Timeline of key events:
|June 9||General Flynn, commander of the United States Army Pacific Command (USARPAC) of the United States of America, arrives in Kathmandu on an official visit.|
|June 15||Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba says that the SPP Program will not move forward without national consensus.|
|June 15||Nepal Army releases a statement stating that it has not signed any agreement with the United States.|
|June 15||The United States releases a fact sheet on the SPP program clarifying that while SPP is not a part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, it was not a proposal from the United States but a request made by Nepal.|
|June 16||A letter signed by then CoAS of Nepal, requesting participation of Nepal Army in the SPP program in 2015 is leaked to the press.|
|June 16||The Home Minister denies Nepal’s involvement and intention to participate in the United States State Partnership Program.|
|June 18||A parliamentary committee summons the Minister of Foreign Affairs Narayan Khadka and CoAS of Nepal General Prabhu Ram Sharma for questioning over SPP.|
|June 20||The government decided not to participate in the State Partnership Program (SPP) of the US|
|June 23||The Spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry of China commends the Nepali Government’s decision to not move forward with the SPP program.|
Nepal – USA:
The State Partnership Program (SPP) and a possible military cooperation between Nepal and the United States has once again triggered debates over sovereignty and national integrity only a few months after the MCC debacle was laid to rest with an eventual parliamentary ratification. According to the national guard website, SPP is a “partner focused, strategically aligned” program administered by the National Guard Bureau of the United States that conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defence security goals becoming a key U.S. security cooperation tool, facilitating cooperation across all aspects of international civil-military affairs and encouraging people-to-people ties at the state level”. “The program has a focus on disaster response, aviation safety and operations, leadership development, military medical fields, and cyber defence, etc.” The visit of the Commanding General of the US Army Pacific Charles Flynn caused a commotion in the country when he encouraged Nepal to become a part of the program in his meetings with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Nepal Army chief General Prabhu Ram Sharma.
The arguments around the SPP are reminiscent of the MCC compact; with people questioning whether Nepal joining the SPP would make it a part of the United States’ military alliance under the Indo-Pacific Strategy. While some have argued that agreeing to become a part of the SPP could have long term implications on Nepal’s national security and sovereignty, others argue that the program is being unnecessarily politicised when these forms of military agreements between Nepal and the United States are a continuation of bilateral engagements that have existed for decades.
The incoherence among statements made by parties involved has also emerged as a strategic fault on the part of Nepali leaders and institutions. In the initial stages of the debate, Minister for Home Affairs had denied that Nepal was involved in the SPP in any way. This was followed by the United States Embassy in Nepal issuing a statement clarifying that while SPP is not a part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, it was not proposed to Nepal and that Nepal had actually applied for the program. The Nepal Army refuted embassy claims and issued a statement outlining that it had never entered any such agreement with the US Military. However, a leaked letter published by Kantipur revealed that Nepali Army had initiated a request to be included in the United States’ State Partnership Program in the backdrop of the disastrous earthquake of 2015.
The perennially feuding Nepali leaders used the controversy to engage in blame games and one-upmanship. While the leaders of the ruling coalition put blame on CPN-UML for agreeing to be a part of the program, UML leaders blamed Nepali Congress for making the request when it was in charge. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is also under pressure to disengage with the program from within his party, the ruling coalition, and the opposition due to a lack of consensus over SPP. The parliamentary committee launched an investigation into the matter and asked the attendance of Minister of Foreign Affairs Narayan Khadka and Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) Prabhu Ram Sharma at the House committee meeting. The CoAS was asked to give clarity on which government had approved the Nepal army to write the letter in 2015. He maintained that Nepal Army was clear of any wrongdoing as the institution has not moved anything forward without the prior consultation and approval of the Government of Nepal. as A cabinet meeting on June 21 decided not to participate in SPP, also acknowledging that correspondence involving foreign parties should be channelled through the Foreign Ministry. However, Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand created confusion when he said that the
In what has become another political blunder for Nepal, the incident has exposed the duplicity of Nepali leaders’ and called into question the coordination, transparency and accountability of government institutions. In addition, the politicisation of the involvement of Nepal Army has caused damage to the institution’s otherwise stable reputation. The politicisation of SPP could cause strain in Nepal- US ties that had only just recovered after the ratification of MCC, which was a cause of great frustration for the United States. The lack of expert discussions, inter agency coordination, and broad consensus on foreign policy across parties has caused major blows to Nepal international credibility once again.
Nepal – China:
Those opposing the State Partnership Program (SPP) program within Nepal had also voiced concerns that any form of formal military agreement with the United States could invite harsh reactions from China. China had held back from making any official statements while the fate of SPP was being debated in Nepal. However, after a cabinet meeting decided not to move forward with the SPP program, when asked about China’ position on the issue, the spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry of China, remarked that China had taken note of the controversy over the program and commended the Nepali Government’s decision. He also added that “China will continue to support Nepal in upholding its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and support Nepal’s commitment to its independent and non-aligned foreign policy”.It is also worth noting that this was the first time the Spokesperson addressed Nepal since the MCC compact was ratified in the country despite Chinese displeasure. Even then, the official had remarked that the United States was practising coercive diplomacy over MCC in Nepal. China has clearly been opposing American ventures in Nepal which some have also interpreted as attempts to meddle in Nepal’s internal matters and influence decision making.
Nepal – India:
Nepal has become a power surplus country with India becoming its first partner for energy export. Propelled by the onset of monsoon season and continuous rainfall, Nepal has begun exporting a total of 364 MegaWatt of surplus electricity produced by Trishuli and Devighat Hydropower Projects (37.7 MW), Kaligandaki Hydropower Project (140 MW), Middle Marsyangdi (68 MW), Marsyangdi (67), and Likhu-4 (51 MW). According to Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), Nepal has been exporting surplus electricity to India through its power exchange market for the second year in a row. Nepal also has plans to extend its cross border energy export to Bangladesh via India with an agreement already in place. The arrangement provides India with an affordable source of electricity, while generating revenue for Nepal. This is also a big step for Nepal in actualising its hydropower potential.