Nepal’s Rebuff of SPP Is Major Failure in US Attempts to Expand Influence in South Asia
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
The Nepalese government has refused to cooperate with the United States in security matters via the State Partnership Program (SPP). Kathmandu made the decision to not promote the SPP ahead of a visit to Washington by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in mid-July, where he will be accompanied by senior military officials, including Nepal’s army chief of staff, General Prabhu Ram Sharma. Nepal effectively does not want to ruin the delicate balance it has between China and India, the two giants that the country is sandwiched between, by adding the US into the geopolitical equation.
The Kathmandu Post noted that Deuba’s administration has come under intense pressure due to disagreements with Washington over Nepal’s participation in the SPP. At the same time, not only the Nepal Communist Party, the country’s main opposition party, but also the Nepali Congress Party, led by the prime minister himself, has voiced opposition to this type of cooperation with the US.
It is recalled that commander of the US Army in the Pacific, General Charles Flynn, made a four-day visit to Nepal in early June. The arrival of an American general put the opposition on high alert, fearing the development of military ties between Nepal and the US.
At the time, Giriraj Mani Pokhrel, a former education minister and member of the country’s parliament representing the Nepal Community Party, asked the government to inform parliament of the objectives and agenda of its military contacts with the US. Shortly afterwards, Interior Minister Bal Krishna Khand said that the government had no intention of signing an SPP agreement during the prime minister’s upcoming visit to Washington.
Officially, the partnership program regulates the exchange with the US National Guard and their responses to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods and wildfires. Critics in Nepal, however, believe that the US could interfere in internal affairs under the guise of the SPP, arguing that participating in the program is tantamount to Nepal signing off on the US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy.
By the ruling government and the opposition being in unison on this matter, Washington has failed in its attempt to expand its strategic presence in South Asia. Kathmandu’s decision was largely due to foreign policy factors, with the Nepalese government not wanting to damage relations with China or India.
It must be noted that both Beijing and New Delhi yield significant influence on Nepalese politics and economics. However, only China was open in welcoming Nepal’s decision and its non-aligned foreign policy. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin “commended” Kathmandu’s decision on June 23 and assured that China will always support Nepal in defending its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
From the Chinese perspective, Nepal avoided a trap that the US could have set in the hope of dragging the landlocked country into a confrontation with one of its two neighbours. Effectively, the Nepalese government prevented any attempts at being pushed into confrontation with China by blocking the possibility of Nepalese territory being used.
And although it may appear that New Delhi would have welcomed closer cooperation between Nepal and the US considering China’s claims over parts of Indian territory and their participation in QUAD, the Indian Army’s exclusive and unique relationship with their Nepali counterpart would have been weakened by the SPP.
According to sources quoted by Indian media, New Delhi was not in favor of Nepal’s participation in the SPP, believing that it would unsettle the traditional relationship between the Indian and Nepali militaries.
The US Embassy in Nepal denies that the SPP has ulterior motives, writing on its website that: “The State Partnership Program is not and has not ever been a security or military alliance. The United States is not seeking a military alliance with Nepal.”
However, the SPP is administered by the National Guard Bureau, which means it is guided by Washington’s foreign policy goals. As the National Guard admits on its own website: “Through SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres.”
This essentially makes the SPP another American trojan horse to penetrate the political, economic and social orders of countries to advance foreign policy goals under the guise of humanitarian engagement. With Nepal’s two main political parties unified in opposing participation in the SPP, and with both Beijing and New Delhi supporting Kathmandu’s decision, it represents a major failure in the US’ attempts to extend its influence in South Asia and the borders of Tibet.
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