Published On: October 12, 2022 06:50 AM NPT By: Gopal Thapa
Smart diplomacy is about conducting proactive foreign relations. Nepal's conduct of foreign relations is one that is more reactive. We react to foreign policy issues only after they have happened.
Conduct of foreign relations calls for caution and care. Complacency and carelessness, such as the ones shown by our governments in power at different points in time in the past and now in the conduct of foreign relations have only brought the undoing of peace, stability and independence of our country.
Foreign relations is not, and should never be, a subject to be dealt with, at the whims and pleasure of politicians in power. Conduct of foreign relations requires smart application of diplomacy. More than that, it demands on the part of political and administrative leadership to have a thorough and in-depth knowledge and understanding of complex international relations management systems as well as domestic geo-political situation, social and cultural consciousness and level of economic development of a country. That is why, in the conduct of external relations, diplomacy-illeterate, dumb and uncouth politicians are considered to be "a bull in a china shop"!
Political leadership, therefore, would do well not to try to tinker with as delicate a subject as the conduct of foreign relations. But sad to say, our political leaders are not only diplomacy-illiterate, but also not as diplomatically suave and urbane as required. Despite burning their fingers badly quite often, they have not seemingly learnt a lesson. They ought to unlearn this bad habit sooner than later!
Consistency and continuity
Showing consistent behavior and time-suited changes in the manner and methods in the conduct of foreign relations are the enduring elements of a pragmatic foreign policy! Concurrently, when one attempts to dwell upon the foreign policy of a country, one must be careful about the delicate nuances associated with the compelling policy issues!
There are those who think new developments in international relations management arenas have necessitated Nepal to reprioritise issues on foreign policy formulation, including its implementation. Some even go to the extent of saying that the ‘Yam Theory’ has now become irrelevant and suggest the need to refashion a foreign policy that would make Nepal a vibrant bridge between its two immediate neighbors. It is a beautiful idea based on assumption. But the conduct of foreign policy is not based on assumptions. It is largely determined by the ground realities of a country. There are certain immutable elements that go into shaping and making a country's foreign policy.
In the case of Nepal, the "Yam between two boulders theory" mirrors the ground reality, particularly its geo-political and geo-strategic sensitivity; as also its economic, social and cultural vulnerability. Nepal cannot and should never turn a deaf ear to these vital issues of national interests and concerns in the formulation as well as practice of her foreign relations.
To say that this time-tested theory has now lost its relevance is to make a fool of oneself and betray one’s lack of understanding of the role of geo-political and geostrategic issues in the conduct of foreign relations. Yes, with the march of time and new developments and trends in international relations management, new priorities and factors have now emerged to which Nepal must pay its immediate attention.
Yet, the Yam theory, in my humble opinion, should remain the cornerstone and continue to guide us when it comes to deftly handling relations with our immediate neighbors and overseas friendly countries.
Stark and diffused challenges
The growing rivalry and competition among China, India and the US to expand their diplomatic footprints in the Indo-Pacific region, the TAIWAN issue, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and its possible ramifications, the emergence of US-led military alliances like the IPS, AUKUS and QUAD on the one hand and China's initiatives such as Global Security Initiative, Global Development Initiative and Built and Road Initiative to counterweight them, on the other, present before us both stark and diffused challenges. We must be able to view them not only with concern but also with caution!
It is imperative for us to try to seriously enquire into, without direct engagement, what those Chinese initiatives and the Western alliances are all about and what perhaps could be their geo-security and geo-economic implications for countries, such as ours. Such an effort may help enhance our understanding of, and sharpen our insights into, the real leitmotif of these initiatives and alliances!
A thorough understanding of and preparation for our national consensus position in line with our foreign policy guidelines to deal with them is therefore absolutely important. Such early preparation may help us later on not to be caught by surprise. Moreover, it may also go a long way in developing our time-suited and appropriate responses, in the national interest of our country.
In the meantime, there is no need to feel unnecessarily panicky about any such initiative with geo-political or security overtones. We cannot escape the reality that we live in a world characterized by increased interdependence and inter-connected interests of countries. We should first be able to identify what our vital national, economic and security interests are.
The second logical step to follow would then be to prioritize them in keeping with the demands of the changing times. An able and well-focused national leadership, a dynamic bureaucracy and national consensus foreign policy are absolutely necessary to stay clear of great power game play and its possible negative fallout on us.
Knowledge and skills
Smart diplomacy is about conducting proactive foreign relations. Nepal's conduct of foreign relations is one that is more reactive. We react to foreign policy issues only after they have happened. Proactive diplomacy is about developing inhouse diplomatic capability for studying, interpreting, analyzing and then arriving at appropriate response strategies on issues of international peace and security.
There is a saying that a swan can separate the milk mixed with water and drink the milk only. Smart application of diplomacy is also about developing knowledge and skill in our professional diplomats for them to be able to separate what our vital national interests are, and are not, from the complex web of confusion-ridden and highly confrontational international systems. The "knowledge" aspect of diplomacy helps us understand what the international economic and security challenges are, having a direct bearing on our core national interest!
The "skill" component refers to the diplomatic tool with which to chalk out national response strategies to effectively deal with any such present or emerging challenges. Diplomatic skill and knowledge development is not an exercise that can be mastered overnight. They require years of painstaking training, long term diplomatic work experience, international exposure through sustained participation in diplomatic seminars, meetings and other engagements.
This way, the country should develop a pool of diplomatic experts armed with diplomatic knowledge and skills to live up to any challenge - present or future.
For this to materialize, an enlightened, honest and committed political leadership is the most important prerequisite. Nepal has yet to climb mountains to attain that goal! Yet, diplomacy is about not losing but rekindling hope! Let us, therefore, keep our fingers crossed, hoping that sooner than later there will emerge a scenario where a leadership, well-equipped with diplomatic knowledge about how to protect and promote national needs and to respond to international threats through the smart application of diplomacy emerges!
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