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Nepal should adopt a multi-alignment policy

Nepal should adopt a multi-alignment policy
While engaging in discourses on the foreign policy of Nepal in formal and informal forums, some new thoughts and somewhat ‘innovative’ ideas have emerged, influenced by the changing dynamics of global power politics. In a thought-provoking lecture titled ‘Safeguarding Nepal’s National Interest: Foreign Policy Choices in the Changing International Environment,’ under the Yadu Nath Khanal lecture series organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Former Foreign Secretary Madhu Raman Acharya on June 25 shared an interesting perspective. He recommended that Nepal should adopt a policy of ‘multi-alignment’ instead of strictly adhering to the traditional ‘non-alignment’ stance. Acknowledging the shifting dynamics of international politics, Acharya believes that Nepal can better safeguard its national interests by adopting a more flexible and pragmatic approach toward international relations. While internalizing the sensitivities of geo-strategic location, I have presented my perspective in this write-up in a way backing-up this thought of a seasoned diplomat and author of many books, including a famous one ‘'Nepal Worldview'’.

Let us define non-alignment and multi-alignment first.

Non-alignment is a policy stance where a country chooses not to align itself with any major power bloc or alliance. Non-aligned countries aim to maintain their independence, sovereignty, and neutrality by avoiding formal military alliances or entanglements in conflicts between major powers. Non-alignment was a policy of the Cold War era when non-aligned countries refrained from aligning themselves with the West-led NATO or the East-led Warsaw Pact. The dynamics of international relations have evolved since the Cold War, and the term ‘non-aligned’ may not have the same significance today as it did back then. Nepal is a non-aligned state that has protected its national sovereignty and territorial integrity in major geopolitical turbulences over the decades.  Multi-alignment is a policy approach in which a country actively seeks to engage and maintain relations with multiple powers or regional blocs. Unlike non-alignment, multi-alignment does not imply complete neutrality or a lack of formal alliances. Instead, it emphasizes diversifying diplomatic, economic, and security ties with various countries or groups to safeguard national interests and increase strategic flexibility. By engaging with multiple actors, a multi-aligned country aims to leverage its relationships to maximize benefits, access resources, and pursue its goals effectively. This approach allows countries to navigate complex geopolitical environments and adapt to shifting power dynamics. Multi-alignment is new for Nepal, unlike its southern neighbor India, which has adopted it by terming it as a ‘multi-engagement’ policy.  Should Nepal follow a multi-aligned policy then or just remain multi-engaged? Nepal has adhered to a non-aligned stance since the 1950s, primarily as a means to maintain its independence, sovereignty, and neutrality during the Cold War. During that period, many countries, particularly smaller nations, chose to remain neutral as a survival strategy and to avoid being drawn into the conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nepal's adoption of non-alignment allowed it to assert its own interests and avoid alignment with either of the power blocs. But the situation has changed since then. On the one hand, the Cold War is over, while on the other, there have been errors and blunders in the implementation of non-alignment. Despite deviations from the core principles of non-alignment in some cases, the fundamental principle of maintaining independence, sovereignty, and neutrality has so far remained the guiding force. Given the economic significance and influence of China and India in the region, Nepal must continue to engage with both countries to benefit from economic partnerships, trade opportunities, and infrastructure development. At the same time, maintaining relations with other countries, including the United States and other western powers, can bring additional benefits in terms of investment, and development assistance. A multi-aligned policy approach can offer Nepal strategic flexibility and the ability to navigate its complex geopolitical environment effectively. By engaging with multiple powers, Nepal can leverage its relationships to advance its national interests, access resources, and enhance its development prospects. This is no time to be a mere spectator of developments in our periphery and be submissive to any hegemon. It doesn’t mean that Nepal should immediately embrace the multi-aligned policy; at least we should start contemplating the pros and cons of multi-alignment. Unlike regional powers China and India, which have strategic goals to achieve globally, Nepal has to focus on its strength in the development process.      It is important for Nepal to carefully assess its national priorities and conduct a comprehensive analysis of the potential benefits and risks associated with a multi-aligned approach. This includes considering the potential impact on its relationships with neighboring countries, managing any potential conflict of interest, and ensuring the protection of Nepal's sovereignty and independence. It is important to note that multi-alignment does not necessitate membership in specific security-related alliances such as the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) of the US or the Global Security Initiative (GSI) of China. A multi-aligned state can out-rightly refuse to become a member of initiatives focused on security and military cooperation. However, Nepal has engaged or can still engage with specific programs or initiatives that are not security-related. For example, participation in the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) of the US, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China and the Act East Policy (AEP) of India can offer opportunities for economic cooperation, infrastructure development, and regional connectivity without compromising Nepal’s national interest. When engaging with these programs, Nepal should carefully evaluate any conditions or terms attached to them and assess their implications for national interests and sovereignty. Understanding the geography and geopolitics of the region is crucial for Nepal to navigate new policy orientations.   Nepal should forge partnerships and collaborations with various nations and global actors, regardless of their ideological or political orientations. Rather than being biased toward any specific country, government or ideology, multi-alignment allows Nepal to engage with diverse actors and explore different ideas, which can contribute to the formulation of a unique Nepali perspective on development. For peace, progress and prosperity of Nepal and the Nepalis, the Nepali state should recognize the importance of engaging with different powers and seeking their support in national endeavors.