Russia considers Ukraine to fall under its sphere of influence as the later was on integral part of the erstwhile Soviet Unions. Ukraine has still a sizable number of the people of Russian origin with their culture, language, and life style of the similar nature and day-to-day life pattern, who are reported to desire to get assimilated with Russia and as allegedly encouraged and instigated by Russia. The international media have reported that the US has supplied Ukraine with 90 tons of weapons and fatal materials. It has also warned Russia with a threat to impose economic sanctions including personal sanction on Russian President Vladimir Putin, if it invades Ukraine as it has deployed about 130000 troops in the eastern, northern and southern borders of Ukraine. This rising tension between NATO members led by the US and Russia is also a notable development in the global geopolitics that might turn up highly disturbing as two mighty powers might get involved in a head on collision. How this straight tension between two former protagonists of the Cold War era will turn up is to be watched with caution and strategic concern.
The global geopolitics ensnarled by the great power politics of the US, China and Russia with the lesser roles played by the big powers like Japan, South Korea, the UK etc. has dominated the thinking of experts and analysts of the West and East alike.
In the last two years, no less significant disturbances have been noted with the sudden onset of Covid-19 which first appeared in Wuhan of China in the late December 2019. This pandemic has indeed wrought great havocs in the lives of the people globally and pummeled the socio-economic growth around the world. In the meantime, it has also caused new waves in the interstate relationships, the worrying ripples of which are still not under any effective control despite the spectacular feat of medical sciences great contribution to save human lives through the invention and widespread use of vaccines across the globe. The third wave caused by the Omicron after the first and second ones is still ringing its toll in the world.
No far-fetched and tangible efforts are yet in sight to effectively control and prevent this ferocious disease. However, Asian countries, especially East Asian countries, in particular China, Japan, South Korea, and Southeast Asian countries have made great strides in nixing the disease. Effective governance and efficient management in East Asian countries have indeed earned a remarkable and worthy appreciation for the amazing achievement. The shift of the power balance happening since about two decades ago is no doubt re-energized in favor of Asia as an added outcome of controlling the deadly pandemic. That has ensured the safety of human lives and invigorated the economic growth in the huge region of East Asia and South East Asia, which is taken as a good progress toward the stepped-up endeavor to realize the 21st Century as the Asian Century. Albeit appreciable this good development, this has indeed induced a great rivalry between the United States and China as the former seems much indulged in remaining the number one in all spheres of national activities. This tendency has greatly ramped up the tension and competition between the United States and China. Meanwhile, microchips and technology are also the main reason of conflict and tension between the two.
The Stance Nepal Should Embrace:
Nepal ranks at the 103rd position in the global economy and even in terms of the territorial area it stands at the 93rd position. However, in terms of the size of the population, Nepal lies at the 49th status with its moderately bulging demographic dividend that could play a very significant role in enhancing economic growth despite the current lag in properly managing this dividend to the wider benefit of the country. The hard work and contribution made by the people would largely make up any economic deficiency in the long run, because the people are the greatest and highly valued asset any country can count on. Proper policy and well-crafted planning would do a great service to the country. What is essentially required is a good policy directed by a strongly committed political leadership to ramp-up the national strength. The statesmanship exhibited by a trustworthy leadership could be of immense value to make up all deficiencies, be that on the domestic front or on the foreign policy activity. Consolidating domestic strength politically and economically would reinforce national unity and national consensus which, in turn, would invigorate and arm the country with good spirit and good attitude to strategically navigate the foreign policy both in normal times or in the complexity ridden geopolitical environment.
It is well-known that Nepal is the oldest nation seated in the sub-continent of South Asia. It has long pursued the peaceful and non-aligned foreign policy to the best of its national advantage as a sovereign nation.
Nepal has to be sensitive and careful enough about the emerging geopolitics around it. Care and caution in minute matters are strategically significant to marshal the foreign policy direction. Omission to act in time and failure to comprehend as required would greatly harm the country and hurt the proud sense of the people. We need to mind the fast developments happening around our proximity. At the moment, geopolitics evolving in Asia has much to do with Nepal’s neighborhood policy. China and India are both drawn and involved in several actions and events caused by the geopolitics in recent days. It is well-known that China with which Nepal’s borders run 1415 kilometers long in its north, is in great power competition with the United States, which might have likely implication on Nepal whether we like it or not. Similarly India is also involved in tension-ridden geopolitics with which Nepal’s borders are connected in its three directions running 1880 kilometers long. Both China and India are equally and strategically important for Nepal. For the security and economic growth of Nepal, both these neighbors have to be kept in assurance with regard to its good intention of maintaining and promoting friendly and neighborly relations. It is also necessarily preferable that there will be no reason at all to let any unwanted elements to disturb stability and good relations with them. Strict observance of tranquility should be maintained to stave off any bad intention to disturb in the bordering areas of both big neighbours at any cost. Constant diplomatic touch sustained by communications and exchange of views would be highly serviceable to win their assurance for Nepal too. In the meantime, Nepal’s diplomatic endeavors sustained by diplomatic skills and dexterity need to be energized to take assurances from both the neighbours that there would be no unwanted and undesirable act to unnecessarily draw Nepal into own choices and options which would likely harm Nepal’s independent identity so far very doggedly maintained. It is also necessary to assure them that Nepal’s tilt towards any of them would not be favorable to either. There is a pressing need to explain the situation regarding Nepal’s stability and border security as a security asset to both. Which will not incur any sizable amount of defense expenditures unlike in other border areas of both countries. This significant aspect of security needs to be often emphasized and also on the appropriate occasions too.
In addition, Nepal’s steady economic growth could be a beneficial to both India and China as due to advantages brought by the steadily increased trade. It is advisable how Switzerland, a small country of less than seven million people, has been trading with its giant neighbors Germany, France Italy and Austria in mutually beneficial way.
Nepal can maintain a balanced relations with both China and India with our national interest deeply taken into consideration vis-à-vis the respective interests of both China and India. There should neither be push nor pull from any quarters for Nepal to be involved in any geopolitical tensions. Nepal’s diplomatic authorities are required to be fairly balanced, not showing any sign of tilt toward either side.
Nepal’s long pursued non-aligned foreign policy has gained traction and commanded respect in the regional and international forums. With super and major powers as well, Nepal has, in the past and even in recently developing relationships, maintained cordial relations with all countries its support of major powers. No doubts should be cast as far as Nepal can maintain its traditional foreign policy of non-alignment and also a policy of neutrality when the situational exigency demands. It entirely rests in good hands of the national leadership to fairly handle the complex matters of foreign policy with clear judgment of any issues and also good conscience serving the national purpose. Let the history of Nepal’s independent journey guide the vector of Nepal’s glorious foreign policy to safeguard its own national interest through the wise conduct of 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 as enshrined in the Articles 51(m) (1) of the constitution of Nepal.
Climate change and corona virus have induced simmering impacts on the global geopolitics, which need to be tackled by global efforts. In the meantime, nationalism and mercantilism are making their headway as a natural consequence of changes in various, social, economic and political spectrums of the world. Experts have also noted the steady deceleration of globalization amidst the interdependence and interconnectivity that the world has been moving within the past three decades. Contradictions and constraints are surfacing in the global dealings. Weak states with ineffective governance and fragile economy are naturally bound to struggle for their survival. The current global geopolitics is indeed not favorable for weaker states. Amidst the above backdrop, Nepali people earnestly aspire to see great statesmanship in the top political leaderships of the country to enable them to navigate Nepal’s foreign policy through the turbulent geopolitics in our region as well as across the world for the peace and stability.
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Text courtesy: Nepal Council of World Affairs ( NCWA) Annual Journal, 2022.
Journal received through the kind courtesy of Buddhi Narayan Shrestha-the Vice President of the NCWA and the permission from the author for publishing this article.
# Thanks the distinguished author and the entire NCWA executive team.
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