Nepal’s Plan To Strengthen Ties With Russia Can Optimize Its Geopolitical Balancing Act
Left unchecked, this trilateral security dilemma between China, India, and the US in Nepal – which is unique in modern-day International Relations – could spiral out of control to the detriment of its domestic stability in the worst-case scenario.
Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who’s known as Prachanda and is presently serving his third non-consecutive term in office, just gave his first interview to TASS. It’s in Russian but can be read by anyone using Google Translate. He proposed resuming direct flights, cooperating on hydroelectric projects, and expressed his eagerness to travel to Moscow sometime soon. All told, Prachanda arguably envisages Nepal relying on Russia for optimizing its geopolitical balancing act, which is very pragmatic.
For those who don’t know much about his country, it’s sandwiched between China and India, which have been embroiled in a fierce rivalry from 2017 that almost led to war three summers ago. Nepal has also transformed from a Hindu monarchy to a federal republic since the start of this century as part of the peace process that ended its civil war from 1996-2006. Regional and partisan divisions, the influence of the Sino-Indo rivalry, and suspected American meddling continue to complicate the situation, however.
It's within this complex context that Prachanda gave his first interview to Russian media, which lends credence to the earlier assessment that he envisages relying on it for optimizing Nepal’s geopolitical balancing act between China, India, and the US. Without incorporating a Russian dimension to Nepal’s foreign policy, it’ll remain at risk of having its bilateral ties with each of those three misinterpreted by at least one of them as possibly directed against it, which lead to unexpected problems with that country.
Simply put, Nepal is caught in what International Relations scholars describe as a typical security dilemma whereby peacefully intentioned moves by one country – irrespective of whether they’re unilateral or done jointly with others – are misinterpreted by another as threatening. That second-mentioned country then undertakes its own peacefully intentioned moves designed to improve its position in the face of this perceived threat, thus risking the other responding and so on and so forth.
This observation about Nepal’s sensitive geostrategic situation isn’t speculative either but was strongly alluded to by Prachanda himself when he told TASS that “Nepal is located between two Asian giants - India and China - and for us this is a very sensitive geopolitical situation. Certain contradictions are observed between China and the United States, China and India. Even India and the United States may see the regional situation in South Asia differently. Very complex processes take place here.”
Accordingly, Nepal is thrown on the horns of a dilemma whereby its purely peaceful ties with one country in either of these three pairs risks being misinterpreted by the other, which can result in his country coming under more pressure in response. Left unchecked, this trilateral security dilemma – which is unique in modern-day International Relations – could spiral out of control to the detriment of Nepal’s domestic stability in the worst-case scenario.
The only one of those three that has any interest in bringing about that outcome is the US, and even then only as a last resort since it would prefer to turn Nepal into a bastion of regional influence instead of abandon the country to anarchy as a short-term Hybrid War weapon against China and India. Nevertheless, instability could still unintentionally re-emerge in Nepal as a result of the aforementioned trilateral security dilemma, which is precisely what Prachanda envisages averting via ties with Russia.
To explain, Russia has equally significant strategic partnerships with China and India despite those two’s rivalry, and they both fully trust its intentions even though they fully distrust one another. For that reason, neither of Nepal’s neighbors is expected to view its strengthened ties with Russia as a threat, which can thus lead to Kathmandu relying more on Moscow as a valve from Sino-Indo pressure. Prachanda’s interest in contracting its services on a hydroelectric project is an example of this in practice.
Instead of choosing between China or India and risking the other doubting their rival’s intentions, reacting per the security dilemma precept of International Relations theory, and worsening regional tensions, he’s reaching out to Russia, whose possible participation neither of them will object to. The only one of his country’s three top partners right now that might have a problem with this is the US, but even it might temper its reaction out of fear that overreacting could discredit the US in Prachanda’s eyes.
In that event, not only might he seek to distance his country from it in response such as if it threatens sanctions or is found to have played a role in organizing protests against him, but China and India might pragmatically put aside their rivalry for a moment in pursuit of their shared interest in driving the US out. Neither wants the US turning Nepal into its bastion of regional influence, which could still be weaponized for Hybrid War purposes against them even without abandoning it to anarchy, hence this forecast.
For instance, the US’ state capture of Nepal could lead to that country either hosting Tibetan separatists-militants or imposing discriminatory policies against the southern-dwelling Indian-connected Madhesis, which is why both rivals have a shared interest in preventing that from happening. Prachanda appears to be calculating that the US will exercise self-restraint in response to him reaching out to Russia because it obviously doesn’t want to see China and India tacitly working in tandem to oust it from there.
For whatever criticisms some in China, India, and the US might have about his country’s relations with either of those other two, he objectively deserves praise from observers for attempting to pioneer a creative solution to Nepal’s trilateral security dilemma by cultivating strategic ties with Russia. Prachanda apparently predicts that this will reshape the competitive dynamics that have risked destabilizing the region as explained, and it’ll be interesting to monitor the progress of this policy to see if he succeeds.