It is in the best interest of both Nepal and the US to find alternative ways to continue with the ongoing military cooperation in areas like disaster response, counter-terrorism and training opportunities.
After weeks of controversy and debates, the government on Monday decided not to be part of the State Partnership Program (SPP) which seeks to pave the way for the Nepal Army to forge closer cooperation with the US National Guards. The program aims to share the best practices and capabilities of National Guards — the first-line responders — in the event of natural disasters ranging from earthquakes, floods and fires to counter terrorism. The controversy began shortly after a proposed text of the SPP agreement came to the public domain. While a section of critics argued that some of the provisions in the proposed text of the agreement undermined the sovereignty of Nepal, others suggested that becoming part of the SPP was tantamount to renouncing Nepal’s long-held non-aligned foreign policy. As discussions continue on the merits of these arguments, the government has already decided not to be part of SPP. This has put an end to the ongoing debate surrounding the SPP for now.
But this has opened a new debate as to what kind of partnership we seek to maintain with the US — one of Nepal’s trusted friends in times of need. Nepal has long been pursuing a policy of non-alignment in its foreign policy. As such, the country does not want to be seen as getting closer to any of the big powers but wants to be seen as neutral to all the countries. This has been our strategy of survival since long ago and will continue to remain so despite profound changes seen in the strategic environment in our region in the past two decades. However, it is wrong to understand non-alignment as isolationism. It has been a policy of Nepal to maintain good relations with all the countries and reap benefits through cooperation and partnership. As such, Nepal has been able to engage in extensive partnerships with India, China, the USA, the European Union and all other friendly countries.
Bilateral cooperation and partnership among countries exist at different levels. Cooperation and partnership between militaries have evolved as an important facet of bilateral relations in recent years. These types of cooperation and partnership of Nepal’s security agencies, mainly the army, exist with other friendly countries too. In addition to the US, Nepal maintains a robust military partnership with India while a modest partnership has been established with China. The Nepal Army periodically holds military exercises and exchanges of visits with the armies of these countries. The exchange of knowledge and experience through educational programs or joint military exercises is critical to enhancing the professional skills and knowledge of security personnel. Such exercises are also important tools to build trust between the two countries and bolster bilateral relations. It may be noted that the cooperation between the Nepal Army and the US Army has been instrumental in Nepal’s enhanced participation in UN peacekeeping missions. Nepal currently stands as the second-largest troops contributing country to the UN peacekeeping missions. Nearly 1,400 Nepali security personnel were able to receive security and defense training with US support in the past five years alone. In this sense, any abrupt decision to halt military cooperation with the US will not only be politically detrimental but also diplomatically counterproductive. So, it is in the best interest of both Nepal and the US to find alternative ways to continue with the ongoing military cooperation in areas like disaster response, counter-terrorism and training opportunities.