Proven partnership: US and Nepal

Published On: October 3, 2019 : Randy William Berry

We never asked Nepal to be pro-America or to be against any other country.  We ask Nepal to be pro-Nepal, to guard its sovereignty, by strengthening freedom, openness and security

As the US Ambassador to Nepal, I am one of those lucky people who can say they’re doing their dream job.  One reason: I have a deep and abiding affection for Nepal.  From my first visit, I fell under the spell that has drawn so many Americans here over the decades—and keeps us coming back.  Another reason is because I know America’s seventy-year story in Nepal is a rich one, marked by friendship between the American people and the Nepali people, a mutually beneficial partnership.

To me, that partnership is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Dang district working with farmers to build fish ponds to improve incomes and nutrition.  It is the American IT companies creating high-tech jobs for Nepalis and our Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC, preparing to work alongside Nepal’s engineers to improve roads and convert Nepal’s hydropower potential into hydropower reality.  It is 45,000 Nepali families who—thanks to reconstruction support from USAID’s engineers, masons, and community liaisons—have moved back into homes destroyed by the 2015 earthquakes.

Given our record of delivering results, not just promises, I would like to take the opportunity to provide some information about the Indo Pacific Strategy as there appears to be a lot of misconceptions around it.

On Indo-Pacific Strategy 
The Indo-Pacific Strategy is our name for US policy.  It describes what Americans strive to do to protect and advance a free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific Region.  It is not an organization or an alliance.  Neither Nepal nor anyone else has been asked to join.

The Indo-Pacific Strategy is our name for everything we do in the region.  Some people focus on the security aspect.  True, security is an important part of ensuring this region remains free and open, as it has been since the end of the World War II.  The freedoms we all enjoy depend on security to defend them, and the US security presence has helped provide predictability and security and allowed the entire region to focus on economic and political development, not fighting wars.

No part of “free, open, and secure” is exclusionary. It is not exclusionary to call for all countries to respect the sovereignty of others, regardless of size.  Nepal, as a small country, should be the first to speak up for the fundamental principle that large countries should not invade small countries and that disputes should be settled peacefully, not through bullying or force.

It is not exclusionary to say that sea lanes and air routes should remain open to all and should not be militarized.  All of the countries in the Indo-Pacific region—including China…and India…and Malaysia…and Nepal, everyone—have benefitted from that openness.

It is not exclusionary to say that all people, everywhere, are entitled to enjoy fundamental human freedoms. Nepalis, who have fought for their democracy and their freedoms, have as much interest as Americans in speaking up for the principle that human rights violations anywhere are a concern for all of us.  Why else did Nepal ratify the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and maintain a mission in Geneva and a seat on the UN Human Rights Council?

Supporting a free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific is in everyone’s interest.  It is for a set of principles, the same principles that enabled the rise of China, and India, and Vietnam, and Singapore.  Shouldn’t we preserve those principles and ensure that everyone has a chance to benefit from them?

We never asked Nepal to be pro-America or to be against any other country.  We ask Nepal to be pro-Nepal.  We ask Nepal to guard your sovereignty, including by protecting the principles that protect Nepal, by strengthening the freedom, the openness, and the security that have allowed this region to prosper.

Misinformation on MCC
Despite the long record of US partnership and the evidence of decades that demonstrates our good faith, I am concerned our partnership will be distracted by misinformation.  There are real, consequential decisions to be made that have been complicated by misinformation. The most important decision is the MCC Compact.  Nepal asked the United States to develop an MCC Compact.  We worked with Nepalis, including the government, private sector, and civil society, to identify what projects would help harness the power of the private sector.  A simple dilemma had to be solved: Nepal cannot develop hydropower without a market to pay for it.  That is why the MCC project focuses on constructing lines that will bring Nepal’s power to the consumers who will pay Nepal good money for it.  It is a simple fact of geography and economics that means India.  If Nepal wants to sell power to Bangladesh, it will require an agreement with India.  The reason why the MCC Compact requires a cross-border transmission line agreement with India is just geography and economics.

Some have asked why the parliament should ratify the MCC compact.  The easy answer is that the MCC requires parliamentary ratification everywhere.  Ratification is how we ensure that the Nepali people want us to spend this $500 million in Nepal.  Imagine if we did NOT secure for ratification?  Parliamentarians would demand “but we should have a chance to review it!”  And they would be right!

If Nepal’s elected representatives decide they want to say no to the US assistance, that is Nepal’s sovereign decision.  It will, however, be an unexpected reversal of specific requests the Nepal government has made and a surprising change in the spirit of our partnership spanning seven decades.

We have worked together for many years, in a consultative and transparent manner, to design programs like the MCC.  If we want to preserve it, if we want to keep moving ahead, Nepal’s leaders and Nepal’s people will need to take deliberate action. We invite debate and questions, as democracy thrives on transparency and stakeholder engagement.  The record of US partnership to Nepal in the past, present and future is open for review and demonstrates that Nepal’s historic partnership with the United States will continue to make Nepalis more prosperous and Nepal more secure, more sovereign, and more resilient.

I remain hopeful, even confident, that the bedrock of the US-Nepal relationship is broad and deep and that we will decide, together, to continue to strengthen it.