Seminar on “Institutionalization of Nepal’s Foreign Policy”

Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA) in collaboration of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) organized one day seminar on “Institutionalization of Nepal’s Foreign Policy” on 17 August 2012.
Two papers were presented, one on “Enhancing Clarity and Consistency in Understanding the Foreign Policy Goals of Nepal” by Dr. Sambhu Ram Simkhada, former Ambassador to UN, Geneva. This session was chaired by Dr. Bhesh Bahadur Thapa, former Foreign Secretary and ambassador. The other paper was on “Strengthening Institutional Capacity for Realizing Foreign Policy Goals” by Dr. Dinesh Bhattarai, former Ambassador to UN, Geneva. This session was chaired by

Hon. DPM and Foreign Minister Mr. Narayan Kaji Shrestha was the Chief Guest and Key Note speaker.

Following is the Key Note Address by Hon’ble DPM and Minister for Foreign Affairs:

Executive Director of the Institute of Foreign Affairs, Chair of the Session
Distinguished Paper Presenters and Participants
Friends in the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to be here with you this morning to share some of my thoughts on the theme ‘Institutionalization of the Foreign Policy of Nepal’. The Institute of Foreign Affairs deserves our appreciation for thoughtfully selecting the topic, which is both timely and pertinent, and bringing together a cross-section of scholars, academicians and diplomats for deliberation. I hope the seminar will come out with pragmatic and insightful suggestions and recommendations.
Needless to say, the main objective of the foreign policy is to safeguard country’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, which form the core of what is called the ‘national interests’. Added to these are our vital developmental interests and our desire to enhance international image and identity. Diplomacy is an instrument to skillfully implement the foreign policy, interacting with the international community for the protection, promotion and consolidation of national interests. This we do in keeping with the people’s aspirations as well as the changed international realities.
Foreign policy is an area that demands continuous research, discussion and analysis, as external environment continues to change and with it come both new challenges and opportunities. This is where we must visualize the role and importance of a dedicated institution, like the IFA, in serving as a policy think-tank and providing a useful forum for discussion, research and policy dialogue on all persistent and evolving issues.
Foreign policy is a sensitive and complex domain. As such its objectives should be pursued in wise, coherent and consistent manner by all relevant national actors. Adjustment and readjustment in foreign policy priorities is a normal practice necessitated by both changing domestic circumstance and the external environment. The fundamental objectives and guiding principles of foreign policy, however, remain unalterable. As with other countries, these principles have found eloquent expressions in our Constitution. This ensures the permanency of fundamental tenets beyond the ambit of vested interests and whimsical behavior that may occasionally seek to alter the course. Constitutional embodiment of foreign policy goals and objectives is thus the first and foremost cornerstone of institutionalized foreign policy.
But, we must remember that merely enunciation of foreign policy principles and objectives in the country’s supreme law of the land will not safeguard our national interest if we fail to uphold national consensus and unity, as essential components of our national strengths. History suggests that cost of absence of national unity could be colossal and beyond imagination. So, I must emphasize that our national behavior is no less critical in strengthening the institutionalized behavior of foreign policy and effective conduct of diplomacy. In this context, the faithful observance of the diplomatic code of conduct by all is essential.
It goes without saying that the conduct of an independent foreign policy is the sine qua none of national sovereignty. This has been our aspiration as a sovereign nation with a longstanding commitment to non-alignment and merit-based decision-making on world events. For us, the Charter of the United Nations, NAM, the Five Principles Peaceful Co-existence, principles and norms of international law and values of world peace constitute the essential framework for maintaining relations among sovereign nations irrespective of their strength, size and ideological orientation.
As with other countries, neighborhood has always been a priority in our foreign policy orientation. There is no need to elaborate it further. It is our sincere desire to further strengthen the multifaceted relations with our neighbors in a pragmatic manner and in accordance with the principles of non-interference, mutual respect and mutually beneficial cooperation as well as understanding of each other’s sensitivities and aspirations. The emerging economic landscape in our neighborhood offers us with unique opportunities to increase economic activities, trade, tourism and investment. We must be ready and capable to seize these opportunities rising above what we have traditionally called the yam syndrome to an elevated notion of partnership for peace, progress and prosperity.
Maintaining good relationship we have to go further to develop problem free relationship with our immediate neighbors for which problem left by history should be resolved through mutual consultation to match it with the above mentioned universal principles and values and the changed context of the country and the world. There is nothing which cannot be solved through dialogue and discussion in political and diplomatic level. The government has already taken some pertinent initiative in this regards.
Thus we have to give a new look to our relationship from today’s perspective. ‘The vibrant bridge between the two fast developing big neighbors’ is more relevant today than the traditional concept of “sandwich between the two giant neighbors”. Strategic geopolitical situation of the country, if understood well and skillfully dealt, can be the better opportunity for overall development of our country.
Regional integration has become one of the defining features of contemporary international relations. Countries in different regions are increasingly forging collaborative partnership of varying kinds and intensity. These efforts are aimed at promoting economic complementarities and harmonizing policies and institutional capabilities so as to expand trade, attract investment, augment transport and transit connectivity. It has often been underlined, and rightly so, that SAARC needs to redouble its efforts to fully exploit vast potential for cooperation in our region. Nepal is firmly committed to making SAARC a dynamic regional organization that is capable of fully realizing the goals and objectives as enshrined in its Charter. It has been our consistent policy that regional economic integration should ensure equitable benefits to all the constituent members. We will continue to work together through regional organizations like SAARC and BIMSTEC with commitment towards this ends.
Nepal highly values its relationship with the countries and organizations that have been supporting our development efforts in different ways. We underline that development is, first and foremost, the responsibility of a country. As a least developed and land-locked country emerging from conflict, our development challenges are many but our capacity to overcome them is limited. Due to lack of adequate domestic resources, we have not been able to finance our development activities solely on our own. Moreover, global financial and economic crises, food and energy crises, and disproportionate impacts of climate change have added constrains in our development efforts. Under these circumstances, the external financing becomes an absolute necessity, not a choice. It is to be emphasized that for development assistance to be effective, it should be fully aligned with national priorities and needs. Moreover, national ownership and leadership in the development process must be respected. Transparency, predictability and timely allocation and mobilization of resources through national budgetary channels would enhance the effectiveness of precious development assistance. We will continue working with our valued partners to ensure that our development needs get priority in their development cooperation framework.
Nepal remains fully committed to the principles and purposes of the United Nations. We will continue to contribute to world peace and security through our active and dedicated participation in the UN peacekeeping operations, which remain the most visible enterprise of the United Nations in maintaining peace around the world. Our engagement with the UN is borne out of our firm conviction in multilateralism and multilateral solutions to global problems. The UN General Assembly must assert its legitimacy as the most representative body and remain at the center of global diplomacy in mobilizing the international community to address a multitude of challenges the world faces. The UN must remain above the power politics that often hinders its functions. It must ensure that it works for the advancement of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries. Development pillar of the UN needs to be further strengthened. Nepal will continue to play an active role in furthering the causes of the least developed and landlocked countries and will continue to advocate for a rightful place for these countries in the comity of nations.
We live in critical times when the international situations getting increasingly complex, uncertain and volatile. While globalization has opened up avenues for free trade and free flow of goods and services, people and their ideas, its benefits have largely been unequal as countries like Nepal continue to face marginalization in the global economy. This is largely due to entrenched deficiencies and systemic inequalities in the existing global, economic, financial and trading regimes. As a result the gap between the rich and poor is widening. These deficiencies need to be overcome to ensure fair share of developmental opportunities at the global level.
With the emergence of new economic and political powers, the world is moving towards multi-polarity. This is likely to shape international relations in many ways. In an evolving world economic order, we must fully assess the potentials of South-South cooperation in expanding economic opportunities, growth, prosperity and development. This emerging trend, however, should not be perceived as replacing traditional North-South cooperation which is so vital for many developing countries including Nepal to pursue developmental objectives.
In keeping with emerging global economic trends, Nepal will strengthen its focus on economic diplomacy to help build a solid foundation of national economy and eventually acquire national self-sufficiency. Greater efforts will be made towards attracting foreign investment in productive sectors and infrastructure development such as electricity, road networks and connectivity that would help bring about much needed structural transformation in our economy in which trade in goods and services, including tourism, will have a dominant role to play. When the national economy generates sufficient employment, our workforce will have decent and productive work opportunities at home. As foreign employment remains an important source of earnings at present, we will continue to work for exploring decent employment opportunities for our workforce overseas.
It is important to understand that the foreign ministry and the diplomatic apparatus under it cannot alone fulfill the enormous and multifaceted responsibilities of economic diplomacy. Enhanced cooperation and coordination between and among key agencies of the Government of Nepal is essential from conceptual to the implementation phase of economic diplomacy. We also underline the important role that the private sector can play in this process. The existing coordination mechanism will have to be fully revitalized and attuned to changing needs and ever increasing scope of economic diplomacy. I have attached priority to this agenda.
In realizing these foreign policy goals and objectives, we need sound diplomatic strategies backed up by capable and dynamic diplomatic machinery. Formulation of effective and sound diplomatic strategies would require deeper understanding of our national interests, our strengths, opportunities and challenges in relation to the external environment. This calls for enriched capacity of country’s diplomatic service that is capable of acquiring in-depth knowledge and consummate analytical skills for making informed policy choices. We must bear in mind that human resource is the most important of all resources as it manages everything else. Motivation to generate knowledge and refine skills in an enabling environment should thus become a priority in the process of institutionalization.
Recently, we have initiated a number of important reform measures in the Nepalese Foreign Service. These include training and grooming of diplomatic staff for better performance, delineation of division of duty and responsibility at headquarters and the missions and progressively higher percentage of appointment of the career diplomats as the head of mission. We are working to strengthen the legal regime governing the Service. The momentum has started and it will not stop without ensuring desired result.
We have also done preliminary exercises to expand our representations abroad by opening appropriate missions in those countries and cities where there is a presence of larger number of Nepalese Diaspora or there is a good potential for surge in bilateral interactions and cooperative relations. We feel that the number of personnel manning our headquarters and missions is not enough so we have been engaged in increasing the number of staff positions. Stakeholders’ consultation on a periodic basis has been a regular feature in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently. We are restructuring the Institute of Foreign Affairs to add strategic studies to it on one hand and revamping its research and training capacity in view of the increased needs of training for the staff.
The situation obtaining in the country has much bearing on the success of our international relations. At the national level, we need to be clear about the agenda we have put forward through the Constitution and the various agreements reached among the political parties. The agenda set in these documents are meant for peace, progress, stability and development of the nation. That is why these national agenda have been taken positively by the international community and all our partners in development. The issues of inclusive development; federal restructuring of the state for empowerment of the people, realizing the universal human rights for the marginalized and excluded communities including women and people living in backward areas; socio-economic transformation of the Nepalese society for an inclusive and just society, etc. are based on universal values which we want to apply in our national context. The prolonged transition due to delay in constitution writing within the extended timeframe and subsequent dissolution of the Constituent Assembly has, however, cast a shadow on our national capacity for timely delivery. We must work hard collectively internalizing that we the Nepali people ourselves must find the way out to end present stalemate to reassure the international community that we can finish the remaining task of the peace process and the constitution writing with national consensus.
Finally, we must make sincere efforts to institutionalize our foreign policy with the sole aim of safeguarding vital national interests. Economic development and prosperity enlarge the freedom of choice and scope of decision-making of any country. We must learn lessons from success stories from around the world including neighbors. To serve our national interests, we must start with a coherent and unanimous understanding of foreign policy principles and objectives and concomitant national behavior by all actors. It cannot also be overemphasized that in a highly competitive and interdependent world, we need strong, capable and professional diplomatic machinery that effectively pursues enlightened national interests on international fronts.
Thank you!