Foreign Relations

Bhutan Table of Contents

Historically, Bhutan's foreign policies were greatly influenced by Tibet. Bhutan acknowledged Tibet's influence over it until 1860 and continued to pay a nominal tribute to Tibet until the mid1940s , although not necessarily on a friendly basis. Despite religious and cultural affinities, most of Bhutan's elite were refugees who had fled Tibet for religious reasons over the centuries. From 1865 to 1947, Britain guided Bhutan's foreign affairs. Thereafter Bhutan's foreign relations until the early 1970s were under the guidance of India, with which Bhutan had had official diplomatic relations from 1949. During the 1970s and 1980s, however, Bhutan became a member of the UN and its affiliated agencies; established formal diplomatic relations with fifteen other nations, primarily in South Asia and Scandinavia; actively participated in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement; spoke out against, among other subjects, nuclear proliferation and terrorism; and had a peripatetic head of state who traveled abroad widely. By the early 1990s, Bhutan's foreign policies were effectively autonomous.

A shortage of diplomatic officials limited Thimphu's missions in New York and Geneva (established in 1985) and meant that the nation could only staff embassies in New Delhi, Dhaka, and Kuwait. Bhutan had only one employee, a computer programmer, at the SAARC headquarters in Kathmandu in late 1990. Only India and Bangladesh had representatives in Thimphu in 1991; other nations generally gave dual accreditation to their ambassadors in New Delhi to enable them to represent their countries' interests in Thimphu. Similarly, because of the shortage of diplomatic personnel, the head of the Bhutanese UN mission in Geneva, for example, also served as ambassador to Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the European Economic Community (EEC), and several UN affiliates. The ambassador to Kuwait is accredited to Switzerland because of Swiss rules that disallow the UN representative in Geneva to also be accredited to Switzerland. Honorary consuls represented Bhutan in Singapore, Hong Kong, Macao, Osaka, and Seoul, and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) had an honorary counsel in Thimphu.

Bhutan had no formal diplomatic relations with the United States as of 1991. It was one of only seven sovereign nations in the world with which the United States did not maintain formal representation. Informal contact was maintained, however, between the embassies of Bhutan and the United States in New Delhi, and Bhutan's permanent mission at the United Nations in New York had consular jurisdiction in the United States. It has been speculated that Bhutan, in light of India's close relations with the Soviet Union, had elected to keep equidistant from both superpowers. Nevertheless, during a visit with a United States senator in 1985, the Druk Gyalpo personally expressed strong support for the United States as the principal bulwark against the Soviet Union in South Asia. The United States ambassador to New Delhi was among numerous emissaries of nations without diplomatic ties to pay courtesy calls in Thimphu in the 1980s. Contacts with the Soviet Union and other communist countries were nil.

More about the Government and Politics of Bhutan.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress