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Ukraine’s fate and Nepal

Ukraine’s fate and Nepal

“New rules or a game without rules?” asked Russian President Vladimir Putin almost a decade ago, questioning the US-led unipolar international order. The Western world mostly ignored Putin’s remark. In 2014, Russia sent its military into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. In 2022, it declared an all-out war against the same country.

The West has now retreated from the global stage thanks to its expensive war on terror, economic depression, and a rise of populism and nationalist politics. These in turn have shrunk its military advantages.

As Ukraine became vulnerable, Russia questioned its statehood and accused NATO of jeopardizing Russia’s security. It also inexplicably accused Ukraine of committing genocide against its Russian-speaking citizens. So, on February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine.

It is worth recalling that Ukraine was the world’s third largest nuclear power at the end of the Cold War—until it was denuclearized under bilateral and multilateral treaties and conventions. Its denuclearization was frequently heralded as a victory for arms control, as Ukraine was portrayed as a model in a world rife with potential nuclear powers.

But the security and territorial guarantees that came with the disarmament proved to a mirage. In reality, no force could prevent the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014 or Russia’s all-out war against Ukraine at present. This is why every middle-income country in the world aspires to possess nuclear warheads to deter potential aggressors: denuclearization and security arrangements just don’t work. Now, the nuclear dilemma is once again haunting Ukraine and other geo-strategically vulnerable states around the world.

Nepal’s vulnerable geo-strategic location has always endangered its very existence. Both India and China seemingly want to exploit the country to gain geo-strategic advantage.

The Cold War-era diplomacy of great powers centered on enticing weaker states with infrastructure projects—national highways, industries, university buildings, government secretariat buildings, student exchange programs, scholarships, etc. That kind of diplomacy had, to an extent, proved worthwhile for Nepal. But then any development assistance for Nepal was always contingent on serving the larger strategic interests of big foreign powers.

British India saw Nepal as a buffer against Imperial China. Independent India pursued the same British-era strategic policy, which continues to this day. China wants a strictly neutral Nepal. The US and the West, meanwhile, need Nepal to check the ambitions of a rising China.

Things are going from bad to worse. The Americans are pushing hard on the MCC compact and the Chinese are doing the same with the BRI, suggesting neither side is ready to give an inch. They will also ask Nepal to increasingly do their bidding. 

Gradually, Nepal is being obliged to ratify agreements, development protocols and strategic assurances that ultimately weaken its sovereignty, independence and autonomy. A strategically weak Nepal can hardly decide on its own, a fate similar to Ukraine’s.

The country has had to feel the burnt of the recent uptick in US-China rivalry. The relations with India also remain dicey. Nepal as a poor and unarmed country is left without choice—it has no option but to explore a safe strategic space from which it can rally for global peace, vocalize its neutrality and advocate non-alignment.

We need to be well aware of any potential strategic miscalculations while dealing with great powers—for instance, Ukraine had virtually signed its suicide note by agreeing to disarm.

The contracts and compacts Nepal signs can trap it geopolitically under the guise of development. Nepal must learn from the fate of Karna who surrendered his Kavacha and Kundala—body armors and earrings—to Lord Indra, and was then slaughtered in the battlefield.

Nepal’s Kavacha and Kundala are neutrality, advocacy for peace and non-alignment. We should not make the mistake of surrendering these attributes that have guaranteed our sovereignty and independence for so long.

The author is a PhD Scholar at the Department of International Relations and Diplomacy (DIRD), Tribhuvan University, Nepal.

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