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Should we? Shouldn’t we?

Nepal finds itself at a crossroads in a rapidly changing world where groupings like BIMSTEC are rising

Should we? Shouldn’t we?

The world around Nepal has been turning at a dizzying pace even as we remain in turmoil as ever. Gone is the unipolar world that was under the command of the sole superpower after the fragmentation of the Soviet Union in the early 90’s. 

Looking back, Nepal has always sought to reach out to a wider world. It established its first diplomatic relations (with the United Kingdom) in 1816 and now has formal ties with around 180 countries. It joined the United Nations on 14 Dec 1955 and has also been part of the Non-Aligned Movement founded in 1961. 

It is a founding member of the grouping called South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) that dates back to 8 Dec 1985 with its secretariat set up in Kathmandu on 17 Jan 1987. 

In February 2004, Nepal became a member of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation that was established on 6 June 1997.

Nepal, though, took quite a long time in joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) established on 15 June 2001, becoming a dialogue partner seven years ago—only on 22 March 2016. 

Had our political leadership been thinking long and hard about such associations and what they bring to the table? Well, anything is possible. 

Fast forward. 

In our neighborhood, China is emerging as the second largest economy with a nominal GDP of $19, 423.48bn and as the second most powerful country in the world, militarily. India is not lagging far behind, with a PPP GDP of $3,591.03 and as the fourth strongest military force in the world. Beyond the neighborhood, Russia is again emerging as a formidable power, along with a number of other countries like Indonesia, South Korea, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Brazil, South Africa and Turkey.     

India recently hosted the G20 summit that saw the 24-year-old 20-member grouping welcome one more member to its fold—African Union, to be formally inducted later—in the presence of one more country from our extended neighborhood, Bangladesh (a robust economy in its own right), which was invited as a guest, along with Egypt, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Singapore, Spain and the UAE.

Climate change was one of the agendas of the summit and Nepal happens to be one of the countries suffering the most from the impact of this largely manmade disaster but seems to have lost its voice in the international arena. 

After the summit, a number of questions have arisen. They are: What does the apparent snubbing of Nepal at the summit that took place in a country with which we have cordial relations mean? Does it mean Nepal’s concerns, including those related to climate change, can easily be brushed under the carpet? What does it mean for Nepal’s standing in the comity of nations? 

There’s no doubt that the summit would have given Nepal, a member of the Global South, a golden opportunity to share its worries with the world and make big polluters accountable for a huge GHG emission that has wreaked havoc around the world, in the form of ozone depletion, rising temperatures, glacial retreat on the Himalayas, flash floods in the plains and a steady rise in sea levels.  

The summit was a huge miss for Nepal, given that the 19 G20 countries account for 85 percent of global gross domestic product, over 75 per cent of global trade and two-thirds of the globe’s entire population—not to mention a huge GHG footprint, the main culprit behind climate phenomena like glacial retreat, glacial lake outburst floods and rising temperatures.  

For now, let’s leave G20 aside and move on. 

BRICS, thus far a grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa and an economic mammoth in its own right, has also been hogging the limelight of late. The 15-year five-nation club, comprising 40 per cent of the world’s population and more than 25 percent of global GDP, has been positioning itself as an economic counterweight to the West. What’s more, the non-military bloc is growing bigger with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates set to join it at the start of 2024.    

This, even as Nepal finds itself in ever-deepening crises on socio-economic, socio-religious and socio-political fronts, not entirely of its own making. Perhaps a desolate SAARC secretariat located in the heart of Kathmandu, a silent spectator to a long-running enmity between South Asia’s two giants that has been holding the bloc hostage for far too long, best explains Nepal’s dilemmas.  

Against this backdrop, ApEx asked a number of experts whether Nepal should strive to join emerging blocs like BRICS to make its voices heard and its presence felt in international fora. Here’s what they had to say.  

Professor Katak Malla, Expert on International Law

BRICS is a huge commodity market that seeks to curtail Euro-dollar domination. Nepal should not join any of the military blocs, it should remain non-aligned but it should of course join blocs like BRICS. If we become a BRICS member, we can use Chinese and other currencies for trade and commerce instead of having to rely on the Euro and dollar, and we can make our voice count using this forum. SAARC, of which Nepal is a founding member, has remained moribund because of enmity between Pakistan and India, and there are calls for reforms in the United Nations—amid the rise in the fortunes of several countries—to make the world body more representative.  

Political instability and the rule of law are lacking in the country. First and foremost, Nepal’s leaders and the public should mend ways to arrest this slide. The government should come up with a relevant domestic policy before joining any bloc.  

Pradip Gyawali, Former Foreign Minister and UML Leader

We are a small economy and as things stand now, we seem to be in no position to benefit from blocs like BRICS. Even if we strive to join the bloc, it’s unclear how BRICS members will respond.  

Many countries are seeking an alternative to the US-led global economy, they are rooting for de-dollarization. BRICS does not seem to be a strategic bloc, it appears to be a trade and cooperation forum, which is good for us. Overall, Nepal should look upon initiatives like BRICS positively. As for the CPN-UML, it favors multilateralism. In the long run, I think, it is in our interest to join blocs like BRICS as dependence on the dollar will decrease with increase in the use of local currencies.  

Khadga KC, Professor, Department of International Relations and Diplomacy, TU 

Being a relatively small state, Nepal always needs to prioritize multilateralism. Engaging more with regional and multilateral frameworks could be beneficial, however, we are not benefiting much from our association with WTO and BIMSTEC. So, I don’t think we need to rush in to socialize with the emerging economies. 

Rajan Bhattarai, Chief, CPN-UML’s Foreign Affairs Department

Nepal should step up efforts to join any sub-regional, regional and international organization whose objectives are compatible with her foreign policy objectives and priorities. 

With Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and the UAE set to become its new members on Jan 1 next year, BRICS (comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa at present) is one such organization that our country should make efforts to be a part of. The bloc aims to promote international peace, stability, cooperation and investment and these objectives are similar to Nepal’s foreign policy objectives. 

So, our country should make attempts to be a member of this grouping. If our party—the CPN-UML—comes to power, we will intensify our engagements to join sub-regional, regional and international organizations whose vision, missions and objectives are in sync with our foreign policy objectives and priorities. Of course, BRICS is one of the organizations that we will strive to join. 

Sagun Sunder Lawoti, Spokesperson, RPP

King Prithvi Narayan Shah fittingly called Nepal a yam between two boulders. Our two neighbors are rising, signifying the transformation of a unipolar world order into a multipolar order, even as we find ourselves in a deep crisis.  In terms of size, our two neighbors are far bigger than us. At the same time, more than half of the countries around the world are smaller than us—in terms of population and geographical area.  As such, size is a relative term.  We as a nation need to work out ways to deal with a changing world that is offering both challenges and opportunities. What should our policy vis-a-vis blocs like BRICS and G20 be? What does the rise of neighbors mean for us? What challenges does it pose and what opportunities does it offer? Nepal has immense geostrategic advantage and opportunities. But then our leaders are focusing on petty interests rather than long-term national benefits.

Surya Raj Acharya, Political Analyst

BRICS is a grouping of emerging economies, of countries transitioning from developing to developed economies. It is basically a non-strategic and non-military bloc focused on trade and commerce. 

Bangladesh recently tried to join the grouping, but failed. It was but natural for that country to seek BRICS membership because it has a robust economy. Another case is the UAE, which will be formally inducted into BRICS soon. The UAE has made huge strides on the economic front over the decades and it deserves to be in the bloc. 

Given the size of their economy, countries like Thailand, the Philippines and Bangladesh fit the bill. 

As a country of geostrategic significance, Nepal should strive for BRICS membership in the long run. Nepal’s geopolitical location gives it an edge and the size of the country is no bar, though the size of the economy matters. 

Having said this, the present scenario is not rosy. The economy is not doing well. Besides, there’s no clear roadmap on how to deal with China, India, the United States and the European Union. The country seems to have no coherent foreign policy, thanks to the absence of well-defined domestic policies of which foreign policy is an extension. Petty interests of political parties have taken precedence. The rulers don’t even know what our national priorities are. Nepal’s international standing has taken a beating. 

We must first agree on our national interests and national priorities and this should be reflected in our domestic policies. Our national interest, not petty interests of political parties, should guide our foreign policy. 

In the long run, we should strive to join blocs like BRICS because they enable us to raise our profile, bring in foreign direct investment and benefit from technology transfer as well as trade and commerce partnerships.   

Dhawal Shumshere Rana, Leader, RPP 

There’s a huge gap between BRICS member-states and Nepal. They are emerging powers and they won’t induct us into the grouping given this gap. At present, it’s futile for Nepal to even think about it.    

The group of G20 












South Korea



Saudi Arabia

South Africa


The United Kingdom

The United States

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)










Dialogue partners





Sri Lanka


South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)








Sri Lanka 

Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)



Sri Lanka