Nepal is perhaps one of the few countries in the world that has neither a national security nor a national defense policy. Political leaders and intellectuals mistakenly believe that a national security policy that clearly highlights the internal and external threats to the country will lead to strengthening the military (because it will need modern weapons to deal with old and new threats), and that a strong military will be inimical to democracy. What’s more, some security experts have argued that Nepal does not face any internal or external security threats, and that it makes no sense to spend money on the institution.
The Nepal Army’s recently released Military Doctrine 2014 challenges these opinions and argues that Nepal, like any other country, faces security threats, both internal and external. It argues that the military, more than ever, needs to be well trained and well equipped to face emerging threats. In the absence of a national security or national defense policy, the Army claims that the doctrine should be used as a temporary guide, with the hope that it will ultimately lead the government to come up with a comprehensive national security policy.
What follows are highlights from the most intriguing and revealing chapters of the doctrine.
Note: National security is a sensitive issue and this doctrine is a restricted document. As such, the writer has taken great care not to reveal sensitive information.
The introduction reads like a defense white paper, highlighting the international environment, the country’s current level of economic development, the role and responsibilities of the Army, current threats to Nepal (the Army argues that non-traditional and internal risks pose major challenges to Nepal’s security), and its organizational structures. The doctrine describes internal security threats as violence resulting from religious extremism and ethnic discord, which can be interpreted as these factors leading to the country’s division and secession, and thus a challenge to the maintenance of Nepal’s territorial integrity. The doctrine lists further internal threats as political instability, disintegration, insurgency and terrorism, climate change, trans-national crimes, energy and food security, and information (cyber) security.
As far as external security threats are concerned, it follows the classic maxim that your neighbors are your security threats. It views a nuclear showdown between neighboring countries as a potential security threat. It also makes a case for upgrading the capability of the Army to fight asymmetric warfare, i.e. fifth generation warfare and cyber warfare.
Chapter Three covers intelligence. As intelligence is the most important factor in the country’s security—it is said that with good intelligence wars can be won without firing a single bullet—the Army has focused on developing its intelligence capabilities and strengthening cyber security. It argues for establishing a National Security Issues Studies Center to advise the Army and to create public awareness on security matters. It also highlights the need to develop counter-intelligence capabilities and coordinate with other domestic intelligence agencies and the intelligence agencies of friendly countries.
Chapter Five deals with counter-insurgency. With the experience of a decade-long insurgency under its belt, the Army argues for the coordinated efforts of political leaders, security organizations, and civil society to deal with armed insurgencies. To succeed in counter-insurgency operations, the “neutral” population needs to be swayed to the government and military’s favor. The chapter explores ways to achieve this. Most interestingly, the doctrine makes it clear that movements originating from our soil against our neighbors are also security risks, and such movements need to be discouraged and dealt with swiftly.
Chapter Six covers the Army’s participation in various UN missions. It deals mainly with developing the capabilities of Army personnel in successfully executing their responsibilities under the UN mandate, and also argues for developing a common standard and interoperability to work with the armies of other countries. It highlights the need to orient the troops with the culture (human terrain) of the areas they will be serving in to minimize cultural misunderstandings. It reiterates the Army’s commitment to a zero-tolerance policy on human rights violations and sexual exploitation and abuse. This is particularly notable given that its officers are either being sent back from the UN missions or are being prosecuted in foreign lands for their alleged human rights violations during the insurgency period in Nepal.
Chapter Seven is about nature conservation. As the Army has long been involved with the protection of national parks and wild animals, the chapter envisions various strategies to achieve that aim through triangular coordination between government agencies, the Army, and local stakeholders.
Chapter Eight discusses disaster management. Because Nepal is prone to natural disasters, the government has designated the Army one of the most important organs dealing with disaster risk management. The chapter argues for developing the Army’s disaster management capabilities through a national level disaster-training center. In the past the Nepal Army was seen as a response team, but these days the Army is becoming proactive.
Chapter Nine focuses on “Nation Building and Development.” In fact, the chapter says nothing about nation building but goes into detail on national development. It appears that nation building is seen as synonymous with national development (perhaps an editorial oversight on the part of the team?). The chapter discusses the Army’s role in strategic construction projects, such as roads and highways, tunnels, and airports/airstrips for enhancing the country’s disaster and defense response.
Chapter Eleven explores developing air power. It is a pity that Nepal does not have an air force yet—because of this the Nepal Army’s No. 11 BDE (Brigade) serves as the directorate of aviation and deals with combat service and combat support operations. The doctrine calls for procuring aircraft, both fixed wing and rotor wing, to use in humanitarian, intelligence, and military operations. Anyone who is familiar with Nepal’s terrain and risks cannot help but support the Army’s desire to upgrade its air power capabilities.
Chapter Twelve deals with the welfare of both serving and retired soldiers and calls for transparency and digitization of the Army’s welfare fund. It also calls for utilizing the Army’s welfare fund in national development by supporting the public-private partnership initiatives and building hotels and guesthouses, vocational and training institutes, and family quarters.
Chapter Thirteen covers logistics and argues that success in military operations is the result of logistical support. The chapter argues that the Army should develop a logistics policy that is synchronized with Nepal’s geopolitical position and geographic terrain, and which embodies the concept of centralized control and decentralized execution.
Although lacking in many aspects—such as failing to explain exactly what kind of weapons and training the military needs and which helicopters to use in rescue and reconnaissance missions—this 219-page doctrine is a good beginning. For the first time, the Army has acknowledged that national security is everybody’s business and it has broadened the concept of national security by including political, environmental, economic, social, religious, and cultural dimensions. The Army has done its part by coming up with a blueprint for modernization; now it is up to the government, political parties, and civil society to do their part by ensuring religious and ethnic harmony, writing strict environmental regulations, and helping the army procure equipment and weapons to safeguard the Nepali identity.
If there is one main criticism, it is that the doctrine should have dealt with hiring civilian support staff for non-combat roles. It is costly to train a soldier, and that investment goes to waste when a soldier is used as an orderly or cook. Hiring civilians for such roles would free combat-trained troops to be used in national defense rather than as the domestic help of officers.
When General Gaurav Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana became Chief of Army Staff in 2012, in one of his first speeches he espoused a vision for the national army known as the “6-point vision statement” among the Army’s inner circles. The 6-point vision statement laid out a plan for modernization, military diplomacy, intelligence, training, logistics, and welfare. The Army’s doctrine, without a doubt, is a detailed study of how to achieve this vision.
Though the Army has made a valiant effort, it is not immune to the whims of our political parties. And so the looming question remains: since the doctrine is based on the interim constitution of 2007, what will happen when a new constitution is promulgated?