Nepal royal coup exposes American
double standards on democracy

Nepal has no oil reserves, and does not play a significant role in international trade. That explains the indifference of the US to King Gyanendra's coup,

What is India News Service
8 February 2005

The sudden sacking of Nepal’s Prime Minister Sher Bahdur Deuba by the Nepali King Gyanendra came a day after democratic elections were finally taking place in Iraq. It is a great irony that democracy and people’s rule is promoted in one country, while simultaneously, it is suppressed in another.

Nepal’s royalist coup highlights two important facets in the dynamics of international politics --  one, that the failure of a government regime can make possible a desperate situation in which the resurgence of a feudalistic, military government can take over an executive parliamentary government. The sudden move by the King was made possible because he is simultaneously also the Supreme Commander of the Royal Nepali Army, from which he derives his power.

King Gyanendra assumed dictatorial powers on the simple justification that the prime minister and the parliament had largely failed to bring an end to the Maoist insurgency and repeatedly postponed democratic elections. In view of social insecurity in Nepal, it can be argued that only a desperate measure akin to martial law, as what this royalist coup resembles, can control the situation.

Two, the sudden regression of Nepal’s internal politics from a modernist parliamentary institution into feudal-military rule had remarkably elicited so little protest from the rest of the world, and in particular, from the great powers, such as the USA, which has always advocated democracy. 

Such a lack of interest, however, may have much wider implications -– that the USA chooses to be selective in championing the cause of democracy. To stand by and watch Nepal revert to what is possibly sudden dictatorial monarchist rule is to give credence to the opposing argument against US actions in Iraq, that the so-called promotion of democracy is all for the sake of oil and US national interests, and not the interests of the Iraqi people. In other words, oil, and not a desire to bring about democracy in the Middle East, motivated the Iraq War in 2003. Then, that makes true the anti-US claim all along that the USA practices double standards in its foreign policies and bilateral dealings with other nations, since it now ignores the anti-democratic development in Nepal.

The Bush administration had spent much effort, time and money to engineer democratic elections in Iraq, even to the extent of waging an unpopular war and sacrificing its soldiers’ lives in combating the arising insurgency in the war’s aftermath. Pro-Bush arguments are loud in touting that, in spite of the absence of evidence in the WMD claim in Iraq, the world is definitely a much safer place without Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial rule. Next is the claim that it is high time that democracy and social reforms are introduced in the Middle East, with Iraq, where democratic elections were held on January 30, as a precedent and a role model.

If so, then what argument can be offered that another South Asian country has just dealt democracy a blow within its own borders and reverted to totalitarian rule, albeit of a feudal-military style, and that the West does nothing? Can the USA make a claim that this is entirely Nepal’s internal affair and that external state players are not in a position to interfere?

The latter argument of non-interference had lost credence today. Bangladesh as a nation was formed in 1971 precisely because of India’s military interference against East Pakistan’s military atrocities against their own people. Kuwait won back its  independence from a short Iraqi occupation in 1991 through force of arms largely thanks to the USA’s efforts in building up a UN-approved military campaign. Most of all, the 2003 Iraq War was clearly a direct attempt by the USA to interfere in Iraq’s internal politics and to precipitate a regime change.

So why is there no outcry at all for Nepal? Nepal is largely ignored because it does not control vital resources such as oil, it has no significant international trade links, unlike economic giants like China or Japan, and its geographical and strategic position makes it largely isolated from the mainstream of international events.     

Nepal’s royalist coup is only the latest political development that shows the indifference of US policy makers to issues of democracy, human rights and freedom of the press in other countries. The rest of the world is not fooled when the USA sends its envoys like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to preach its version of events, and the justifications for its actions when lobbying for support in its foreign policy agenda. Perhaps other states will react more favourably when the USA acts in a more
open and honest manner when it comes to addressing issues, and not always attempt to seize the high moral ground. Unless the USA steps forth to say something regarding
Nepal and its insurgency, the argument that double standards are practiced when promoting democracy will stand now and in the future.


The writer is a Master of Science in Strategic Studies from the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies (IDSS). He writes commentaries and analysis articles
on international affairs, security issues and terrorism