So I’m writing that last post and I’m trying to make sure that I’m not out to lunch when I say that Iran, Cuba, and North Korea are America’s three longest-running diplomatic antagonists. And it turns out that, with Cuba off the list, Iran and North Korea are two of the three remaining countries with which the United States does not have diplomatic relations. The third, of course, is Bhutan.
So, look, I’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of money taking a lot of classes about foreign countries over the years, but I have to admit I know nothing about Bhutan apart from the fact that it exists. But I’m also pretty sure that the United States and Bhutan have never gone to war with each other or been involved in any international incidents of the kind that usually involve cutting off relations with each other. Actually, now that I’ve looked into it I know that the United States and Bhutan have never broken off relations with each other. They never had any formal diplomatic relations in the first place. And the reason for this seems to be nothing more scandalous than a basic lack of interest, at least on Bhutan’s part:
Bhutan is a landlocked nation around the size of Switzerland that’s situated in the Himalayan mountains between India and China. Since joining the United Nations in 1971, the country has maintained a Swiss-like aversion to foreign entanglements of any kind. The kingdom has no relations with any of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and only two states—Bangladesh and neighboring India—have embassies in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu. Bhutan is so isolated that until 2007, it didn’t even conduct its own foreign policy—India took care of it for them.
In spite of its retreat from the rest of the world, Bhutan is not free of contentious relations. The kingdom has a long-running border dispute with China, which claims roughly 10 percent of Bhutanese territory as its own, and the Chinese government is eager to include Thimphu in its sphere of influence. So far, however, Bhutan has kept its distance: The country recently declined to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a Beijing-led rival to the World Bank. Bhutan’s resistance to China has led some analysts to speculate that the United States should seize the opportunity to formalize relations with the kingdom, a newly consolidated democracy.
But Bhutan’s leaders just don’t see any reason to get closer to the United States. In 2011, Jigmi Yoser Thinley, Bhutan’s then-Prime Minister, told the Bhutanese News Agency that “there was a time when diplomatic relations signified one’s position vis-à-vis conflicting powers, choosing sides. It’s no longer the case.”
So there you go. Maybe some of you readers already knew this, but I had no idea. You learn something new every day, I guess. Or at least I do.