Nepali Premier Pushpa Kamal Dahal is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly on September 21.
Since arriving in New York on September 16 to attend the 78th UNGA meeting, he has been engaged in several meetings with leaders and officials of key forums, where issues of concern to Nepal have been discussed.
In addition to his speech at the UNGA, the Nepali prime minister will address the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and Climate Ambition Summit. He will also lead the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) meeting, as Nepal is the chair of the 46-member group. Dahal will meet other leaders on the sidelines of the UNGA and attend a reception hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden. Besides, he will also seek global support to conclude Nepal’s peace process.
The United Nations is central to Nepal’s diplomacy and development. The 2015 Constitution of Nepal directs the government to “conduct independent foreign policy based on the Charter of the U.N., non-alignment, principles of Panchsheel, international law and the norms of world peace.” The Foreign Policy of Nepal, 2019, reaffirmed that directive and emphasized the need for Nepal to actively engage in multilateral institutions, particularly the U.N., for its interests and global peace.
It is typical for small powers to prioritize engagement in multilateral institutions, and Nepal is not an exception. As the apex body for maintaining global peace and order and defining global norms, the U.N. has unrivaled relevance.
The U.N. has been a critical forum for Nepal’s diplomacy, soft power, and development. It provides Nepal with a forum to engage most countries.
Nepal has embassies in only 29 countries. For the host of other nations where it does not have diplomatic representation, Nepal engages them on the sidelines of the U.N.
The U.N. is also critical in bringing together the smaller, like-minded countries that face similar challenges. It facilitates the meetings of LDCs and the Landlocked Least Developed Countries (LLDCs). Even the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) holds informal foreign ministerial meetings at the U.N. headquarters.
Nepal, as the current chair of SAARC, had hoped to revive the SAARC process after the informal meeting in New York. Unfortunately, it could not succeed after a few states did not attend the meeting on September 20. However, Dahal met his Sri Lankan counterpart on the sidelines and discussed cooperation in multilateral forums.
The U.N. provides for the principle of sovereign equality in its charter and practices the same at the UNGA, where each nation has one vote despite its size and power. The U.N. provides some solace for Nepal, which is sandwiched between two giants, concerned about the influence of major powers, and insecure about its sovereign equality.
It is also the primary forum through which Nepal contributes to world peace and is recognized globally for this contribution. Nepal is the second largest contributor to the U.N. peacekeeping force. Currently, more than 6,000 Nepali troops are deployed in U.N. missions globally. They risk their lives to maintain peace in hotspots such as Syria, Lebanon, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic. The contribution forms a bedrock of Nepal’s soft power.
Besides, the UNGA has also become a forum through which Nepali prime ministers engage with U.S. leaders. Dahal briefly met with Biden during a reception hosted by the latter in honor of leaders of the delegations to the UNGA. Former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was the last premier to visit the United States on an official trip in 2002.
The U.N. has played and continues to play a significant role in Nepal’s socio-political development. The United Nations Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) played a crucial part in the management of the peace process after the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. The organization helped bridge the gap between the Maoist insurgents and the Nepali government in overseeing the activities of the former combatants and arms management. The peace process is yet to reach a formal conclusion, and Dahal is seeking to reassure the global community and seek help to conclude the process formally.
Similarly, the U.N. is at the forefront of Nepal’s development needs. Nepal was an early adopter of the SDGs and is committed to that vision. It is the primary component of Nepal’s key policy documents, such as the 15th Development Plan and the 25-year Long-Term Vision 2100. Joining the SDGs was probably the most consequential development and foreign policy decision that Nepal has taken.
Besides, the U.N. framework is critical to addressing existential issues for Nepal, such as climate change. Nepal is among the countries most impacted by rising global temperatures. The U.N. framework helps Nepal raise the issue to a global audience, highlight the impacts of climate change, and lobby for global policy changes that are empathetic to the needs of a developing country. It also helps build solidarity among smaller nations at high risk from climate change.
Dahal’s agenda during the visit reflects on these factors. In a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Dahal discussed climate change, challenges faced by landlocked developing countries, and Nepal’s expected graduation from LDC status. He also met Rahab Fatima, the U.N. High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States, and explored ways to encourage the interests and issues of LDCs in multilateral forums.
Addressing the SDG Summit as the chair of the LDCs, Dahal said that global crises such as COVID-19, climate change, and geopolitical tensions imperil hard-earned progress toward the SDGs. He urged the developed countries to “scale up and fulfill their commitments to providing the 0.7 percent of gross national product as official development assistance to the developing countries and 0.15-0.20 percent to the LDCs.”
Therefore, the U.N. is central to Nepal’s diplomacy and development. It is also an essential forum for Nepal to set its agenda for the world and meet like-minded states to push forward.
Attending the 22nd Session of the UNGA in 1968, then King Mahendra remarked that the “only real alternative to the U.N. is an even more powerful U.N.” It could not be truer today as well.