Participation in International Organizations
Historically, Bhutan's foreign relations had been limited primarily to contacts with Tibet, India, and Britain. A major achievement was made in the 1960s as Bhutan began to join international organizations. It first became a member of the Colombo Plan in 1962, which put the kingdom into contact with member states throughout South Asia and Southeast Asia for purposes of fostering cooperative economic development. Bhutan joined the Universal Postal Union in 1969, putting it into contact with some 137 countries. UN membership was achieved in 1971, followed by the gaining of seats in the UN's specialized and related agencies, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. A founding member of SAARC in 1983, Bhutan had also established relations with the Coordination Bureau of the Nonaligned Countries (the headquarters of the Nonaligned Movement), the Group of 77, the Asian Development Bank, and the European Community. By 1990, Bhutan belonged to 119 international, regional, and special interest organizations.
In 1975 Bhutan and four other landlocked Asian countries (Afghanistan, Laos, Mongolia, and Nepal) were granted a special status as "least developed landlocked countries" by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in coordination with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and UNDP. Despite these organizations' intentions to assist Bhutan and the other countries in dealing with international transit problems, Bhutan declined to participate in their work.
Perhaps the most significant international participation Bhutan embarked on in the 1980s was membership in SAARC. SAARC's agenda excluded bilateral issues and political programs from the organization's debates and confined committee and summit discussions to areas where member nations must find common ground for achieving mutual economic benefit. Bhutan became involved in useful working group discussions on agriculture and livestock, rural development, meteorology, telecommunications, science and technology, health and population, transportation, postal cooperation, and trade and industrial cooperation.
Heads-of-state meetings of SAARC have taken Jigme Singye Wangchuck abroad on several occasions. The integration of Bhutan into SAARC activities also involved the country with a variety of issues of concern to poor undeveloped nations as well as increasing its participation in the Non-Aligned Movement. In Bhutan's extensive multilateral diplomatic activities in the 1980s, officials saw their country emerging as an "Eastern Geneva" providing a "venue for peace-making efforts in South Asia."
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