American Interests in Nepal

Published On: February 15, 2023 08:30 AM NPT By: Rajaram Bartaula

Nepal, as a land-linked nation between the two emerging global powers China and India, draws the attention of the superpowers as well, including the United States. Nepal stands to benefit from this situation immensely if it can conduct its diplomacy properly and wisely.

While nations were recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and striving to revive their economies, many faced significant economic stress in maintaining steady growth to meet their development goals. Adding insult to injury, Russia's military operation in Ukraine, aimed at punishing the country for its desire to join NATO, had a global impact, disrupting supply chains and diminishing international trade, ultimately hurting global economic growth. Putin's aggressive and arrogant "Putinism" has made people of all nations suffer as victims of war.

The Russia-ukraine war and the other factors accumulated over the years between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, complemented by trade wars, tirades and declaration of strategic initiatives, like BRI, GSI of China and Indo-pacific, Quad of the USA, to contain and maintain their scope of influence, is an attempt towards maintaining the equilibrium of the balance of power in the global arena.

In view of China’s assertiveness around its periphery including the South China Sea, America’s engagement with the East Asian nations Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines has increased many folds in defense cooperation by enhancing defense capabilities and interoperability to deter the hostility from China and DPRK by expanding cooperation to improve Japanese missile strike capabilities and upgrading THAAD system in Korea as well as upgrading the US military bases in the Philippines. With regard to fostering defense alliances with India, the US is extending its technological know-how to upgrade its air and navy military equipment.

The US trying to keep engaging nations in the periphery of China reminds us of the geo-political power shift and emerging new equations for maintaining their supremacy through creating power blocks and alliances as Japan, South Korea, Australia and India are aligning with the US in the Indo-Pacific region and Quad. India’s border disputes and skirmishes with China, China’s close relationship with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar and building economic corridors with them, encircling India from land and sea has hardened power struggle and equations between the regional and global superpowers. Amidst this, Nepal is gaining prominence strategically due to its geographical location. It is, in this light, the present US administration wants to engage Nepal and ensure, particularly with the left government, that its interests are best served and protected.

Nepal, as a land-linked state between the two emerging global powers China and India, draws the attention of the superpowers including the United States for keeping proximity among its neighbors. For Nepal, if its diplomacy is properly and wisely conducted, that could immensely benefit the country. This too at a time when the global economy is worst performing and heading toward a recession. So, economic packages of grants for development would not only help to steer the physical development and maintain the development pace but also keep the economic growth steadily in an upward trend achieving the MDGs along with graduating from a least developed country to a middle-income developing country.   

After the November polls and formation of a left-leaning government led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal on December 25, 2023, a number of official visits from the US have taken place, which is interpreted as America’s willingness to keep Nepal in its fold and engage with economic and developmental packages. The increased frequency of visits at least gives the impression that consolidating Nepal-US relations through close contact and engaging in multi-sectoral areas ranging from political to developmental  is a priority for America.

To this end, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs of the State Department of the United States of America, Victoria Nuland paid an official visit to Nepal on January 29-30. Following the visit of Nuland, in less than a week, Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who also holds a Cabinet rank in the US order of precedence, paid a two days official visit on February 7-8.

During the visit, both high dignitaries discussed bilateral issues of mutual interest. The Americans were more concerned about the US-funded projects, democracy, human rights, refugee welfare etc. Nuland advised the     Nepali authorities to pursue an economic relationship with all its neighbors and urged the Nepali officials to protect national sovereignty while dealing with neighbors, particularly in economic partnerships. Such expression and statement should be read as emerging from a geo-political rivalry, particularly from the northern neighbor and its BRI and GSI projects.

Samantha Power put emphasis on the development agenda as her position suggests. She was more concerned about the utilization of US assistance unhindered and completed timely. As an Administrator of USAID, she is more concerned about the developmental aid of the US commitment of an additional grant of US Dollar 659 million for another five years, announced in May 2022. She focused on sustainable development through strengthening democratic governance, enterprise-driven economic growth, and increased resilience for communities at risk due to climate change. She also stressed addressing food security, education, women’s empowerment, and global health.

For strengthening the democratic process in Nepal, the announcement of an additional 20 million fund to strengthen inclusive democracy and prosperity in Nepal acknowledges America’s commitment to democracy.

Both the visits have come at a time when the people of Ratmate in Nuwakot and Dang, where transmission line and road expansion work has to be taken forward, are obstructing with their agitation at a time when the $500 US project is all set to enter into force in August 2023, making it difficult to the continuation of carrying out project works. It was understandable that the US wanted its grant-supported project to be smoothly completed without any hitches. It was more of a symbolic message of the US to Nepal that the US invests in its priorities and strategic interest in Nepal.  

It has been learnt that on February 14, another high-ranking official of the US, Afreen Akhter, deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) for Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and the Maldives, as well as the Office of Security and Transnational Affairs, is visiting Nepal. The visit should be viewed as the US-China rivalry and competition, the US trying to keep China at bay while dealing with nations in South Asia. After the ratification of the MCC Nepal-Compact from the House of Representatives, the United States has found Nepal a reliable partner to head on its strategic planning to counterbalance China.

Since the 1950 decade, the beginning of the establishment of diplomatic relations, America has extended its support to Nepal’s development endeavor. America being a development partner of Nepal, its long-time association with and partnership in development endeavors through USAID is worth evoking and highly applauding and supportive to Nepal in the fields of agriculture, health, education, energy, transportation, democracy and many more. In order to keep the momentum going, Nepal needs more support and cooperation from the US in order to achieve its development goals and overall socio-economic prosperity. 

Leave A Comment