Are there lessons from history for a small country surrounded by two opposing superpowers? Political geography


If the memory serves me properly only Mongolia and Nepal which are uniquely located in a situation surrounded by only two states, so they must naturally depend on one or the other to fulfill their needs.

Nepal is in a uniquely uncomfortable situation, where the two opposing countries (India and China) are hostile to each other. If we look at a map of China to the north, and India to the south China and India are the same for Nepal as NATO and the Soviets are for the third world countries

Being a mid-range country, Nepal is a buffer zone that reduces the likelihood of border disputes (like the ones we’ve seen on the Indo-Chinese border), but it also means that it is a country that must conform to one’s own interests. [from the PoV from India/China].

Here is a brief summary of the situation in Nepal:

  • One of the poorest countries (being landlocked and mountainous)

  • Linked culturally and historically to India. Most Nepalese can understand Hindi due to the common history of Sanskrit (i.e. French / English to Latin), the immense soft power of Indian television, Bollywood and culture.

  • Ethnically a mixture of Tibetan and Indo-Aryan ethnic groups. However, it is known that even groups in northern India are subjected to discrimination by Southern Indians, so there is a clearly marked difference even in predominantly Indo-Aryan groups in Nepal. Nepalese consider themselves Nepalese, and are not part of China or India.

  • Economically linked to India. The Nepalese currency is pegged to the Indian currency. Open border policy with India so that there is freedom of movement.

  • There is a large group of Himalayas and inhospitable ranges of the Tibetan plateau between the economy strongholds of Nepal and China, while India has no such restrictions. Nevertheless, China aims to better connect Nepal through the Belt and Road Initiative.

A brief summary of recent events:

As summarized in the situation above, Nepal has historically enjoyed good relations with India with little to no China in the picture. However, with India’s especially isolated maneuvers around the blockade after the 2015 earthquake and the current border squabbles, the relationship has been in a downward direction (still good but sparking second thoughts). China (especially with its recent investment and economic interests in Nepal) has naturally benefited from India’s self-maneuvering.

It should also be clear that both neighbors are not above military / espionage use. See a) the annexation of Tibet by China and b) the annexation of Sikkim by India. India is known to be interfering in Nepalese politics, but given China’s track record, the alternative would not be better.

I am concerned when reading this article, many will see it with a biased (Western / Indian / Chinese) perspective. Most articles on the web have their own bias as they are Indian or Chinese (often they don’t reflect reality on the ground or paint a painting with a wide brush). I must emphasize that China and India are to Nepal the same as NATO and the Soviets are to the third world countries. All I am asking is a neutral view of the situation in Nepal and if there is anything in history that might give evidence that the country is allowed to make decisions with minimal interference with neighboring countries.

I can only see the following options for such a situation:

  • Try to balance relations with both countries while risking offending / dissatisfying both.

  • Focus on alignment purely with one country

  • Separate contacts with neighbors with a high risk of walking the path of the hermit nation.

  • Pursuing deeper relationships with non-aligned third parties (such as Singapore, Israel, the United Kingdom, and Russia that do not have a deep alliance with India or China). However, some level of dependency would be required to trade routes across either country.

I think one interesting similarity is seeing what Third World countries did during the Cold War if they were able to successfully exploit the NATO / Soviet Union political maneuvering without getting caught in the arms race of the Cold War. Are there historical parallels that might be useful for countries stuck in the same “hammer and anvil”?

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