Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Scott H. DeLisi Nepal Army Staff College
March 1, 2011
Thank you, Major General Pradip Jung Thapa, for that gracious introduction. And thank you to this year’s class of the Nepal Army Staff College for hosting me today. I hope I have helped you escape a more rigorous training session by my presence here this afternoon.
This course marks an extraordinary threshold both in your personal careers as officers, and for the Army and nation which you serve. Kautilya’s Arthashastra, I believe, notes that there are three vital ingredients to military success. The first is “enthusiasm,” which I am sure you learned well during your cadet days of drill. Next comes conventional might, strength, and skill with arms, all of which you acquired in your early years of service and long days in the field. More important than either of these, however, are wisdom and sound advice…and it is these qualities you are now acquiring, readying you to provide the future service most critical to any army’s success. I feel privileged to share some small part in this important experience.
The term “future service” is important. While military ribbons and decorations recognize what you have achieved in the past, a course like this seeks to build on your perceived potential to prepare you for what you are yet to do, perhaps years into the future. Now I know that in a period of almost constant turmoil, such as Nepal has faced in recent years, it can be difficult to think and talk about what seems to be a very uncertain future.
Nonetheless, this is what we must do as leaders and as shapers of diplomatic or military engagement and planning. In a reflection of the challenges we all face, I see my own staff at the Embassy struggling to plan events just two weeks in the future due to the unpredictable situation while at the same time, we are trying to develop our long-term engagement planning for 2013. My military officers have even begun working on our plans 3 to 5 years into the future – a challenge without a crystal ball that tells us which of many possible futures to plan for in Nepal.
Nevertheless, lifting our eyes from the 50-meter target and looking out to 300 meters and beyond can be a useful exercise from time to time, and one I wish to share with you today. Incidentally, although I’m doing all the talking at the moment, I do mean “share” in the literal sense, and I hope to allow a fair amount of time at the end for questions and answers. Today is an opportunity for me to listen to you, the future of the Nepal Army, as well, and I look forward to hearing what you have to say.
As we talk about the future, and particularly the future of U.S. - Nepal engagement, I believe I should begin with the subject of change. Change is not often easy, especially the rapid socio-economic change that is radically transforming Nepal now. In the past, Nepalis, despite their ethnic and linguistic and religious and cultural differences, found a common identity as subjects of the king. That has changed; today, Nepalis have to determine what principles and values will unify them as they moveforward. The path toward those crucial decisions is not necessarily straight or short. Government institutions remain fragile. Societies, as we have seen in Egypt and in many countries in the Arab world, can change quickly and in unpredictable ways. Nepal in recent years has certainly undergone and is still undergoing such changes and they present enormous challenges for the Nepali state and for its people.
These changes, however, have not altered the overall U.S. policy goals in Nepal, which are few, but clear. We wish to see a stable, democratic, and prosperous Nepal in which the rights of all citizens are respected and protected and in which adherence to the rule of law is a core value for all. Our goals reflect, I think, the aspirations of most of the Nepali people.
That same long-term objective is the driving principle behind our other development activities. Since American assistance to Nepal began sixty years ago, the United States has provided over 2 billion dollars in programs to your country. As we speak today, the United States Agency for International Development in Nepal has an active portfolio of 225 million dollars focusing on, among other things, support to the peace process; strengthening democratic institutions; improving governance and the rule of law; providing training and education for youth employment; supporting early childhood education; fighting trafficking in persons; providing sustainable, accessible, and quality basic health services; fighting against hunger and ensuring food security; coping with global climate change and preparing for disasters. These programs make a significant improvement in the everyday lives of many Nepalis and are a highlight of our efforts in Nepal.
More importantly, these are not “fire-and-forget” activities. While we are committed to improving the lives of the Nepali people, we are also committed to developing capacity within the Government of Nepal to provide these services in their own right. Virtually every aid program we execute, from the first day of program design, is focused on developing enduring skills, systems, and human capacity within Nepal, so that the intended services can still be provided long after outside financing is gone.
I have had many young Nepalis voice their frustration to me that after 60 years the nation still turns to outside partners for development support. I understand their concern but do believe that this can be changed. Nepal is blessed with some extraordinarily talented people with whom we have worked to advance the development agenda. I believe that their continued engagement, supported and led by a stable and effective government committed to advancing a national development agenda, can lead to the requirement for foreign development assistance declining. Looking out into that not-too-distant future when you are all generals, it is my fervent hope that this currently robust area of engagement will be but a happy memory for both our nations.
For us to advance our goals of a stable, democratic and prosperous Nepal, however, our engagement with your nation must look not only at development but at a broad range of issues, and I will touch on some of them now.
In the view of the U.S. government there is no single issue more important for immediate action by Nepal’s leaders than the completion of the peace process. The war started in 1996 and ended in 2006, but the peace process is far from finished; this incomplete peace will continue to hold your leaders hostage and prevent them from addressing the other serious issues at hand. An honorable conclusion to the peace process is an essential step to help the country move past conflict and build a stable foundation for its future. We fully support the new Prime Minister and Nepal’s political leaders to once and for all resolve the issues remaining in the peace process. But, although we are prepared to offer support, for example for the rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants, we can only do so once the political leadership tells us how it wishes to shape the rehabilitation effort. The time to resolve these long outstanding issues is now.
The Army is without doubt a bedrock of stability and efficiency in Nepal. That said, there are reforms that are necessary for the Army to truly fit into a newly democratic Nepal, and the Army, too, must manage the changes that follow from the political and social transformation the nation is experiencing. Central to this transformation, and central to the role of a military in any democracy, is the unwavering acceptance of the principle of the primacy of civilian control of the Army. For centuries the Nepal Army loyally served the sovereign power of Nepal; however, as everyone here can attest, the nature of that sovereignty has changed. It is paramount that the Army sustains this centuries' old loyalty, associated now with the sovereignty of the people as embodied within the civilian democratic government.
I commend the Army for its respect for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and continued support to the current civilian government, particularly in what are sometimes trying circumstances. I also hope and expect that the Army will continue to be just as loyal to all the democratically elected governments of the future.
That said, however, it is equally important for the civilian government to understand and properly lead the Nepal Army. A first step is the creation of a strong Ministry of Defense, with both career bureaucrats and Army officers who are rewarded for serving in the ministry. For our part, at the invitation of Secretary Ghimire from the MOD, we have begun the process to include Nepal in our Defense Institution Reform Initiative program through our Office of the Secretary of Defense.
We have also worked hard to provide U.S. training opportunities, such as those held by the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, the Near East South Asia Center, and the Center for Civil Military Relations, for these officers and bureaucrats in order to set the conditions for success. Looking ahead, we hope that the Government of Nepal will ultimately develop a strong Ministry of Defense that will be able to provide capable and effective civilian leadership over the Army. To address the whole spectrum of national security issues, US assistance has centered on helping Nepalis develop their own solutions and ideas about security sector reform. We believe it is essential that the shape of these reforms must come from Nepali leaders, not from outsiders, no matter how well-intentioned.
For this reason our efforts emphasize seminars that bring prominent Nepalis—retired and serving officers, politicians, civil servants, and academics—together in a discussion-driven format to develop ideas on the direction that the security sector should go. We have executed 16 of these seminars since 2006, with the next planned for the beginning of May 2011. The results of these seminars have been presented to the Army, party leaders and senior bureaucrats for their consideration. These workshops not only assist in Nepal’s Security Sector Development, but they help build much needed trust and understanding between the Army and its civilian leadership.
Regarding the Army, the U.S. - Nepal relationship has been an enduring one. Funded by the International Military Education and Training program, the first Nepali officer attended a U.S. training course in 1965, and almost 500 soldiers have been formally trained through this system in the subsequent decades. Your Chief of Army Staff, General Gurung, is himself a 1985 graduate of the Command and General Staff Course at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and will be honored this April 7th, with his induction into the Hall of Fame to recognize his success as a distinguished alumnus.
Many more officers are sent every year to various courses and conferences funded by the United States Government under other programs. Again, these training engagements are not stand-alone events, but are instead designed and intended to have a long-term impact. Each student who returns brings back not only a specific tool-kit of military skills, but also the benefit of a wide exposure to American principles and practices, gained alongside those of other international military students.
I am extremely gratified that the Nepal Army leadership also sees these courses as an investment in the future, and routinely posts returning students to positions where they can best pass on what they have learned to the organization as a whole. I am even more pleased to know that Nepali officers routinely utilize these newly acquired tactics, techniques and procedures and adapt them to your own unique circumstances and requirements so that they may profitably be included in the way the Nepal Army trains and operates.
Similar principles apply to our Joint and Combined Exercise Training Program, and related training events, which bring American units and individuals here to Nepal. We have doubled our training partnership with the Nepal Army by offering 4 JCETs a year; one per quarter. After nearly every one of these interactions my staff hears how the results are taken and shared far beyond the units participating.
Perhaps the most notable success in this regard has been your Mahabir Battalion, which has participated in an exceptional number of these events. That unit’s operational success is a highly visible sign of this program’s value. Even more importantly, and looking once more to the months and years ahead, the Nepal Army leadership has arranged for this battalion to deploy mobile training teams across the country so that your entire organization can share in the fruits of these exercises. Again, this echoes what we seek to achieve in our other assistance programs – enabling a Nepali capacity so robust that our own efforts are ultimately irrelevant. At the end of the day, we’re trying to work ourselves out of a job. That said, however, we’re not there yet.
The military assistance and cooperation programs between our two countries continue to grow and bear fruit. The International Military Education Training program is programmed at $1 million this year and is set to grow to $1.1 million in 2012. Similarly, the Foreign Military Financing program saw a $100,000 increase in funding, up to $900,000 this year to support humanitarian assistance/disaster relief equipment for the Nepal Army. We are working to enhance disaster response efforts in your army to respond to earthquakes, floods and pandemic influenza.
An important aspect in our cooperation is the mutual understanding and respect that we have for each other’s institutions; we are pleased that there will be an American Army officer among your ranks next year at the staff college. My military officers and I look forward to the strengthened bonds and renewed spirit of cooperation between our countries in the years ahead. As I look to that future, I believe that the Nepal Army’s own choices about how it defines itself will also be critical to a sustained and promising partnership.
I am very happy, for example, to see the renewed emphasis the NA is putting on human rights training. Standing up a Human Rights Directorate in Army Headquarters and institutionalizing human rights training at all levels of the Nepal Army is an important sign that the Army understands that a professional army, which has legitimacy throughout the world, must be an army that respects and protects human rights. I commend the Army for having improved its human rights record since the Comprehensive Peace Accord went into effect, and I believe that the Army understands just how important human rights are.
Prevention of future violations, however, is only one part of a mature army’s approach to human rights. It is equally important to hold those who have violated human rights in the past accountable for their actions. If the Army protects these violators, then the perception becomes that it was not an individual who committed the violations, but the institution itself which condoned them. If there are failures or mistakes in judgment that raise questions about the Army’s commitment to human rights, they must be acknowledged and addressed--not hidden or covered-up with the belief that those who exercise power need not be accountable.
The United States military has had to face these challenges, for example in the conflicts in Vietnam and in Iraq. It is never easy to acknowledge our failures but, if we lack the courage and commitment to do so, we can neither strengthen ourselves nor win the respect of our people or our international partners.
As we have consistently, I call on the army leadership to hold all of its personnel who violated human rights and committed violations of the international law of war during the conflict, accountable for their actions. We also urge the Nepal Army to cooperate with civilian courts and authorities as appropriate under Nepali law. By fully cooperating with all human rights organizations and openly assisting with ongoing investigations, the Nepal Army can put this part of its history behind it and move forward as a professional, internationally accepted and legitimate security force.
I think an important part of this transformation has been the realization that although the challenge of integrating new values, such as respect for human rights, into your institutional values can at first seem a burden and a constraint, in the long run it is actually a force multiplier. An army which internalizes and respects clearly defined values is, ultimately, a more effective fighting force and one that wins the respect of the people it serves.
This is a lesson we have learned in the United States as our military grappled with similar “value issues,” for example in regard to diversity and inclusiveness. The challenges were considerable and required a fundamental shift in mindset. The process took time and our efforts were not without setbacks.
The fact is, recruiting, retaining and promoting of soldiers and officers without regard to race, religion or gender has been a challenge over decades. Making positive and sustained efforts to actively recruit a diverse fighting force and overcome past imbalances has been difficult. But in the end, despite many naysayers along the way, we have largely succeeded; and are undoubtedly stronger for it.
This diversity brings a wide variety of skills and perspectives to our military, making it intellectually the most innovative in the world; and our policies in this regard have created a military that “looks like” America, tying our armed forces more closely to the society they serve and defend. I am impressed with the efforts the Nepal Army has made so far in this regard – particularly the increased recruitment and service opportunities for women and diversification in the ranks. However, speaking from our national experience, I would note that this is only the first step. A difficult road to realizing this potential still lies ahead as you work to ensure that these new recruits get the right kind of assignments and training opportunities that will allow them to follow you up the ranks.
The challenge and promise of grooming future leaders are not exclusively the preserve of officers, but extend also into the enlisted ranks. Another characteristic of militaries in strong democracies is an empowered noncommissioned officer corps. The Nepal Army has made great strides in its efforts to create a professional Noncommissioned Officer Corps. To date, 30 NCOs have been trained in U.S. Warrior Leader Training, and this training continues to professionalize the enlisted ranks of your army. Further trainings are scheduled for JCETs focused on NCO development as well as a Subject Matter Expert Exchange with the U.S. Army Pacific in the summer.
I feel confident that one day, when you have even more brass on your shoulders, you will speak proudly of these soldiers as the “Backbone of the Army,” just as American generals speak about our own NCOs. But of course, every success brings with it new challenges, and empowered NCOs are of little use without officers who understand what a strong NCO corps brings to the fight. Your work in the years ahead will be to ensure your officer training successfully addresses that challenge.
While I understand that much of the growing appreciation for NCOs and small-unit leaders generally stems from the Army’s experience in the recent conflict, I would also note that junior leaders are critical in other – far more rewarding – military operations around the globe; operations the Nepal Army will likely be conducting for years to come. For not only does Nepal need a strong professional Army to ensure its future, but the world needs a strong Nepal Army as well.
I am of course speaking about Nepal’s exceptional success in sending peacekeepers to the various United Nations missions throughout the world. Nepal ranks sixth among all countries sending peacekeepers to the United Nations. This is a remarkable accomplishment considering both the size of Nepal and the size of the Nepal Army. Nepal Army soldiers and officers have distinguished themselves for the last 50 years as UN peacekeepers in places such as Lebanon, Haiti, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, and the Congo—to name only a few.
The United States recognizes your contributions to UN Peacekeeping Operations and has most recently provided 10 armored Humvees for the Nepal Army peace keepers deployed to UNMID in Sudan. Your forces in Darfur are now better prepared for the demanding mission there and the vital tasks ahead. It is for this reason that the U.S. continues to support the Nepal Army peacekeeping center in Panchkal.
U.S. Pacific Command’s Global Peace Operations Initiative—known as GPOI—will continue to fund training and non-lethal assistance for Nepal's peacekeepers, ensuring they are better prepared to meet future operations. Last week, the U.S. Pacific Command GPOI team finished the installation of 2 million dollars worth of computers and equipment for the Peace Support Operations Collaboration Center, which will enable deploying UN peace keepers to conduct pre-deployment mission planning as well as video teleconferencing. Lastly, I would like to commend the Nepal Army for its sterling reputation on UN Peacekeeping Operations as well as the contribution of your colleagues supporting the UN stabilization effort in Haiti for their valiant efforts in responding to the earthquake in Port-au-Prince last year. I believe the valuable lessons learned by Nepali peacekeepers in Haiti during this unnecessary horrific loss of life must be internalized within Nepal’s security forces, and government to ensure that the same mistakes do not bring tragic results here in your country.
As many of you know, Nepal tops the lists of countries most vulnerable to a catastrophic earthquake, and the Kathmandu Valley with its significant and dense population is particularly vulnerable. A major earthquake today would be devastating. Realistic projections suggest that in the valley alone hundreds of thousands of people will die or will be injured. Hundreds of thousands more will be homeless, and much of the Valley’s infrastructure will be destroyed. The damage will likely be comparable to the devastation of Haiti, or worse. Such a quake would set Nepal’s development timeline back by decades.
We seek a different future. We want to save lives and preserve the development gains that this country has made. In order to do so we are committed to working with government, NGOs, and with private citizens, to help them to mitigate the potential damage, as much as possible, from the impending disaster. As you’re probably also aware, we co-hosted a major Disaster Risk Reduction Symposium here in Kathmandu two weeks ago that was attended by the Prime Minister and over 400 others, including the top brass from your military. This event built upon the Tempest Express tabletop exercise held in 2009 and helped raise awareness of the risks we all face.
While increased awareness is important, action is what will save lives, and there is much to be done. Retrofitting schools and hospitals, enforcing building codes, prepositioning supplies, and training community first responders, are among the many steps that we can take together to mitigate the impact of the disaster and improve the capacity to respond. We have begun to engage actively with the Government of Nepal through the Home Ministry, the Army, Armed Police Force, and the Nepal Police. On the military front, we have been working closely with Pacific Command on plans and assessments over the past six months. As a next step, together with your Army, we are in the process of planning a table top exercise focused on disaster response that will take place in April. This partnership must remain energetic and requires a strong commitment from the Government of Nepal and the entire donor community – but most importantly, it must begin now.
Before I conclude this talk about the future, and hand the floor over to you for questions, I want to make one brief remark about the past. As some of you may know, one of my early jobs in the Foreign Service was as a desk officer for Nepal in the 1980’s, and I find it extraordinarily rewarding to return now in my present capacity. Much has changed, but much has stayed the same. The people of this country remain some of the most decent and resilient I have met anywhere and the mountains are as stunning as ever, with visitors coming from around the world to visit them.
Many people also come here, both then and now, to seek spiritual fulfillment, and you can scarcely walk through Thamel without bumping into some young tourist toting a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. The poetry and insight of this work are beyond question; but I wonder how many of these young people reflect on its context. For someone who has spent much of his professional life working with or around the military in many different nations, I find it striking now that this text – perhaps the ultimate single work of South Asian philosophy - is ultimately a soldier’s story, a battlefield dialogue before the storm of war.
We all wish to avoid the horror and carnage of war; but some of us – some of you – have taken on the burden and the honor of preparing for it, and in that preparation find the space and the occasion for illumination. In the years of U.S. – Nepal military engagement yet to come, I hope that your soldiers and ours will continue to talk, just like those on the field of Kurukshetra finding their own sliver of illumination together.