Bhutan’s loss at the non-permanent Security Council seat election brings into sharp focus the realities of global politics where economic might and size far outweigh the ambitions of a small country.
Despite the loss it must be acknowledged that Bhutan gave its best in a campaign which was doomed to fail from the start. Bhutan had a hard fought, clean and sincere campaign. Without the efforts of ministers and dedicated diplomats even securing the 20 votes that Bhutan eventually got would not have been possible as shown by the low scores of much bigger countries.
The Prime Minister has also said that Bhutan’s efforts to get the seat allowed for Bhutan to establish diplomatic relations with 25 new countries with 15 more to soon follow.
However, Bhutanese citizens are asking questions about whether Bhutan should have bid for the UN Security council and if this government’s new direction in its foreign policy is reaping any actual dividends.
Ever since the Security Council bid was announced formally in September 2010 by Bhutan, the efforts to get an unlikely seat along with international GNH seminars have taken up a disproportionate amount of the elected government’s time and focus.
Apart from sapping the energies of the entire foreign ministry and diplomatic missions, the head of the government Lyonchhen and other ministers have had to spend extended periods campaigning abroad.
This is when Bhutan is faced with an unprecedented financial crisis in the form of a rupee shortage and credit crunch and its consequent impact on the economy at home. Businesses are on the verge of closure or are closing, people are losing jobs and there is no capital available.
Also at a time when government departments have been cutting down on expenditure the frequent and at times large delegations travelling abroad for the Security Council or GNH seminars that entail expenses have raised eyebrows. Though in some of the cases the travelling expenses are met by the host countries it is not so in all cases.
When governments like in Australia have already publicly declared their UNSC bid expenses Bhutan should do the same.
Even if Bhutan did win the seat it is largely understood that real and effective power in the Security Council lies with the five permanent members any one of whom using their veto power can defeat any resolution.
A donor dependant Bhutan which is geo strategically located would also have faced situatitions in the Security Council in which it’s vote on issues either with a yes, no or abstaining could have negative consequences. Consequences which Bhutan is currently in no condition to face. For example if some donors have a dispute with other donor countries and the matter comes before the council then the choice for Bhutan would be immensely difficult to make as any choice either way would have implications which a small donor dependant country would not be prepared for.
The Opposition leader expressed ‘deep concern over the overall direction of Bhutan’s foreign policy under the current government.’ It is a feeling shared by many Bhutanese citizens who are increasingly wary of Bhutan’s current foreign policy which is high on volume and low on substance or actual results.
Bhutan is located in one of the most geopolitically and geo strategically sensitive locations in the world and so far under the guidance of our wise Monarchs we have made the best of it and have benefitted from it for decades. There are, however, plenty of other examples in the region and beyond of populist leaders looking at short term gains rapidly converting the geo strategic advantage of their countries into a geo strategic weakness. Bhutan must avoid this path.
The current government has taken Bhutan on a heady foreign policy joy ride but the results so far have been dissapointing with Bhutan now in the danger of ignoring old friends and also not gaining any new ones.
A shamefully simple explanation of why South Korea secured so many votes is not because it is popular or has diplomatic relations with ‘x’ or ‘y’ number of countries but economic aid doled out to mainly poor voting nations. Bhutan for now has to focus on its economy and more pressing issues at home and not let the one bird in its hand fly away for the hope of two in the bush.