National security: A notion of geopolitical reality

Published On: March 5, 2023 08:30 AM NPT By: GP Acharya

Last week, US President Joe Biden made an unannounced trip to Ukraine and subsequently announced a considerable aid amount to Ukraine in its war against Russia, while Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed his commitment to protect Russian security by “ramping up nuclear capabilities” while marking the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The intensifying Russia-Ukraine war has drawn attention of the entire world since the strike began more than one year ago. The war is more likely to escalate further as the US and Germany recently announced their commitment to support Ukraine by sending dozens of “M1 Abrams tanks” and “Leopard 2A 6S” – the world’s most advanced battle tanks – respectively. Russia blamed NATO as if it is going to be involved directly in the war, while North Korea condemned the US and Germany. Earlier, President Biden declared new funding for Ukraine against Russian aggression following Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky’s address to the US Congress in Capitol Hill in the last week of December 2022. The US and its allies have blamed Russia for obtaining drones and missiles from other countries including Iran, while they accused China for possibly supporting the war by supplying lethal weapons. China denied such allegations and has maintained that it is planning to broker a “peace deal” between Russia and Ukraine, while it has unveiled a twelve-point peace initiative and is likely to talk with both sides.

Ukraine, a former state of the Soviet Union, is the immediate neighbor of Russia that connects Western Asia to Eastern Europe. Ukraine was, reportedly, influenced by the US and EU countries to join NATO, which Russia constantly objected to stating that the move would compromise its security just before it invaded Ukraine last year. Instead of addressing Russian security concerns, Ukraine received a massive amount of weapons and ammunition from the US and its allies in the EU in response to Russia’s threat in case Ukraine decides to join NATO. Even a day before the military strike in Ukraine on February 24 last year, Russia, reportedly, urged Ukraine for dialogue to address its legitimate security concerns including the issue of NATO. But Ukraine denied Russian concern and openly challenged it, perhaps hoping to get support from the US and EU. Tactlessly, the US and EU stepped back and did not support Ukraine militarily. Subsequently, Russia attacked Ukraine and the war is ongoing until today.

Following the global condemnation of Russian aggression on Ukraine, Russia reportedly urged Ukraine for talks even on the second day of the strike. Had Ukraine not been provoked by the west, perhaps the situation of Ukraine would have been different than it is today as Russia has incessantly uttered to respect Ukrainian sovereignty. Having said so, this author is neither blindly praising Russia nor openly blaming Ukraine, instead he is urging to analyze pragmatic concerns on geo-political reality.

Many scholars of international relations express their concern –“Why did Ukraine not address the genuine security concerns of its immediate neighbor despite its sensitive geo-political reality”?

The Ukraine-Russia war was a “war of choice” for a number of western powers, while for Russia it was a “war of necessity” as it has to defend its national security, argue some analysts.  “No geopolitical issue is right or wrong only from one side- that is geopolitics is never a case in which one side is all right and the other side is completely wrong,” says Kishore Mahbubani, a prominent global thinker and a distinguished fellow of the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore. Ukraine, however, being a special interest for Russian security, should have addressed Russian security concerns, emphasizes Mahbubani.

Former US President Barack Obama often stressed “Ukraine and Taiwan as significant neighbors of Russia and China respectively than that of the US,” which signifies that immediate neighbors should address genuine security concerns of one another. On this backdrop, Obama could have possibly emphasized Nepal as an important neighbor to China than to the US, presume some Nepali folks.

The nature of Russia-Ukraine war, however, is quite terrific as Russia is aggressively attacking Ukraine, while the Ukrainians are desperately defending themselves. None of the western powers and their allies are making a counter-attack on Russia, yet they are supporting Ukraine for its self-defense. If the war progressed to bi-directional, then the real war begins and that would indeed polarize like-minded nations into two different blocks, which could invite a new global war.

There is no alternative to end the Russia-Ukraine war through negotiations at the earliest, whereby a trustful mediation is required. India can play a mediating role between Russia and the West to bring peace in Ukraine as India is close to Russia, enjoys significant economic partnership with China, and has been maintaining strategic relations with the US. Russia has also made remarkable influence in the global south. The candid roles of India and China could significantly matter in de-escalating the war. Yet they both have“vital strategic interest” as they are said to take advantage of geopolitics when the West gets fully engaged in war.

The notion of geo-political reality including geographical and geo-economic situation of Nepal is nearly similar to that of Ukraine, except that of the former’s long standing sovereign status since its inception. Ukraine, though, has become a sovereign state following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1990. Russia had, reportedly, sought connection or access to Eastern Europe for trade and economy via Ukraine, which Ukraine denied; while the US and EU considered Ukraine as a suitable land to counter Russia. Likewise, China, under BRI, has sought connection and trade channels to South Asia through Nepal. Nepal had also sought a trade route through China, which it has already granted.

China has aggressively expanded its sphere of influence from South Asia to the rest of the world through the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) followed by the idealistic Global Security Initiative (GSI) and Global Development Initiative (GDI). The US, on the other hand, has belligerently initiated various economic, infrastructure, military and security strategies including MCC, SPP, IPS, AUKUS, QUAD and B3W, whereas India is an active member in some of them. China is now likely to bring Nepal under the folds of the BRI, while the US has already confined it under MCC. Loads of diplomatic maneuverings have happened since then.

But will Nepal be rational enough to fulfill China’s expectations under a “sense of political reciprocity” and rationally balance its relations with all the three powers- the US, China and India? This is a pertinent concern.

The political circles in Kathmandu were outraged following a claim of “Pokhara Regional International Airport'' (PRIA) as part of BRI by the then acting ambassador of China Zhang Jiuhuan during the inauguration of PRIA.The Chinese embassy in Kathmandu also claimed PRIA as the “flagship project of BRI”. Following the inception of BRI, China has considered Nepal as its access to South Asia, while the US has presumed Nepal as an appropriate land to counter China. That might be the very reason why the US came to Nepal with the MCC, argue some analysts. Earlier, the MCC row had been a hot issue in Nepal, whereas the two superpowers- China and the US- roared against each other regarding Nepal’s domestic stuff. This was indeed not a matter of pleasure for Nepal- that is one of the oldest sovereign states in the history of world politics.

The outcomes of war in Nepal, if any, could go costlier not only to Nepal and its neighbors, but also to the entire world as the three superpowers-- the US, China and India-- have largely engaged in Nepal with respective strategic interests, whereas they want to contain or counter each other under different strategies- be it economic, developmental, diplomatic or security.

Threats- both psychological and diplomatic, and coercions- both economic and strategic- are equally precarious as physical threat to a nation. Threat over another threat- that is counter threat- is again a sign of threat to sovereignty.

If Nepal could not be a part of BRI, it may have to face the consequences as Ukraine is facing, suspect some folks. China, thus far, has not threatened the sovereignty of any nation yet and has not shown aggression towards sovereign states. And it is expected to do the same ahead.

Nevertheless, amid existing geo-political reality, Nepal must adopt ‘soft security strategies’ and exercise ‘soft diplomacy’ that would help promote Nepal’s national power capability and enhance its national security.

Inappropriately, the incumbent prime minister has largely undermined the essence of diplomacy by recently asking the foreign minister, who later stepped down, not to attend the pre-scheduled UNHRC meeting to be held in Geneva at the last minute. Also the PM has, reportedly, canceled the “head of government’s” visit to Doha that was scheduled for the Fifth Conference of the LDCs, which shows a poor vision in diplomacy. This is, however, a high time for Nepal to be prepared to contribute to the international community- both technically and logically- and leverage from every international/diplomatic opportunity, but the shameful domestic power game is dogging down Nepal’s diplomacy.

Essentially, considering the sensitivities of regional and global geo-political developments, Nepal should act with tact, trust, tone, tolerance and steadiness with all powers including immediate ones. Since “geo-politics itself is one of the elements of power”, Nepal should be sensible enough to capitalize on its location, maximize its national interest and leverage from every opportunity in the changing dynamics of global geopolitics.


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