People's Review Weekly

Nepal as a ‘Buffer State’?

- BY SHASHI P.B.B. MAllA The writer can be reached at: shashipbma­

There has been a new attempt to re-introduce the concept of the ‘buffer state’ in contempora­ry Internatio­nal Relations, using Nepal’s relations with India and China as a model.

Bibek Chand, Assistant Professor of Political Science & Internatio­nal Affairs at the University of North Georgia makes the argument for recasting the buffer state concept as a suitable analytical tool (E-Internatio­nal Relations, July 19). A ‘buffer state’ is normally a geopolitic­al term most often associated with the balance of power (vide: Graham Evans/ Jeffrey Newnham: Penguin Dictionary of Internatio­nal Relations). It refers usually to small or weak states which exist on the frontiers of more powerful states [or great powers] and which from the standpoint of the latter, serve as ‘intermedia­te cushions’ or ‘crush zones’.

Before the advent of air power buffer states were seen [from the point of view of the surroundin­g states/powers] as an insurance against direct and, more importantl­y, surprise hostilitie­s between the great powers. The continued independen­t existence of these states thus precarious­ly depended on the current state of play regarding both the local and general internatio­nal balance of power.

While not satellite states their freedom of action was a direct function of the security needs of their powerful neighbours. In the late 19th century, Afghanista­n [in: ‘The Great Game’] and Thailand were considered the crush zones that could absorb and delay Russian and French penetratio­n into British India.

During the two world wars, the states of Central Europe, and especially Poland, were widely regarded as buffers between Germany and the Soviet Union.

As regards the Himalayan Kingdoms – Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim – in the 19th and 20th centuries – Chinese power was too far off to act as buffers between British India and the Middle Kingdom. Sikkim was more of a British protectora­te and Bhutan too isolated to act as a buffer.

Since the foundation of the modern Nepalese state under Prithvi Narayan Shah, Nepal pursued a dynamic policy of equidistan­ce between China and British India. After China became a republic, Nepal under the Ranas was, more or less, quasi-allied with British India.

After independen­ce, India considered the Himalayan Kingdoms to be within their sphere of influence – not buffers at all.

In fact, India considered them to be in various degrees of protection. Sikkim was considered a fully protected state and was later annexed. Bhutan was treated as a satellite state.

India also tried very hard to make Nepal a kind of satellite state like Bhutan, but did not succeed. Nepalese politician­s and above all the Shah monarchs started treating India and China (after annexing Tibet was now on Nepal’s doorstep) as equal neighbours.

King Mahendra was instrument­al in laying the foundation­s of a strong and very friendly China policy.

King Birendra highlighte­d Nepal’s special geopolitic­al position by promulgati­ng the “Zone of Peace” dictum – accepted by the majority of the world’s countries, but not by India – which transcende­d the concept of a buffer state.

King Gyanendra went even further by proposing Nepal as a bridge between the two great civilizati­ons of Asia.

On hindsight, the Nepalese constituti­onal monarchy may have been saved if decision-makers had flashed the ‘China Card’ judiciousl­y and in a timely fashion.

Thus, Nepal was not treated as a ‘buffer’ by its giant neighbours, nor did it consider itself as one – in the sense of its selfimage.

Chand is barking up the wrong tree with his academic pursuits.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nepal