Iran’s Nuclear Aspirations


For the last few years no issue other than Iran’s nuclear ambitions has captured the global agenda more frequently. An interim nuclear agreement sealed between Iran and world’s major powers on 16 November 2013, has raised hopes of settlement in the foreseeable future.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council viz China, France, Russia, UK, and the U.S. plus one (Germany) have been engaged in negotiations with Iran for years in order to reach an acceptable conclusion of nuclear impasse of Iran ever since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world’s nuclear watchdog, raised alarm bells about intentions of Iranian nuclear program.

Nevertheless, Iran has been defending that peaceful use of its nuclear program has been authorized under the provisions of the Treaty on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation of the Nuclear Weapons (NPT), of which it is one of the parties. Undisputedly, any member of the NPT possesses the legitimate right to pursue nuclear program for non-military objectives. Additionally, the nuclear members of the NPT, have the obligation to assist non-nuclear weapon states members of the treaty in conducting nuclear research by providing nuclear fuel and related technology.

The debate of Iran’s nuclear program has been revolving around whether Iran can go ahead with its so-called nuclear research program, if it is in conformity with the articles of the NPT. The treaty provisions are obligatory on the part of the world’s major powers (P5+Germany), being treaty members, the main purpose of which is to establish the global regime of nuclear nonproliferation.

The main points of difference between the major powers and Iran are related to adherence to the provisions of the NPT. Iran says that it is not in contravention of the treaty because there is no military dimension to its nuclear program whereas the west has suspicion about the same.

It is the exactly this background against which the approach of the western countries vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear problem has been designed in adopting UN resolutions critical of Iran and imposition of economic sanctions on the country with a view to pressurizing the Iranian government to forgo nuclear enrichment program.

Unfortunately, the imposition of severe economic sanctions impacting on the country’s economy, the Iranian leadership apparently looks determined not to abandon nuclear weapons capability by the harsh reality that establishes that once the nation is deprived of nuclear weapons, it falls prey to outside military intervention.

In 2011 Libya’s loss of sovereignty by coercive action under the guise of UN authorization to compel then Libyan leader to cede power, many have apprehensions that a country can be forced to surrender to outside interference in case it has no nuclear weapons. It is a fact that Libya had a few nuclear weapons until it surrendered them in the wake of its agreement with the west to cultivate normal friendly relations as it had been thrown into isolation for years following its involvement in Pan Am disaster in the 1980s.

Ominously, Ukraine crisis seen as reflected in Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which headquarters the Russian Black Sea Fleet, is signaling to the world that non-nuclear weapon state very often becomes vulnerable to external threat. Suffice it to say that until 1994 Budapest Memorandum was signed by the U.S., UK and Russia designed to provide Ukraine a kind reassurance about security, Ukraine was a nuclear weapon state. This agreement did not however guarantee the Ukrainian territorial integrity but helped Ukraine give up nuclear weapons it inherited from former Soviet Union. Ukraine acceded to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state in 1994.

Some pessimists conclude that a comprehensive agreement to peacefully resolve the Iranian nuclear problem is less likely in the aftermath of prolonged crises in Syria and Ukraine. They have credible grounds to justify their analyses. Russia’s relations with the U.S. in particular, and with the European Union, have strained severely in the wake of recent economic sanctions against Russia for its adventurism in Ukraine. The role of Russia in facilitating settlement in both Syria and Iran is too crucial to ignore. Evidence shows that the UN resolutions criticizing Syria have been vetoed by Russia. Russia is one of the main interlocutors with Iran under the framework of P5+One (Germany).

At a time when the west sorely needs to have a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, the advice from George F. Kennan to the current American leadership is quite opportune. Frank Costigiliola in his New York Times (22 February 2014) column “What Would George F. Kennan say to Obama” has said that Kennan believed that the wisest foreign policy limited military intervention abroad while affording hard-headed diplomacy.

Against the backdrop of negligible progress in concluding a permanent nuclear agreement with Iran to replace the interim one of November last, Kennan’s emphasis on diplomacy and soft power looks more pragmatic as he propounds that these instruments are most cost-effective in influencing a rival’s intentions.

One may prudently recall the past history of bilateral relations between the U.S. and Iran before suggesting a more viable way to normalize them let alone advising on how the nuclear deal can be expedited. The hopes for nuclear deal have been ambitiously raised in the aftermath of conciliatory UN speech in September 2014 by the incumbent Iranian president.

It is certain that the people of Iran require reassurance in the form of respect for their prestige, who nurture both pride in their history and resentment of their humiliations, such as the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of their elected leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1953.

There is no doubt that an internationally-verifiable and acceptable comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran is essential to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power. Nonetheless, Iran deserves to be recognized as an NPT non-military nuclear power. Once again Kennan’s counsel that a settlement resented as unfair would be undermined by overt or covert resistance is still worthy of consideration. The controversial 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Friendship is not an exception either.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Containment Doctrine Revisited


The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has deeper ramifications for the post WWII world order. Coincidentally, the adventurism reflected in Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a territory of a neighboring Ukraine has occurred at a time when the international community looks forward to view in retrospect, the hundredth anniversary of the bloodiest war of the century.

Christopher R. Hills, the dean of political science, Harvard University has succinctly remarked in his project-analysis essay “The end of world order” that the bedrock of the foreign policy embraced by the global leaders in the aftermath of the II World War (1939-45) has crumbled following accusation of a nation state’s sovereignty by another powerful neighbor.

The doyen of American foreign policy George F. Kennan, who is widely considered to be the main architect of West’s containment policy of Cold War era, has been quoted by Robert Skidelsky in his latest article “Kennan’s Revenge” carried by project-analysis. Kennan in 1996 commented that NATO’s   expansion into former Soviet territory was a “strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions”. This demonstrates the fallacy of western policy vis-à-vis Russia, which has also contributed to Putin’s revanchist approach in its dealing with Ukraine.

Moreover, at some quarters it has been  stated by some analysts that the 1994 Budapest Memorandum signed by the U.S. UK ,Russia and Ukraine, that led to abandonment of substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons of Ukraine, has motivated the present leadership of Russia to infringe upon the sovereignty of the neighbor. Then in 1994 Ukraine decided to accede to the Treaty on the Nuclear Nonproliferation of the Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state. Following commitment by the west, especially the U.S. to the protection of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and political independence, Ukraine had remained assured of security. This commitment from the western countries has not been fulfilled as seen in their ineffective response to Putin’s flagrant violation of Ukrainian territorial integrity.

Understandably, no coercive action against Russia can be approved from the United Nations Security Council because of Russian possession of veto power.  It makes one surprised however, to know that even the UN vote by the General Assembly on March 27 last concerning Ukraine crisis could not be supported by America’s closest ally in the Middle East.  A former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Itamar Rabinovich has discussed Israel’s Ukraine Dilemma thoroughly in a recent essay (project-analysis), which shows how America has become weaker in international affairs failing to garner even its most reliable partner’s support in UN.

The UN General Assembly resolution 68/262 on crisis in Ukraine was not supported by Israel for no other reason than that it decided to compromise on its adherence to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter only not to antagonize a powerful country Russia, which has been a strong backer of Syria in latter’s protracted civil war with immediate impact on Israel’s security.

It would be propitious to recall the famous UNGA resolution 2625(XXV) of 24 October 1970, which has been referred to in resolution 68/262 and deserves scrutiny at a time when a UN member like Israel shows disregard for UN’s cardinal principles in its lack of support for demanding protection of a fellow nation’s territorial integrity. The resolution 2625 has approved the Declaration of Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the UN. One of the most important principles emphasized in UN’s Charter (Article 2) is that no territory of a State shall be the object of occupation by another State resulting from the threat or use of force, and that any attempt at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of a State or country or at its political independence is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter.

Judged against the above principles contained in resolution XXV (24 October 1970), the behavior of Russian leader with regard to Ukraine is completely in contravention of Charter of the UN. Russia’s Putin may try to justify the annexation of Crimea on the basis of so-called referendum in the disputed territory of Ukraine conducted last month. It needs to be borne in mind that the results of above referendum were foregone conclusion as Russian-speaking communities were then encouraged to vote for secession.

The recent developments in Ukraine cannot be disregarded as trivial. Such events carry ominous significance for many other smaller nations that have contiguous borders with mighty neighbors. Nepal may not be an exception to this albeit our democratic government is encouragingly effortful to cultivate balanced bilateral relationships with her powerful immediate neighbors.

While Russia has been imposed economic sanctions by the western countries for its questionable behavior in connection with interference with her neighbor’s territorial integrity, its president Vladimir Putin has displayed Cold War-like reaction by announcing that gas giant Gazprom could start demanding advance payment for the energy supplies to Ukraine. This seems to be Russia’s evidence of further intimidation against a neighbor that relies heavily on it for the supply of energy. Nepal as a dependent of energy supplies has to face a similar situation off and on. We have to blame our own imprudent and unsustainable policies concerning petroleum products.

According to George F. Kennan, his containment doctrine was wrongly interpreted in the past. He has reemphasized that political and economic accommodation rather than military build ups would make containment policy more sustainable.

He has been quoted saying that under the popular banner of democracy and human rights, the west actively sought to pry the ex-Soviet countries from Russia’s orbit. Kennan cites the NATO membership of former Soviet republics like Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania as an act of imprudence on the part of the U.S. and Europe.

His advice to the policy makers in the west that they (U.S. and EU) should engage themselves in finding out the means to work with Russia is undisputable and it behooves on all stakeholders to realize that increasing confrontation rather than advancing collaboration with Russia would lead to further chaos not tranquility. The containment policy of last century is still relevant.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Diplomatic Drama!

  As the deadline of April 29 for agreeing on the core elements of future agreement on Middle East peace draws closer, the chances of resuming bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians seem more remote. The bilateral talks started since July under the auspices of the U.S. administration, have recently hit snags as blame game continues between the concerned parties to the peace negotiations.

The concerted efforts of the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to keep the negotiating process alive amid growing tensions between the Palestinian Authority and Israel notwithstanding, indications are that an agreement on core principles for guiding the future peace deal is less likely.

The parties are busy blaming the other partner for disruption and this may be their tact to convince their own constituencies about their sincerity to negotiate in good faith. The latest episode impeding talks is the allegation of the Palestinians that Israel has not fulfilled its promise of releasing the Palestinian prisoners as agreed earlier. Remaining stick to this accusation the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has decided to go ahead with their plan of joining 15 international conventions and treaties.

Reacting sharply to the above Palestinian move the Israeli government has warned of imposing further sanctions against the Palestinian Authority and has also threatened to stop releasing the Palestinian prisoners, a process which is already delayed.

Some commentators, in view of current stalemate in negotiations, have said, as reported in the New York Times, by Mark Lander under the title “Mideast Frustration, the Sequel” that the Middle East peace process has become a diplomatic drama playing on an endless loop. The same reporter has quoted John Kerry, as saying ‘both sides (Israel and Palestinians) have bore responsibility for unhelpful actions, the precipitating event was Israel’s announcement of 700 new housing units for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem.” Even the chief Israeli negotiator and a member of current cabinet Tzipi Livni has criticized her housing minister for non cooperation in the peace process by making inappropriate announcement of new construction in the occupied Arab land.

Against the background of eroding trust between the Israeli and the Palestinian negotiators in the recent times, Jodi Rudroren, a columnist for the New York Times in his report titled “Keeping Peace Talks Alive Has Become an End in Itself” has said,” Keeping the Palestinian track alive helps Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies in U.S. Congress from taking steps that could threaten diplomacy with Tehran.”

The reason why active diplomacy with Iran is so crucial to U.S. national interests is better explained by Thomas L. Friedman in his most recent op-ed column in the New York Times (Sunday Review, April 6, 2014). Friedman has said that by supporting Palestinian militants dedicated to destroying any peace process, Tehran hopes to keep Israel permanently mired in the West Bank (the Occupied Territory) and occupying 2.7 million Palestinians, denying them any statehood and preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state that might recognize Israel and live in peace alongside it.

The environment in peace talks has been poisoned by the series of accusation leveled by the Israeli side against the U.S. secretary of State John Kerry, who during his most recent testimony before the American Senate Relations Committee, has detailed the chain of events that led to the verge of breakdown of peace negotiations.

Isabel Kershnev of New York Times has said that Israel has been deeply disappointed by John Kerry’s remarks on peace talks. Kerry seems to have put the primary blame on Israel for the crisis in the American-brokered Middle East peace process. Israel has compared the current attitude of the Palestinians to that of 1967 in the immediate aftermath of Six-Day Arab-Israeli War, when the Israeli side annexed a large swathe of Arab territories including East Jerusalem, where illegal construction is disappointedly continuing.

In the famous Khartoum Resolution (1967) adopted by the Arab Heads of State certain principles were embraced, which in Israel’s opinion, were guided by the rejectionist policy vis-à-vis Israel. Then three Nos were highlighted viz no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiation with Israel.

In a recent opinion page of New York Times entitled “The Limits of Special ‘K’, columnist Roger Cohen, has said that neither side is serious today about a two-state peace settlement after nine months of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation in which John Kerry has invested significant resources shuttling between Washington and the Middle East several times.

Roger Cohen describes the present stalemate in peace talks as pathetic as more squabbling and horse-trading have been more clearly visible. It is difficult to disagree with him when he says that the gap between the maximum potential Israeli offer and minimum Palestinian demand has kept growing. The decision of the Israeli government to move forward with plans to build 700 new settlement units in Jerusalem reflects that the present coalition government of Netanyahu is determined not to surrender an inch of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. This is because of estrangement fueled by 66-year-old conflict and 47-year-old Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Surprisingly, Israel has been insisting on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state whereas it has not demanded the same of either Egypt or Jordan, the two Arab nations with whom it has signed peace treaties. This has reasonably infuriated the Palestine Authority at a time when Israel has also failed to meet its deadline of March last to release the fourth group of prisoners as promised earlier.

Worryingly, the Obama administration is domestically constrained to show the courage to state again what the president said in 2011 that any territorial settlement should be based on the 1967 lines with agreed land swaps, which is only possible foundation for realizing two-nation concept. Under the two-state framework Israelis and the Palestinians live alongside in peace, security, freedom, and prosperity. Considering this, one wonders whether the American-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a diplomatic drama.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Are Nukes Stabilizing Tools?


In the wake of the Ukrainian crisis sparked by Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea, a debate is reignited whether the possession of nuclear weapons helps stabilize the situation of conflict. Opinions differ on the long-held perception that nuclear weapons, if possessed by the two conflicting nations, are more likely to prevent the war between them.

Therefore, the Cold War theory of mutual assured destruction (MAD) is scrutinized at a time of heightened tensions between the East and the West. Some believe that the current crisis in Ukraine is similar to the confrontation between the Atlantic community (U.S. and EU) and Russia before the Berlin Wall fell.

A few commentators have doubts over Russia’s intimidation of Ukraine, if the latter had not eliminated its nuclear weapons in 1994. The existing nuclear weapons in Ukraine, which it inherited from former Soviet Union, were eliminated under Budapest Memorandums on Security Assurances (5 December, 1994) signed by Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and UK. The memorandums marked the decision of Ukraine to accede to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state.

The supporters of MAD have cited the events in history, when countries faced armed aggression owing to their non-acquisition of nukes. They provide the examples of Serbia (1999), Iraq (2003) and Libya (2011) to prove the vulnerability of non-nuclear weapon states. Their conclusion albeit is not without contention.

One of the critics of this perception is Gareth Evans, the former Foreign Minister Australia and the Chancellor of the Australian National University. He refutes the logic of MAD theory through his recent Project-Syndicate article “The Ukraine Nuclear Delusion”. To him the claim that the balance of nuclear terror (deterrence theory) between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union maintained peace in the world throughout the Cold War is not credible.

But the example of North Korea demonstrates that possession of nuclear weapons deters aggressors.  On a number of occasions North Korea has made provocations which would have invited military aggression had it abandoned nuclear weapons. Its defiance in continuing detonation of nuclear devices in 2009 and 2013 despite international community’s condemnation is evidence that the retention of nuclear weapons makes aggressors think twice before launching armed attacks.

The deterring value attributable to nuclear weapons notwithstanding, the existence of nuclear weapons involves serious risks to mankind. There are instances of false alarms about incoming nuclear attack. Fortunately, so far the danger of using nuclear weapons has been averted detecting the miscalculation of threat in time. Otherwise, both the attacker and the enemy would face annihilation.

Worryingly, the existence of nuclear weapon becomes riskier when the non-state actors especially the terrorist groups like the Al Qaeda vie for such weapons to increase their lethality of attack. Terrorists are always effortful either to steal away the nuclear secrets or to lure the possessors to sell the nuclear weapons to them. In both cases a great security threat exists for humanity and therefore, it has become more urgent than ever to make provisions worldwide so that nuclear weapons are safely stored and beyond the reach of terrorist organizations.

In this regard the initiative of securing nuclear materials by the respective countries deserves accolade. The American administration has prioritized the issue of nuclear security. It has been involved in organizing biannual nuclear security summit since 2010. The first such summit was held in Washington DC in which the countries operating nuclear power research reactors and possessing nuclear weapons took part. Then the participating countries pledged to take appropriate measures to secure the fissile materials including the nuclear fuels like uranium and plutonium along with the nuclear weapons.

The second nuclear security summit was organized in Seoul in 2012 and the meeting made further improvements in terms of securing nuclear materials. In 2014 the third nuclear security summit is being held in The Hague as part of biannual events. The last segment of such summits will be in the U.S. in 2016.

Writing an op-ed article in the New York Times “Highly Enriched Danger” Alan K Kuperman and Frank N. von Hippel have argued that the nuclear security summits have played a critical role in phasing out the use of highly enriched uranium as fuel in research reactors to prevent its misuse by states or terrorists to make nuclear weapons.

Those writers have also noted that the previous conclaves have failed to address the single largest use of such fuel in the nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers. They opine that the U.S., UK. Russia and India have introduced nuclear-powered submarines for their navies, which use highly enriched uranium.

Low enriched uranium, (enriched to less than 20 per cent) if used as fuel, is unlikely to be misused for producing nuclear weapons and this is why the world powers (five permanent members of UN Security Council and Germany) are negotiating with Iran and trying to persuade the latter not to enrich uranium to more than 20 %. However, Iran has been calling for nuclear-powered submarines fueled by highly enriched uranium, which would give it an excuse to produce and possess weapons-usable uranium. Endeavors to strike a permanent nuclear deal between world powers and Iran have yet to bear fruit despite two rounds of talks since 20 January, 2014 when the interim agreement on curtailing Iran’s enrichment program came into effect.

Alissa J. Rubin in “Second Round of Iran Nuclear Talks Ends with Optimism” (New York Times) comments that uranium enriched to 90% can be used to make a nuclear weapon, and it takes just a few months to increase enrichment from 20%-90%.

The adherents of MAD theory are of the view that the nukes act as stabilizing tools in managing conflicts. They try to justify by producing the example of avoidance of war between the major nuclear powers (U.S. and Soviet Union) during the Cold War. Nevertheless, nuclear weapons’ destructiveness as exemplified in World War II, and greater probability of catastrophe due to accidents, miscalculation and nuclear theft, it is difficult to value the possession and production of nukes, which are the weapons of mass destruction.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cold War II ?

As events unfold in Ukraine that reverberate growing tensions between West and East precipitated by Russia’s saber rattling, many fear that second Cold War may be in the offing. The crisis in Ukraine has deepened with Russia’s annexation of Crimea amid Western concerns, which started in November (2013) protests against the pro-Russian president, who was opposed to Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the European Union (EU).

With the disintegration of former Soviet Union in 1991 leading to the emergence of a number of independent republics, including Ukraine, a process of economic integration by joining the EU, has advanced. The EU, a regional organization for fostering economic and security relationship among its 28 members, comprised only the West European countries in the beginning. At present it is composed of many countries of East Europe, which used to be allied to the former Soviet Union until the Cold War ended in 1990.

Moreover, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance of western countries including the U.S., has made strides in accommodating former Soviet Union allies as new members. This is also known as the NATO’s eastward expansion. As this organization rivaled with former Soviet Union-led and now defunct Warsaw Pact during the Cold War, NATO’s expansion in East Europe has been resented by Russia.

Russia considers the disintegration of Soviet Union as its greatest geostrategic loss because it was deprived of an opportunity of exercising its power over a large geographic region. Charles Tannocle in his piece “Putin’s Kampf” (Project-Syndicate) has mentioned that Putin may regard Soviet Union’s disintegration as a tragedy but for China it was the greatest gift unimaginable. He adds that at a stroke , the empire that stole millions of hectares of Chinese territory over the centuries, and that threatened the People’s Republic with nuclear annihilation, simply vanished.

Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, has also described the breakup of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century. In displaying muscle power and intimidating Ukraine, a neighbor that also has sizeable population of Russian origin, maybe the Russian leader is trying to repeat the old legacies of annexing small territories in the neighborhood.

Charles Tonnacle recalls the World War history when the policy of appeasement pursued by the former British Prime Minister (May 1937-May 1940) Neville Chamberlain, reflected in 30 September, 1938 Munich Agreement (under the provision of which Sudetenland, then a part of Czechoslovakia, was given to Germany to appease Hitler). According to him, that policy failed as exemplified by Hitler’s March, 1939 annexation of rest of Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia.

The above events demonstrate the fact that even if Ukraine tries to please Russia by agreeing to legitimize the March 16 succession referendum to give a chance to the Russians inhabiting in Crimea, to decide whether they want to be the part of Russia, there is no guarantee that Ukrainian territorial integrity would be preserved.

At a time when crisis in Ukraine deepens with Russian troops guarding the military installations in Crimea showing no signs of withdrawal, the West’s response to it has been lukewarm. The U.S. and the EU have not come up with any concrete set of measures to restrain Russia from escalating the situation in Ukraine.

Russian leader Putin may have calculated the risk and decided not to budge anticipating that America, wary of decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and preoccupied with domestic issues, may not be forthcoming with more assertive steps to force Russia to go backwards.

The Ukrainian territory of Crimea, a peninsula with no contagious border with Russia, has a unique history of humiliation. It was under the Russian empire for two centuries until Nikita Khrushchev gave the same to Ukraine in 1954. For the Russians, Crimean territory carries more importance not only because it is predominantly populated by people of Russian origin but also because it hosts the Russian Black Sea Fleet under the bilateral basing agreement.

If history is any guide the Russians have more often championed the cause of the people of their ethnic group and advanced the same excuse for intervening in the affairs of other countries’ territories. The most recent of which was in 2008 when it launched military attacks against its own former republic arguing that the Georgian government then was not protecting fully the interests of the Russian populations in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Since then these two Russian enclaves have been the breakaway regions of Georgia waiting to be internationally recognized as independent provinces.

With Russian intention becoming clear based on its past behavior in 2008, 1979,1968, and 1956 , it is ironic to learn that the Atlantic community (the U.S. and EU) keeps its mum vis-à-vis the crisis in Ukraine. Some commentators have contended that free fall of Ukraine’s economy (IMF is learnt to be preparing to impose harsh austerity measures in the name of reform), and apprehension of possible Russian retaliation by cutting off energy supplies to Europe, the EU, in particular, has been hesitant to decide about economic sanctions, the likes of which are imposed on Iran for latter’s suspected uranium enrichment program.

The above worries of the Europeans is understandable in view of the fact Germany, the most powerful of 28-member bloc, which has the biggest economy among EU members, is dependent heavily on Russia for its energy needs. Germany is dependent on Russia for up to one third of its oil and gas and tens of billions of dollars in trade.

Recalling the observations of Jamie F. Met in the author’s Project-Syndicate piece “Back to Future in Ukraine and Asia” Russia is reenacting 19th century norms of international behavior, one cannot but opine that stationing of Russian forces in Crimea after the ouster of pro-Russian president Viktor Yakunovych is tantamount to the interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, which no civilized country can tolerate, let alone all those which believe in liberal internationalism.

Posted in Foreign Policy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trade Concerns of LDCs

At last the World Trade Organization (WTO) in its ninth ministerial conference at Bali, Indonesia could claim some success, which is facing the erosion of its credibility against its failure to produce any significant trade deal since it was formally established in 1995. The new trade agreement seeks to facilitate trade by streamlining customs procedures. Despite the limited advantage it grants the same has been received with skepticism, in particular, by some of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Looking at the remarks of the Finance and Trade Minister of Nepal, who was representing a forum of LDCs as its coordinator, it appears that Nepal is happy as many other developing countries in seeing a new deal that is likely to boost global trade prospects in general. As per the estimates of the trade experts in the wake of the Bali deal the annual world trade output would augment by $400 billion through the reduction of transaction costs. This sounds optimistic.

In this regard the observation of the new Brazilian WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo is quite euphoric. He has been quoted by the Economist in its recent coverage “Doha Delivers”. The WTO chief has said “At the heart of the deal is Trade Facilitationor measures to reduce costs by cutting red tape in customs procedures”.

Unsurprisingly the member states of the WTO have applauded the successful conclusion of the first multilateral trade agreement negotiated under the organization. It is no doubt the first fruit borne of the long barren Doha round of international trade talks. Trade negotiations launched in Doha since November 2001 have hardly been fruitful because of differences of various countries on issues ranging from agricultural subsidies to market access to the developing countries.

Although dubbed as development round Doha negotiations have remained an illusion failing to produce any package to promote global trade. The developing countries were more hopeful about the productive deals emanating from the Doha round in view of its professed emphasis on development issues. Quite contrary to what they expected the WTO has not produced any deal that could be counted as important from development point of view.

There was increasing criticism of the WTO as more and more countries were negotiating separate trade deals regionally and bilaterally. Multilateralism has been questioned because member countries’ expectations have not been met. A careful look at the recent history of trade negotiations reveals that there is growing charm for regional trade blocs rather than wait for any multilateral agreement. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is one of such glaring examples.

In addition to this regional deal which is among 12 countries of the Pacific region, negotiations for which are proceeding under the leadership of the U.S., there are a number of bilateral trade agreements struck between major trading partners in different regions. These trading arrangements are useful to the parties. But if the agreement is between a bigger economy and small country then it can seldom benefit the partners equally because the larger party will always exercise more influence in negotiating the terms of trade to its favor.

Notwithstanding the above lacuna many countries around the world are busy in agreeing to bilateral trade deals because there is almost stalemate in multilateral negotiations. Failure to conclude multilateral trade agreements has pushed many countries to embark on bilateral and regional framework.

Considering the negotiating constraints of the weaker countries multilateral trade talks offer respite and countries grouped under LDCs seem more vulnerable to high handedness of their trading partners whose economies are stronger. There is an evidence when a poor and weaker trading partner is sometimes coerced to concede more concessions by its powerful contracting party and Nepal is no exception to such bullying especially at a time when the bilateral relationship is strained for some reasons.

In consideration of the above reality there is a strong inclination especially among countries like Nepal with small economies and limited trading opportunities to go for multilateral trade agreements. The incumbent finance minister who led the country’s delegation to the Ninth Ministerial Conference of the WTO (December 3-7, 2013) was effortful to draw the attention of the international community to the needs of Nepal, a LDC, whose trade capacities are limited.

The finance minister said, “For the LDCs to truly benefit from the multilateral trading system there is a need for full and timely implementation of decision on duty free and quota free market access together with the implementation of the provisions of simplified, transparent and facilitative rule of origin.”

Furthermore, he pointed out the need of effective and scaled up support of LDCs capacity to produce and trade and he even called on the 2011 decision to grant preference to LDCs’ services be effectively and expeditiously implemented. This emphasis suggests that LDCs have been suffering from the delayed implementation of measures that are intended to meet their demands.

In terms of obtaining duty free and quota free facilities for the products of LDCs the difficulty is that some of their products in which they have competitiveness are not even included in the category of goods which enjoy such facilities. An example of this is the decision of the then American administration in 2005 when it decided to offer duty free quota free market access to 97 % of LDCs’ products but it couldn’t be that helpful for many LDCs whose exportable items were not included within the above percentage.

The Bali trade facilitation agreement aims at making international trade much easier by removing trade barriers and viewed from this angle LDC are also going to be the beneficiaries of the new deal. Nevertheless, the provision of allowing India with whom Nepal has open border, to fix Minimum Support Price for farm products and to sell staple grains to the poor at subsidized rates will have serious implications for us because of loss of competitiveness of our agricultural products. Cheaper agroproducts of India whose customers will benefit from the new trade deal may however adversely affect Nepali products as cheaper goods from India will easily penetrate into our markets.

Posted in Nepal | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sensitive But Neglected

Some of the public offices are seen less important in public eyes than others which seem more focused on issues that are of least public concerns. In fact a few offices, which are shouldering responsibilities related to the daily lives of the people viz security, employment etc. are so much resourced-constrained that they cannot  respond to the public grievances effectively. For example the Ministry of Labor is said to be the least resourced agency of the government judged against its functions to manage the foreign employment.

This author was visiting the departments of passport and consular matters last week, which have been established in the recent years under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was amazed to see the personnel working there with remarkably low morale. Question arises as to why is this occurring even at a time when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has become the most sought after government office even surpassing the Finance Ministry, that is in charge of state coffers, based on the aspirations of Nepali citizens, who wish to join government service.

Available statistics in the Public Service Commission reveal that a good number of Finance Ministry officials are more inclined to test their abilities by deciding to sit for competitive examinations conducted by Public Service Commission, should there be advertisements for vacancies to enter into Foreign Service. There is a growing craze among many job seekers to be a part of Foreign Service, which is a new service in vogue for the last few years. However, this exclusive service existed in the 1960s but was later dismantled making it a group of service under General Administration.

Until the Civil Service Act was amended following persistent efforts by those working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all personnel working for the ministry did not enjoy the special privileges vis-à-vis their transfer, promotion etc. In this regard the issue of promotion, both through two options, either based on seniority or free competition, has been conspicuous as it directly impacts on a civil servant’s career in the related profession. The enactment of concerned act providing for a separate foreign service has brought a sea change in offering opportunities of career promotion to the personnel of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, utilizing which they are rising the ladders of promotion very quickly.

An instance of this can be had from the Gorkhapatra notices of the Public Service Commission related to promotion of officials belonging to Foreign Service and Administrative Service that were published in Magh. A very recent decision of the promotion committee led by one of the members of the Public Service Commission, has demonstrated that for the post of first class gazetted officer, any second class officer from Administrative Service has to score almost the full marks (100) to get promoted. Whereas the second class gazetted officer of Foreign Service gets promoted to the post of joint secretary by scoring less than 85 marks. Such marks are calculated on the basis of seniority, educational qualifications, and assignment to remote areas etc. How ironical it is!

One would be totally surprised to find a large number of the foreign service personnel now assigned to the departments of passport and consular affairs demoralized, who are always waiting for an opportunity to get transferred from their respective offices. Let us take the example of passport department, where increasing crowds form every day for applying and obtaining passports. In terms of public relations, this department is the one of the busiest government offices, besides the district administration offices and land revenue offices.

Despite extended hours of work and extra collection counters, the queues in the passport department are still disappointing. The problems here are not the timing of preparing and the distribution of the passports, but the long pending cases of applicants, whose errors have not been promptly sorted at the points of collection. As explained to this scribe by the concerned officials of the passport department, many avoidable errors are ignored by the personnel either in missions abroad or the district administration offices in the country.

An example of this was noticed when an applicant was seen appealing to expedite the issuance of the passport, the delay for which was caused by a simple mistake of spelling errors in names and address, which should tally with the one provided for in the old passport. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been denying the applicants the new passport unless they pay the fees of passport for the second time even though the mistake that led to the cancellation of the prepared passport is due to the negligence of government employees in charge of collecting the application forms. Had they screened the information with utmost care, the applicant wouldn’t be compelled to reapply.

It seems that there is lack of proper coordination between ministries of foreign and home affairs and moreover, embassies/missions abroad are less attentive to this public service as a result of which applications remain pending at central office, Kathmandu for several months. The responsible officers of the passport department have assured that they are now committed to achieving zero level of pending cases to better serve the Nepali people. Actions rather than words really count.

A pitiable condition prevails in consular department located in Tripureshore, where lack of physical facilities, including uninterrupted supply of electricity, impedes its work. This is the office that has to handle all the grievances of relatives of those in the foreign employment, whose cases range from bringing dead bodies to Nepal to rescuing the Nepali laborers in distress. Additionally, it issues attestation papers concerning date of birth, educational certificates, and marriage registration certificates etc. The manpower associated with the consular department is hardly sufficient considering the work load it has to handle.

The government has expanded the missions abroad and the number is 36 including all consulates-general, which is significant taking Nepal’s size of economy into account. Operating such offices in the foreign land involves a huge amount of hard currencies. However, there has not been proper review of the functioning of some hastily opened embassies. A few of them may have proved even white elephants making negligible contribution to the realization of Nepal’s foreign policy goals, including enhanced economic ties with the destination countries.

While some of the offices under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs like the two departments as mentioned above suffer for lack of necessary resources, whose services directly impact on the lives of the Nepali people, it may be prudent to reorder our priorities and ensure that scarce resources are properly allocated for greater productivity.

Posted in Nepal | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment