Remarks to the International Seminar on Global Situation and Future of Nepal Organized by Former MPs’ Forum Nepal Clinton S. “Tad” Brown, Head of the Political and Economic Section, U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu
Namaste, and good morning.
His Excellency Foreign Minister, Mr. Chairman, Honorable Members of Parliament, former parliamentarians, distinguished guests, friends from media,
First of all, on a personal note: thank you for welcoming me and my family to Nepal. I am here with my wife and our two children and every day we are made to feel like we are honored guests. Every day we see why the Nepali people are world-famous for their warmth and hospitality.
The United States was founded on the ideal that people should choose their government. We had a congress even before we had a government. For an American, there is nothing more important than the representatives elected by the people. So it is an honor to speak to you, current and retired members of parliament, on the relationship between the United States and Nepal. My hope is what I offer today will help Nepal’s leaders in and out of Parliament understand how an American sees the U.S. Nepal relationship.
We celebrated, just two years ago, the 70th anniversary of the relationship between our two countries. All around our embassy we display photographs that demonstrate the richness of that relationship. Near the ambassador’s office, you can see all the previous U.S. ambassadors who have tended the U.S. relationship going back to 1947. Near our public affairs office, we have photographs of young Nepalis participating in our Youth Council, Nepali journalists who have joined our media trainings, and Nepali artists who have forged bonds of culture. USAID is my favorite. They have photographs of American engineers helping to design public works projects, American public health experts helping to fight malaria in the Terai, and American agricultural experts working in the fields alongside Nepali farmers.
The history of more than 70 years of the United States in Nepal is more than 70 years of the United States working with Nepal to become more prosperous, more resilient, more secure, and more sovereign.
More prosperous: we worked with Nepali partners and others to help raise incomes and livelihoods for the Nepali people. Since 1962, almost 4,000 Americans have served as PCVs in Nepal working in education, environment and natural resource conservation, health, and community and youth development. USAID has provided training to Nepali entrepreneurs. The United States has opened its markets to Nepali goods—no country, except India, buys more of Nepal’s exports than the United States. In 2018, Nepal had a massive trade deficit with each of its major trading partners except the United States. Young Nepalis have studied in the United States and then returned to Nepal to set up businesses and to create jobs in Nepal. Nepalis in the United States are the second highest source of remittances for Nepal’s economy. Even though we are on the other side of the world, we are the #3 source of tourists visiting Nepal, and our tourists stay longer and spend more than the average tourist.
More resilient: the American people have provided training and equipment to help the Nepali army respond to natural disasters, including the 2015 earthquake and more frequent disasters like floods. USAID and the U.S. military have provided equipment and training and have constructed facilities to help Nepal be prepared for natural disasters and to respond when they do happen. We have accompanied Nepalis through your political journey, providing support to the democratic processes that you told us you wanted, for example by providing training for Members of Parliament and support for Nepal’s electoral processes. Nepal is rightfully proud of its elections. And we are proud to have been a partner to Nepal as it has accomplished so much.
More secure: The U.S. military has provided training, equipment, and expertise to help the Nepal Army, Here, too, we provide what Nepal says it needs, with a large focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response and professionalization. Our police have worked with your police to help solve cases, our prosecutors talked with Nepal’s prosecutors on best practices, and our judges have discussed law and sentencing with Nepali judges. These are not junkets or tourist “just” foreign travel—these are intensive training sessions that build skills, contributing to the nation’s capacity on Nepal’s priorities, like trafficking in persons and cybercrime.
More sovereign: I have read the history of U.S. foreign policy around the world. I know there are some chapters we are very proud of, and I know there are some chapters that we are not so proud of. As far as I have been able to research, we Americans can be very proud of our engagement in Nepal. We have never done anything to Nepal that would undermine its sovereignty. We have never asked Nepal to do anything that impinges on its sovereign right to chart its own course. We have never tried to cause a Nepali government to rise or fall or tried to tell political parties who they should align with or oppose. By helping Nepal be more prosperous, resilient, and secure, we have also helped make Nepal more capable of sustaining itself and therefore more sovereign, more independent, less dependent on anyone else.
Allow me a brief aside here to make two points to address what I hear are some people’s concerns about the military component of the U.S.-Nepal relationship. First, there is nothing hidden about the U.S. military engagement with Nepal. We work with Nepali security forces—and always through the civilian ministries that oversee them and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—to provide training that the Nepali government tells us they need, especially to help them prepare for UN Peacekeeping Operations, where Nepal’s security forces have contributed to global peace and security and earned a reputation for bravery and professionalism. The military training the United States provided helped save Nepali and American lives after the 2015 earthquake and during floods before and after. We have an upcoming training on “swift water rescue.” This is not a secret plot to destabilize your neighbors. This is a plan to save Nepali lives, NOT a secret. Some people will see a secret plot in the most genuine engagements. When I think about U.S. military engagement in Nepal, I think about the six American soldiers who died in a helicopter crash after the 2015 earthquake while trying to help Nepali citizens they had never met. That is what reveals the character of the U.S. military engagement in Nepal.
Second, people who try to make the U.S. military engagement sound scary hope that you will not pay attention to the fact that the military sector is only one piece of the U.S.-Nepal relationship, and it is dwarfed by all of the non-military aspects. Look at the facts: if the military sector was so important to the United States in Nepal, why is it so much smaller than everything else we do? Sure, it is important. It has saved lives—Nepali lives and American lives—but it is only one part of a massive relationship.
So, what is the U.S.-Nepal relationship?
It is seven decades of U.S. investment in Nepal’s health, education, energy, agriculture, roads, bridges, media, entrepreneurs, security, earthquake preparedness and response, empowerment of marginalized populations, efforts to combat trafficking in persons, and environmental conservation and so much more more. And with no strings attached. Or, in Nepali: Kunai swartha chhaina.
It is almost $200 million in development assistance every year—in grants, not loans. And with no strings attached.
It is $500 million on top of that from MCC to help the roads and power sector, which the Nepali people told us were their priorities. And with no strings attached.
It is the United States opening its market to Nepali goods. And with no strings attached.
It is more than 90,000 American tourists coming to enjoy Nepal’s culture and contribute to the economy. With no strings attached.
And tens of thousands of Nepalis studying to improve their skills at American universities. With no strings attached.
No strings attached.
The fact is that no government, even mine, is a charity. All governments, even mine, pursue their national interests.
What sets America apart as a powerful state is that when we think about self-interest, we think about enlightened self-interest. We believe that America is better off when Nepal is better off. We are stronger when Nepal is stronger. We are better off when fewer Nepali babies and mothers die in childbirth, which is why we have given so many millions of dollars to help Nepal’s health sector.
Allow me to provide examples from what America has done in Nepal, real examples, not empty promises.
We believe that America is better off when Nepal’s economy creates good jobs for Nepalis in Nepal, which is why we have opened our markets for Nepal’s products and why USAID helps train Nepali farmers and Nepali entrepreneurs. We believe America is better off when Nepal’s energy sector is successful, which is why we are prepared to spend $500 million through the MCC—and we did not ask Nepal to sign up for anything except to use the money as promised.
Do not take my word for it. Do not “trust” me. Look at the record. Look at our record today and over the last seventy years, which is consistently, unfailingly a record of the United States supporting Nepal’s own journey and demanding very little in return.
There is a saying in English: do not look a gift horse in the mouth. But I think that’s not right. I would say: Nepal should always look a gift horse in the mouth. Read the fine print. If someone offers something for free, ask why. What is their interest? Is it enlightened self-interest? Or just interest?
What does the United States ask of Nepal? Our main ask of Nepal is not that Nepal be pro-United States, though of course that would be welcome! Our main ask is that Nepal be pro-Nepal, that Nepal continue to guard its sovereignty very carefully, that Nepal read the fine print. In speeches he has given over the past year, some of which he referenced in his remarks today, Foreign Minister Gyawali has spoken about Nepal’s support for an international system that is governed by the rule-of-law, where democratic principles are upheld, where small countries do not have to fear being invaded or pushed around by big countries.
We couldn’t say it better ourselves.
When we talk about our vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific region, that is exactly what we are talking about.
When we talk about the Indo-Pacific Strategy, there is no club that Nepal can sign up for—it is our own policy. In Nepali, it is hamro afno niti our won policy, not a rananiti. It is what we do to help ensure the international system, and the Indo-Pacific region specifically, remains governed by the rule of law, by openness, by freedom, and by security; a place where small countries do not have to fear being invaded or pushed around by big countries, even mine!
Those who claim that the U.S. vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific is some kind of secret anti-China plan either do not know—or are pretending not to know—that U.S. behavior to secure a free and open Indo-Pacific region for the last seventy years is what made it possible for hundreds of millions of people—many of them Chinese Communists—to rise out of poverty.
In fact, I would argue that keeping the Indo-Pacific region free and open has been more of a pro-China policy than an anti-China policy or an anti-China containment strategy: it was a Free and Open Indo-Pacific region that allowed China’s economic engine to roar to life; it was the security that kept the peace that allowed China to focus on its development, not war with its neighbors; it was the openness that allowed China’s planes to fly around the globe, China’s ships to ply the world’s oceans, and China’s students to come learn in American universities. A free and open Indo-Pacific region helped China rise, and it can help Nepal achieve its goals.
The truth is that the U.S. vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific is not now and never was intended to exclude China or any other country from participating. Nepal’s leaders have long championed these same ideals: the rule of law, the protection of sovereignty, the principle that big countries can’t push smaller countries around, and the resolution of disputes through peaceful means.
One reason I am so proud to be an American diplomat in Nepal is because of the record we have here, which is a record of living up to our principles and delivering on our promises. We have pursued our own interests through enlightened self-interest. We have been consistent in our approach for more than 70 years, which can be said of very few governments, anywhere. I am confident we will continue with this approach for the next 70 years, and beyond.
Thank you, and Dashain ko subha kamana.