Many of us tend to believe that foreign policy is primarily an elitist domain. This is a general belief not only in Nepal but also in the world as a whole. Foreign policy is the domain of the government, and the ordinary people are not directly involved in foreign policy formulation and its execution. But in the present and modern world wherein democracy has become a common global lingua franca, foreign policy, too, is becoming the subject of public scrutiny.
Foreign policy is said to be the extension of domestic policy. Foreign policy formulation and execution is, therefore, not an independent entity, but a part of overall governance. Since a democratic government consists of elected representatives, the people, too, have an indirect participation in foreign policy formulation and execution. The foreign ministry appears to be the core agency in executing foreign policy, but it is the legislative and executive which are responsible for foreign policy formulation.
Our parliament has international relations and a labour committee to look into the issues concerning foreign policy and international relations. The parliament a few years ago prepared a document specifying Nepal’s national interest, foreign policy priorities and issues concerning the guidelines for the conduct of Nepal’s foreign policy. However, this document seems to be still gathering dust somewhere in the shelves of the parliament building.
The fundamental basis of foreign policy of any country is, beyond any shade of doubt, national interest. Similarly, foreign policy is also the extension of domestic policy. Thus, foreign policy is just a political tool to pursue and protect the national interest defined by the state. While foreign policy is a tool to protect its national interest abroad, diplomacy is a tactical procedure to ensure that the foreign policy goals are achieved.
The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic Nepal has clearly defined Nepal’s national interests. The Article 5 of the Constitution states: “Safeguarding of freedom, sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, independence, and dignity of Nepal, the rights of the Nepalese people, border security, economic wellbeing and prosperity shall be the basic elements of the national interest of Nepal”. Thus, our foreign policy seeks to and will be guided to protect and promote these elements of national interests.
Similarly, the Article 51 (M) under the State Policies specifies the policies relating to international relations as being directed to conducting an independent foreign policy based on the Charter of the United Nations, non-alignment, principles of Panchsheel ( five principles of peaceful co-existence), international law and the norms of world peace, taking into consideration overall interest of the nation, while remaining active in safeguarding Nepal’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and national interest. It also states that review of treaties concluded in the past, and concluding new treaties and agreements based on equality and national interest have been the other component of the state policy.
According to thinkers and philosophers like Niccolo Machiavelli and Kautilya, foreign policy is international power politics whereas diplomacy is an art of war to be fought without weapons but with words. It, therefore, requires astute diplomacy and skilled diplomats to successfully implement foreign policy and achieve the goals set forth. The foreign ministry is the core institution to implement foreign policy and handle diplomacy with a number of countries and international as well as regional organisations sometimes directly and most of the time through Nepal’s missions stationed in different countries abroad.
The foreign ministry is headed by a politician or a foreign minister, who is representative of the people. Since the ministry is handled by people’s representative, it, in principle, means that the people have a say in and control over the foreign policy handling and conducting diplomacy. However, the minister only provides policy guidelines, but it is the bureaucrats in the ministry and diplomats, including both careerists as well as political appointees, who handle the foreign policy and diplomacy both at home and abroad. This is the reason why the foreign policy and its handling are often dubbed as an elitist vocation. It is not necessarily implied that the foreign policy should be kept away from the public domain. It is also the parliament that designs or approves the policy of the government including the foreign policy, which is a self-evident of the control and a say of the people’s representatives in the foreign policy formulation.
In a democracy, transparency and accountability are the key features that make the government or those who are in the helms of affairs, including the ones handling the foreign policy and conducting diplomacy responsible to the people. The practice of parliamentary hearing for ambassadors is meant to make the diplomats responsible to the people-elected institution and to the people. It is this reason why the Constitution of Nepal has incorporated the provision of parliamentary hearing for the key political appointees, including the ambassadors. This is how the people’s control over the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy is maintained. It is deemed necessary because the foreign policy is a part of the governance and political process, and there must be an active and meaningful participation of the people in the debate, discourse and decision-making process more particularly in the formulation and conduct of the foreign policy.
According to former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, diplomacy is the war without fatal weapons in which there is only victory. In the similar vein, Sun Tzu, a famous war strategist in ancient China, says diplomacy is the supreme art of war to subdue the enemy without fighting. It is widely said that war begins only when diplomacy fails. War cannot solve the problem, and it is the diplomacy that is required to settle the disputes even after the war. In the military war, none wins and both sides lose. But in diplomacy, all sides win as disputes and conflicts are managed and resolved in mutually acceptable terms.
Nepal is a small economy with limited resources having little at hand to influence in the international community. Only effective and vibrant diplomacy can protect our national interest abroad and build our positive image in the international community. But foreign policy and diplomacy seem to have drawn a little attention of the politicians and the policy makers, which has made our foreign policy not as effective and strong as it should have been. Diplomacy has multi-layers through which all institutions are mobilised to make diplomacy more vibrant and effective to cope with the newer and more complicated challenges. However, it seems to be glaringly lacking when it comes to practical handling of our foreign policy and diplomacy. The government and its diplomatic missions are primarily responsible for the conduct of diplomacy. However, in the present era of globalisation marked by technological revolution, other tracts or public diplomacy plays equally important role in reaching out to the world and building Nepal’s image abroad. Civil society groups, business chambers and professional bodies, too, need to be fully utilised and mobilised in close coordination with the foreign ministry and our missions abroad in order to make our diplomacy effective.