Rightsizing the Army

Nepal’s security strategy cannot exist in isolation in an interconnected world.

By Gulnaz Nawaz | September 2023

The ongoing fierce debate in Nepal regarding the rightsizing of its army indicates a nation at a critical juncture where domestic, regional, and global dynamics intersect. The argument for downsizing the military, centered on utility and economic costs, underscores the complex interplay between national security, fiscal responsibility, and the evolving geopolitical landscape. At the heart of the rightsizing debate lies the pragmatic consideration of the utility and economic costs of maintaining a large military force.

Nepal’s allocation of 58.84 billion Nepali rupees ($450 million) for its 96,000-strong army, accounting for 3.5 percent of the total government expenditure for 2023–24, raises pertinent questions about resource allocation. Advocates for downsizing argue that a substantial portion of the national budget is being channeled into the military, potentially at the expense of essential sectors like education, healthcare, and infrastructure. This stance underscores the need to optimize resource distribution for comprehensive national development.

The opposition to downsizing shown by parliamentarians and the army highlights the entrenched interests and intricate power dynamics connected to the military’s role in Nepali politics. The army has historically wielded considerable influence, and any discussion of reducing its size is met with concerns about job losses, political recalibration, and the potential to weaken the established order. The military’s defensiveness might also signify institutional pride and a belief in the army’s historical contributions to the country. This internal pushback emphasizes that the debate over rightsizing is not merely fiscal; it touches upon deep-seated political dynamics and institutional identity.

However, the scope of this debate transcends mere budgetary concerns. It delves into the professionalization of the military and its adaptability to modern challenges. The fact that Nepal’s military budget focuses primarily on recurrent expenses rather than investments in future capabilities highlights this. The role of the military within Nepal’s geopolitical landscape is also pivotal. Former Foreign Minister Poudyal’s assertions regarding the military’s role in protecting national sovereignty bring to light the critical question of Nepal’s preparedness against potential attacks from neighboring countries. However, viewing the military’s role solely through the lens of winning wars misses the broader objectives of deterring conflicts and maintaining territorial integrity.

Nepal’s security strategy cannot exist in isolation in an interconnected world. The changing regional and global dynamics underscore the imperative for a comprehensive evaluation. Nepal’s relationships with its neighbors, particularly India and China, are pivotal in shaping its security landscape. As regional cooperation and diplomacy gain traction, the scale and nature of Nepal’s military force should align with cooperative strategies that foster trust and stability. Moreover, the evolving nature of global threats, encompassing non-traditional challenges like cyber warfare and environmental vulnerabilities, necessitates a security approach that is adaptive and technologically advanced.

Nepal’s ongoing rightsizing debate has far-reaching consequences. Nepal’s new security approach may impact neighboring nations like Pakistan. It’s crucial to create conditions for reasonable discussion so that civilian and military officials can trust one another. Nepal’s choices could catalyze evaluating military structures and resource allocation strategies in the broader South Asian region. The discourse underscores the interconnectedness of security, diplomacy, and resource allocation.

The army rightsizing debate in Nepal encapsulates a multifaceted exploration of utility, economics, and security strategy. It highlights the challenge of balancing fiscal responsibilities with security imperatives and broader developmental goals. The resistance to downsizing, rooted in historical power dynamics and institutional pride, is equally significant. Nepal’s leaders must engage in a comprehensive discourse addressing these intertwined elements against the backdrop of changing domestic, regional, and global dynamics. A transparent, inclusive, and informed debate is the cornerstone of forging a security strategy that safeguards the nation’s interests and positions Nepal as a responsive player on the global stage. As Nepal endeavors to navigate its future, the rightsizing discussion becomes a lens through which it can redefine its role, strategy, and identity in an ever-evolving world.