Nepal faces numerous challenges to its national security. Yet, the government has not put out an official document outlining a national security policy for Nepal. Why is it that Nepal does not have a well articulated national security policy (NSP) document? There is, after all, an active debate on national security issues in the media, among political parties’ and in their documents and in numerous other forums. There could be two reasons why despite all the talk, we have been unable to actually evolve a policy.
First, there is no political consensus in the country on national security issues. For instance, there is no consensus on how to treat challenges from India and China. Government policies on these issues have fluctuated. To give another example, there is little agreement on how to deal with the emerging security challenges in a possible federal democratic republic of Nepal. Similarly, the views of political parties on internal and external security challenges vary. Overall, politicians are less clear about what national security really means.
In the aftermath of the declaration of the federal democratic republic (FDR) Nepal, there were several debates on developing a national security policy. Some initiatives – like forming committees for the formulation of NSP – have been taken by the government. But, most of these are merely ad hoc measures. The parliamentary committee on national interest under the now dissolved Constituent Assembly (CA) has also taken the responsibility of developing a national security policy for Nepal. But it has not clearly defined what ‘national security for Nepal’ encompasses, what the challenges are and how we will manage them.
Second, the government has not been able to address the crucial issue of coordination required to formulate and address issues of national security. Nepal did not have a National Security Council (NSC) till 1990. After the establishment of democracy in 1990, the concept of NSC was introduced in the constitution of 1991. But, the NSC to a large extent remains defunct, although it has a clear constitutional guideline.
This reflects Nepal inability to forge and develop a national security policy. And though it is mainly politicians who are responsible for it, bureaucrats also need to be held equally accountable for this. Moreover, the role of NSC has been continually emphasized in the Interim Constitution of 2007, even though it has actually undermined the NSC by excluding the army chief from it. Article 145 of Interim Constitution says, ‘1) there shall be NSC in order to make recommendations to the Council of Ministers on mobilization, operation and use of the Nepal Army considering of the following Chairperson and members. a.) Prime Minister-Chairman b) The Defense Minister-Member, c) Home Minister-Member, d) Three ministers designated by the Prime Minister representing three different political parties from among the parties in the Council of Ministers-Member.’
Undermining the NSC like this clearly shows a lack of clear understanding among political leaders on the role of NSC and the necessity of developing a national security policy. Rather than focusing on developing a clear NSP, political leaders have focused on alienating the army from national security issues. The NSC’s role should not be limited to managing and mobilizing the army but rather to draft a national security policy. It should collect, analyze and inform the executive head and provide direct information related to security issues. It is necessary that the NSC be given this role with the creation of the post of national security advisor (NSA), who would be the point person for coordinating and providing timely information to the executive head.
He/she would be responsible for coordinating, liaising and managing security policy issues. We do not have such a set-up yet, nor do we seem to be taking any initiatives towards developing such an organizational culture. We should learn some lessons from other countries, for instance, on how the National Security Council can function effectively, what is the role of an NSA and what is the suitable bureaucratic/political mechanism to develop NSP.
Nepal needs a national security policy urgently in the backdrop of a rapidly changing world, where new security challenges have arisen both regionally and globally. In the absence of a coherent policy, the government’s responses will remain ad hoc and partial. This may prove to be costly for us. NSP was discussed at length in the meetings of National Preservation committee and committee on State Restructuring and Distribution of State Power under the dissolved CA. The committees have drafted and submitted their preliminary concept papers to the CA chair. The papers of both committees have suggested ensuring ‘national unity, national security, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the people in a federal structure while respecting the rights and identity of the Nepali people.’
Nepal needs a national security policy urgently in the backdrop of changing world where new security challenges have arisen both regionally and globally.
However, a detailed analysis of these policy papers should be conducted and a proper mechanism should be developed to inform policy makers through sound academic research and urge them to draft a comprehensive strategy rather than allowing them to develop such policies on an ad hoc basis. At the same time, it should be noted that these committees under the dissolved CA have recommended formulating a national security policy to the state. They have not come up with an NSP themselves but have instead suggested the areas that need to be considered while developing such a policy.
There is an urgent need to build a broad political consensus on national security issues. An official national security policy document - for the next 10 years – is key to the nation’s security and to clarify any confusion about national security matters as well as to consolidate the government’s responses. The government of Nepal previously constituted a five-member cabinet committee to submit recommendations on national security policy under the defence minister in February 2010 as per the Article 144 of the Interim Constitution.
However, the government could not come up with an NSP and a similar committee has been formed under the present government. The big question is why Nepal has not been able to formulate an NSP despite constitutional provisions and even though successive governments have formed different committees to help develop it. We need to start analyzing both the internal and external factors that are preventing us from developing a comprehensive national security policy. Once these factors are identified and resolved, we will perhaps be in better position to evolve such a strategy.