Introduction of Nepal
Nepal, a country of Asia, little known to the outside world, is lying along the southern slopes of the Himalayan Mountain ranges. It is a landlocked country located between India to the east, south, and west and China to the north. Thus, Nepal is mostly referred to as a small state as in small power between two major powers; i.e., China and India. This sentence that is taught to us since our childhood provoked me on getting this academic support to further analyze and study how small states survive between two major powers. This is interesting how small states follow strategies to save their sovereignty and design their policies accordingly.
The first Shah king, Prithvi Narayan (1722-75), laid the foundation for Nepal’s foreign policy, one who termed his realm “a yam between two pieces of stone.” He warned that Nepal would have to coexist with the Chinese Empire and British India at will, avoiding confrontation as far as possible. Indeed, given the circumstances at the time, he had no choice but to pursue a strategy of uncompromising neutrality in the area of foreign affairs. Sandwiched between two Asian giants, China and India, Nepal has focused on preserving its territorial integrity and sovereignty in order to ensure its existence. Nepal pursued a foreign policy that was autonomous and non-aligned. This demonstrates that pursuing a balanced and nonaligned foreign policy appears to be more of a need than a policy. Previously, during the Rana regime (1846-1951), Nepal had no foreign policy of its own; instead, the Rana rulers chose to align themselves with British India in matters of foreign policy to serve their ends, to the point where no foreigner could visit Nepal without the permission of the British Government in India. The collapse of the Rana dictatorship in 1951 also marked the end of Nepal’s isolation from the rest of the world, paving the path for the country’s reintegration into the international community.
As per the guiding principles of our foreign policy, Nepal’s foreign policy is guided by an unwavering faith in the United Nations and a policy of non-alignment, mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, mutual equality, non-aggression and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and cooperation for mutual benefit (Shrestha 2018). Despite the fact that Nepal established diplomatic relations with India and China on June 13, 1947, and August 1, 1955, respectively (MOFA, 2017), Nepal has enjoyed cordial connections with both countries from its inception. Nepal’s international ties with China and India have constantly been evolving as a result of various events, stages, and historical periods. As a result, we may infer that Nepal has a wide range of relations with these two adjacent countries, ranging from social, cultural, religious, geopolitical, and economic to diplomatic ties. These relationships have evolved from basic, linear relationships too complicated, unusual relationships as a result of several ups and downs.
In this paper I aim to study what is a firm reason behind; Nepal’s remaining an independent small state rather than an aligned adopting balanced foreign policy, to survive and safeguard its sovereignty although this policy can hinder the development of the nation.
Dhurba Raj in his study on “Small state between two major powers” says, “Nepalese foreign policy is strongly influenced by its location between major powers,” (pg.69). Further, he also says, “This geostrategic location has shaped the psyche of Nepalese elite, and hence its foreign policy.”
We can see; the assumption of neoliberalism been already highlighted; the impacts of geography in adopting certain policies in small states. For this reason, I think my analysis and study will be persistent to neoliberal theory. Further, If I limit my research study Dhurba’s work will enforce in my single case study; as he has emphasized the effect of geography along with other factors affecting the development of the small state’s foreign policy
I will approach the question with mixed-method methodology along with a literature review with Descriptive and Analytic studies. Further using secondary sources such as historical, secondary books, journals, newspapers, and some elite interview documents stored on social media.
In light of the above discussion, I formulate my hypothesis as ‘geographical proximity with two major powers drives a small state to take an independent and balanced foreign policy.‘ Multilateral organizations are preferred by small governments because they lessen power asymmetry between states, lower diplomacy transaction costs, and put limits on major states. Further, it puts forth a clear vision of a system that respects human rights and a rules-based order.
Systemic-level circumstances impact the foreign policy of weak states according to a new study by Labs on small state alignment. 1 (pg.06) Labs also agrees with Walt that whether weak states are more inclined to balance or bandwagon against a great power threat is a result of systemic considerations, such as geographic proximity. (pg.406). A country’s geographical position, size, natural resources, population, and other physical and environmental elements influence and shape its political, military level of economic development, and cultural qualities (Bhattarai, 2005).
Geographic closeness is one element that has regularly been proven to increase the chance of a conflict (Diehl, 1991). Those that are closer to each other conflict more than countries that are farther apart. This link might be due to a number of factors (Vasquez, 1995). First, distant countries may find it difficult, if not impossible, to battle each other, owing to the high cost of military operations at large distances. This is especially true for small or developing countries. Second, countries that are closer together have more territorial conflicts, which leads to greater aggressive conduct. Territorial conflicts can result in a state’s willingness to fight for resources contained inside a certain territory (Barbieri and Petersen, 2001). Third, because of their closeness, closer nations engage more. Greater contacts open the door to more conflicts of interest, which can lead to more rivalry and strife.
Here lies a paradox; On one hand, geographic proximity intensifies conflict, if the small state located between two competitive big power nations align with one, but on the other hand geographic proximity can also lead to a good relation diminishing conflict with adopting a balanced foreign policy, not leaning to either big power nations but to adopt Balance foreign policy; here, The word ‘balance relationship’ does not refer to absolute balance; rather, it refers to relative balance.
Study on Nepal
The foreign policy of a small state with geographical proximity with two major powers is more based on geopolitical urgency rather than the influence of domestic politics in determining the foreign policy goals, responding to a changing security environment, and managing conflicts with more powerful neighbors. Small states use a variety of techniques to create better stability and security, as well as greater influence over other actors. Small governments have the option of engaging with great powers while remaining balanced against future dangers, developing hedging techniques or remaining neutral. Each of these measures has the same goal of increasing security, but they represent various circumstances and vulnerabilities that tiny states face.
Therefore, I take Nepal as my study case as it shows almost all the characteristics I mentioned above, about Identifying my research study and further testing the hypothesis.
Geopolitics is seen to be one of the most dominant determinants of Nepal’s foreign policy. It is the study of the effects of geography on power relationships, as well as the contemporary rationalization of power politics. It combines the history (political process) and geographical territory of countries in the world. Geopolitics also include the study of the interactions between geographical locations and views, as well as political processes. We can’t ignore what Shah king Prithvi Narayan had alerted the nation to, “be careful, cautious, and rational, as geography is a hard reality a country cannot afford to ignore.” This sentence emphasizes the fact that geography plays a vital role in terms of policymaking and determining a nation’s sovereignty. Nepal’s unity, integrity, stability, and development ultimately depend on good neighborly relations. “Because we are sandwiched between two great countries and are the focus of geopolitical attention, a small country like Nepal requires a well-thought-out foreign strategy,” says Professor Sridhar Khatri.
Hence, I take this case study because it is purposive. This answers my research question to a wide extent explaining; why Nepal as a small state is obliged to adopt an independent and balanced foreign policy. Furthermore, the history of the selected case has both variables as my hypothesis that make the testing possible and challenging. I can overview Bhutan* to enrich my analysis and to test my hypothesis.
Data collection and Analysis
Since the insights on the foreign policy of small states between two major powers is limited and the Geo- politic is not the case in many other small states; my research will be inductive. It will consist predominantly of a single case study; Nepal. The research will also draw upon the historiography of a nation’s foreign policy. I also tend to propose an analysis via data collection from the secondary books, journals, newspapers, and elite interviews programs on social media within the range of policy formulation bodies, i.e., the president of the nation and elite members of the executive branch. It will also involve secondary data analysis method to critically observe if Nepal falls in the category of a small state and what factors cause changes and formulate its policies. I propose to use an interdisciplinary and mixed methods approach to explore my core research question, using both quantitative and qualitative analyses. However, there will be a specific focus on historical knowledge rather than current situation analysis.
In a wide term, my main research question will provide an important analytical framework for studying the collected data. This will entail observing the structural and subjective dimensions and formulation of small state foreign policy. Given that my research is largely observable and is committed to an inductive approach. The key sources I plan to analyze are; If Nepal can be characterized as a small state using secondary data, and adopting a descriptive qualitative method to enrich my testing analysis and quantitative to make an account on area population and GDP of Nepal with the neighboring big nations. Focusing on the historical theoretical framework; is the center of my analysis to ensure if other factors play a vital role in the formulation of the foreign policy of small states rather than the geographical proximity of two big powers. Following with the secondary books, Nepali journals, newspapers, and interview data collection I will ensure to what extent the geo politic contributed to the formulation of the foreign policy of Nepal. The archival analysis will enhance in supporting the outcome of interview data.
Nepal: A small state
Beginning with what small states indicate; Small states has been studied by many scholars in International relation, however uncertain measures defining a small state hinder in identifying an actual definition of a Small state. Small states, according to Baehr, are too large a category for analysis, regardless of the criterion used. In international relations, there is, of course, a continuum in the size of states. However, perceptions of a strong divide between large and small states, as well as a unique function for tiny states, should be discarded (Baehr, 1975:466). If we rely on scholars’ definitions, related to the field of politics, there we find four approaches to define a small state; The quantitative, the perceptual, the behavioral, and the relational.
The quantitative perspective focuses on measures and numbers. The population, gross national product (GNP), or size are the most relevant figures to identify a small state, depending on the scholar. According to Thurer, “A country with fewer than ten million people must be deemed tiny.” (Thurer, 1988:37). Karl Deutsch on the other hand contends that instead of population size, one should consider GNP. “A country with less than 1% of world GDP is considered small” (Baehr, 1975:460). In the international system, the perceptual perspective examines one’s own self-perception. “Because they compare their state to others, leaders see their state small.” (Hey, 2003). According to Keohane, a small power is a state that recognizes that it cannot achieve security solely through its own capabilities and must rely on the assistance of other states, institutions, processes, or developments to do so; other states involved in international politics must recognize the Small Power’s inability to rely on its own means (Keohane, 1969:293).
The understanding that I can extract after reviewing the definitions so far is, some scholars concluded that; power relation is what matters the most, a small state is a part of an asymmetric relationship that can’t modify the relationship’s nature or functioning on its own (Archer, Bailes and Wivel, 2014, p. 9; see also Long, 2017). The regional context and the relational character of national power are the most important contexts here.
Nepal certifies to be included in the “small state” category, according to the understanding of the concept. From many viewpoints, Nepal appears to be a small country. To begin with, according to World Bank data, it has a population of 28.98 million people, “which is one million fewer than David Vital’s cutoff level for impoverished countries.” (p.g. 47 in Dhurba). Its GDP is 0.027 percent of global GDP, which is far lower than Karl Deutch’s highest limit of 1%. (See Figure 2) In the regional context, Nepal is a small country wedged between two large powers: China and India which are great states and middle states respectivelyNepal is 47.58 times smaller than China and 45.68 times smaller than India in terms of population. The GDP of China is nearly 530 times that of Nepal. The GDP of India is 107 times that of Nepal. Geographically China is 65.20 times the size of Nepal, and India is 22.33 times the size of Nepal. These data are sufficient to remind us of Nepal’s ‘smallness’ and power imbalance with its immediate neighbors. Furthermore, when it comes to military spending, China’s defense budget is 770 times larger than Nepal’s, and India’s defense budget is 242.85 times larger than Nepal’s.
Since a country’s geographical location, size, natural resources, population, and other physical and environmental features influence and determine a country’s political, military, economic, and cultural characteristics, it is worthwhile to discuss the historical development of Nepal’s foreign relations with China and India; various bilateral treaties with these nations; and the dynamics of these relations in Nepal’s geo-politics, socio-economy, culture; and different issues related to it.
Historical Background of Nepal
Nepal has a long and illustrious history of independence. The world’s greatest powers have been through turbulent history – demolition, dissolution, and colonization – but Nepal has never faced such a battle. Following the successful unification expedition, Nepal’s founder, King Prithvi Narayan Shah, created initial foreign policy guidelines based on the country’s geopolitics. “He compared Nepal’s geographical condition to a yam between two stones,’ referring to Nepal’s two major neighbors, China and India. King Prithvi Narayan Shah was “not just a brilliant warrior, but also a visionary leader who correctly assessed Nepal’s geopolitical sensitivities and pursued a non-aligned foreign policy” (Khanal 2019, p. 92). He also stated that it was critical for the county to have a healthy relationship with these two massive neighbors. To grasp the requirements of the delicate scenario, he carefully designed a balanced relationship and kept a correct distance. He stated that Nepal should be cautious with the south while maintaining tight ties with China in the north.
King Prithvi Narayan Shah, likewise, dismissed the European missionaries and clearest who had come to spread Christianity. He advised that Nepal should maintain a strong friendship with China for the rest of its life (Khanal 2019). However, when it came to the British in the South, he advised keeping goodwill while simultaneously warning of their cunning. Prithvi Narayan shah recommended forcefully to preserve a protocol of goodwill with the Emperor of China, in accordance with the regional neighbors. He also underlined the necessity of relations with the Emperor of the Southern Seas, as well as the British Company in Hindustan (Adhikari, 2015). He was emphatic in his warning that Nepal should not engage in military action against either of them. Its readiness should be limited to defensive warfare exclusively. Prithvi Narayan Shah had no desire to expand his empire. His primary goal was to unify Nepal.
This explains why Prithvi Narayan did not pillage Kathmandu after conquering it. Not only that, but his civilized decent treatment of the people of Kathmandu reassured them, and he picked Kantipur as his capital. The Kingdom that he unified has not only remained unified to this day, but it also continues to exist independently and expresses the people’s collective consciousness (Khanal 2019). The core pillars of Nepal’s foreign policy were explicitly formed by King Prithvi Narayan Shah, and despite many changes in the terrain, they remained the same. We must not forget that Nepal’s geographical location grabbed international attention at a time when the world’s power balance was changing away from Asia. This upheaval in the global diplomatic order provided the impetus for putting Nepal in the spotlight as a country with both prospects and challenges.
Prithvi Narayan Shah handled all incoming foes with care and purpose, maintaining a balanced relationship with the large nations on both sides. Following Prithvi Narayan Shah, foreign policy was conducted entirely in the interests of rulers, rather than the needs of the nation or its people. Ranas has always been a loyal servant of British India, assisting them in maintaining uninterrupted rule over the country. When the Ranas lost power, King Mahendra, the son of King Tribhuvan, boldly multi-formed Nepal’s relations with China while compromising with India to keep a secret armaments transaction going. King Birendra effectively created the philosophy of non-alignment soon after King Mahendra‘s death. However, the nonalignment policy formed at that time couldn’t be implemented successfully due to high political instability.
When the nation adopted democracy after revolutions in 2008 AD, this period found less interest in formulating or conducting the foreign policy of the nation. Due to this ignorance, the southern neighbor intervention became highly influenced on the domestic affairs of Nepal. Besides, the counter-strategy was constantly seen by the northern neighbors. However, after this long interval of political instability, when the government slowly inclined to federalism and settled peacefully, the situation became stable with the overwhelming majority focusing on economic development and prosperity, attention was given to the formulation of foreign policy and protection of the state’s sovereignty was taken as a prime achievement. Talking about the present situation. The republic constitution of the state has successfully set out the journey towards “Happy Nepal, Prosperous Nepal”
The government has taken a balanced foreign policy approach to India and China, openly asking both countries to invest in Nepal. A neighborhood policy has been established, and mutually beneficial relationships have been put into practice. The balanced relationship that has been adopted by Nepal does not indicate absolute balance but relative balance. Previously the same term was known as “equidistance” and later on was called “equal proximity” until we formulated a balance relation foreign policy. In this context, we can see how adopting balance relations is more inclined towards geographical urgency rather than just forming a policy.
Nepal’s history has carried a gentle balance. At times it seemed to be inclined from one side to other but anyhow it maintained its sovereignty safety at times of political instability. Khadga Prasad Oli, the 41st Prime minister of Nepal; was elected twice, his first contribution (12 October 2015 – 4 August 2016) wasn’t satisfactory but the second time (15 February 2018 – 13 July 2021), his innings can’t be ignored. His contribution towards maintaining foreign policy was convenient. He gave a foreign policy speech in which he officially introduced the ‘Neighborhood Policy,’ in which the balanced relationship with both neighbors was mentioned (Foreign Policy Speech, 2018)
Geopolitics’: Need for Carefully Designed Foreign Policy
A non-aligned approach to relations with neighbors has been in practice much before Nepal’s formal integration in 1961, as is evident in the address of the then prime minister; On September 29, 1960, Bisheshwar Prasad Koirala addressed the 15th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, telling the international body, “Every international issue has been decided on its own merits, without regard for anyone’s fear or favor.” This has helped to develop and transform relations with neighbors with dignity in difficult times. Says Dinesh Bhattarai, (a former ambassador and foreign affairs adviser to Sushil Koirala) in an interview. Furthermore, he emphasizes “Geopolitical variables have a significant impact on a country’s attitude toward its neighbors. By defying geopolitical reality, one invites a world of extreme ambiguity and uncertainty. Nepal’s non-alignment necessitates looking beyond short-term goals in order to pursue a pragmatic foreign policy based on local realities..”
Given its geographical location, Nepal is fully aware of its duties towards its neighbors. Nepal can’t afford to choose sides, and it doesn’t want to. There will be chaos as soon as it chooses sides. Nepal is still non-aligned and considers each topic on its own merits. Nepal has had a policy of not allowing its territory to be used against its neighbors and friends for a long time. Nepal has regularly and explicitly stated that its soil will under no circumstances be utilized for hostile actions against its neighbors or other countries (The Kathmandu post. 2011). Similarly, Nepal expects other countries to respect its security and sovereignty by not allowing actions that are harmful to its interests to take place on their soil. It also includes, “Even if non-aligned countries lose their global position, non-alignment will remain significant for Nepal in the changing global situation..” Non-alignment is a strategy for Nepal’s survival as a free and sovereign nation.
“Foreign policy experts and observers say that since a new kind of cold war is emerging, Nepal has become the center of two rising powers—India and China—and during rapid geopolitical shift and flux, a very careful and balanced policy is needed for Nepal in this new emerging context,” said the Nepali delegation led by Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka who attended the meeting of the founder members in Serbia (October 2021). “The new cold war that is forming is not the same as the previous one,” said Professor Sridhar Khatri, adding, “Because we are sandwiched between two great countries and are the focus of geopolitical attention, a small country like Nepal requires a well-thought-out foreign strategy.”
“There were two aspects to it. One, independence. That, I believe, will continue to be a factor in our survival. The other was in the 1950s and 1960s when we were far more vulnerable. Today, though, individuals come to us for help. We are not bystanders; we have a role to play. We are involved in discussions about connectivity, marine security, terrorism, and climate change. Third, we will expand by taking advantage of foreign opportunities, and you can’t do that by staying away. The era of great caution and a much greater sense of multilateral relations is behind us. “We must take risks.,” Jaishankar had said, “Many interpreted this as India’s shift from its earlier non-alignment posture.”
Analyzing the collected documents, it is crystal clear that the formulation of nonaligned foreign policy was initially based on geographical proximity between two powers rather than the concerning any other factors. Due to its geopolitical and economic underdevelopment, Nepal’s foreign policy has remained a challenging, serious, and sensitive topic. Nepal’s geopolitical and geostrategic location has compelled it to pursue a balanced foreign policy with its close neighbors while dealing with foreign policy issues. The concept of a “balanced relationship” is also important in determining Nepalese foreign policy. Many Indian foreign policymakers emphasized India’s special relationship with Nepal and became vocal critics of Nepal’s balanced relationship strategy, claiming that the two countries are too close culturally, economically, geographically, and socially (Singh and Shah, 2016:56). The topic of balanced relationships has always been a point of contention.
Foreign policy formulation based on political party lines has resulted in more basic concerns. The leftist government is frequently accused of having a “pro-Chinese policy,” while the rightist or centrist government has a “pro-India strategy.” However, it is a geopolitical reality that no Nepalese government can be either “pro-Chinese” or “pro-Indian.” As a result, when engaging with our near neighbors, we should maintain equi-proximity. Nepal, on the other hand, has remained neutral in the India-China war. In relation to the Doklam dispute, Nepal stated in June 2017 that it will remain impartial in the ongoing India-China stalemate and that it wants the dispute to be handled peacefully. In the 1962 Indo-China war, Nepal likewise remained neutral.
Further, as reliable evidence to match my findings, we can take Bhutan as an instance to generalize my argument. It is a landlocked country in the Eastern Himalayas, located between China and India. Bhutan’s foreign policy is shaped by its history, geopolitical location, and ever-changing regional and global strategic environment. Furthermore, the kingdom’s restricted resources for pursuing its national goals and interests have a significant impact on how its foreign policy is designed. Bhutan’s main aim has been to keep its domestic politics coherent with its national interest and avoid the splintering of its political sphere into pro-India and pro-China voices.
The conclusion extracted from my research paper is quite clear. Geo politic has played a vital role in formulating foreign policy as the main aim of each small state is to safeguard its sovereignty and its territories. Security strategies are pursued by small states in a variety of ways (For the complete assessment of tiny state security policies, see Baker Fox, 1959). They have the option of remaining neutral or joining coalitions, as well as bandwagoning or balancing. But in case of Nepal as it is located between two competitive big powers compelled Nepal to stay neutral to both and stay nonaligned. Aligning with one will become a threat to another provoking the way of war. “The ability of the neutral small state to establish that it is truly neutral and poses no threat to larger nations is critical to its existence.” (Karsh, 1988) Neutrality may be the only reasonable course of action for minor states caught between two hostile large powers. the reach data analysis is strong enough to prove the firmness of the hypothesis I chose at the beginning of the paper. The foreign policy of small states may differ slightly from each other, but the small states situated in between two major powers, this geographical location compel the small state to choose a nonaligned and balance policy due to fact of security dilemma for both the small as well as great powers on either side.
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