Connect with us

Features

Foreign relations in the context of geopolitics

Published

on

By Neville Ladduwahetty

The Additional Secretary to the President for Foreign Relations, Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage in an interview stated: “The foreign policy of the new government is based on some key pillars. The number one is neutrality. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has repeatedly stated in Sri Lanka and India and in his interaction with the press and the diplomatic community, that his primary responsibility is maintaining neutrality. We don’t want to be labelled or get caught in this power game (Daily Mirror, January 28, 2020).

However, expanding on the above policy in his current position as Foreign Secretary, Admiral Prof. Colombage, during the course of an interview to Derana 24 news channel stated: “Very categorically, the President has stated that we have a strategic security-wise ‘India first’ policy because we cannot be, we should not be, we can’t afford to be a strategic security threat for India, period,” (August 20, 2020).

The need for Sri Lanka to conduct foreign relations with other countries in a manner that is not a security threat to India was a bitter lesson Sri Lanka, learnt several decades ago at great cost in terms of blood and treasure that lasted three decades. The lesson Sri Lanka learnt was that if Sri Lanka engages in relations with countries such as the USA, or any other whose interests may be perceived by India to be inimical to the latter’s interests, in particular security, India would not hesitate to convey its displeasure at such developments in a manner of its choosing.

 

ALTERED LANDSCAPE

However, the circumstances at that time were different. India was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, and global politics was determined by two recognised super powers. While the majority of countries were Non-aligned, others opted to be aligned with either one of the two super powers. Today, geopolitics is defined by a single super power, the USA, that is being challenged by a rising power, aspiring to be the other super power or even the sole super power: China. In such a background, India is no longer serious about staying committed to being non-aligned. Instead, it is an integral component of Quad, namely, a security-related alliance made up of the US, India, Japan and Australia, crafted as a feature of the US Policy ‘Pivot to Asia’. This alliance is preparing itself to counter China’s involvement in the Indian Ocean as part of its multi trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.

It is in such an altered landscape that one has to consider whether India would or would not accept Sri Lanka caving into US pressure and signing the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact, the Acquisition and Cross Service Agreement (ACSA) and Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Bearing in mind that India is known to have already signed similar agreements with the US and is a partner of the combined defense arrangements of Quad, would India consider Sri Lanka signing any of these agreements with the US a security threat to India? NO!. On the other hand, India might welcome Sri Lanka signing security related Agreements with the USA, because Sri Lanka would then inadvertently become a part of the Quad security alliance to counter the influence of China.

Under these circumstances, a policy of “India First” would mean that India would not have any security concerns with Sri Lanka if Sri Lanka becomes part of Quad by signing the three Agreements presented by the US, notwithstanding the sustained opposition expressed by the Sri Lankan public. For Sri Lanka to be in a position where its interests and that of its public are determined by any other State or States, is unacceptable. Therefore, ‘India First’ must be viewed with apprehension.

A way to overcome such hard choices is to rely on the President’s initial Foreign Policy of Neutrality; a position he declared to the nation and to the world during his inaugural acceptance speech in the hallowed precincts of Anuradhapura. It would only be a policy of Neutrality that would enable Sri Lanka to exercise its sovereign rights and at the same time ensure other States, in particular India and Quad, that Sri Lanka would be Neutral as far as security issues are concerned while engaging with all nations in respect of other issues. Such a policy would mean that when it comes to security no one is first. All are equal. This is of particular relevance in view of the emerging landscape in the Indian Ocean in respect of security issues

 

EMERGING LANDSCAPE

The Annual Report by the US OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE to Congress:” Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020 states: “Beyond its current base in Djibouti, the PRC is very likely already considering and planning for additional overseas military logistics facilities to support naval, air, and ground forces. The PRC has likely considered locations for PLA military logistics facilities in Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola, and Tajikistan. The PRC and Cambodia have publicly denied having signed an agreement to provide the PLAN with access to Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base”.

Whether China is “considering and planning additional overseas military logistics facilities” or not, the several Ports already built by China in the Indian Ocean Rim countries could readily be transformed into military logistics facilities. In this regard Sri Lanka is particularly vulnerable because of all the countries referred to above, the uniqueness of the strategic location of Sri Lanka for military logistics in the Indian Ocean is a fact that is indisputable. Furthermore, China already has a logistic facility in Hambantota, even though not a military facility at this point in time. Consequently, Sri Lanka would be hard pressed to avoid the rivalry that is inexorably emerging between Quad and China.

In such a background, would a policy of Non-Alignment or looking East for support from regional organizations such as BIMSTEC and/or SAARC help Sri Lanka to deal with security related countervailing pressures that are engulfing Sri Lanka in various forms; the latest being sanctions imposed by the US on Companies involved with the Port City Project?

Non-alignment was relevant at a different time when the geopolitical construct was also different. During that time, India and Sri Lanka were on the same page as far as Foreign Relations were concerned as partners of the Non-Aligned Movement. Furthermore, no country was interested in establishing their footprint in Sri Lanka, and the Indian Ocean was not the hot bed of rivalry that it is today as a consequence of China attempting to regain its place in the world, and alliances such as Quad attempting to counter China’s efforts. In addition, by being part of Quad, India cannot realistically claim to be non-aligned. In such a context, Sri Lanka has to be specific and state with whom or what aspects of Foreign Relations Sri Lanka is not aligned with, if non-alignment is in fact its policy. In the absence of an unambiguous statement, the message should be that Sri Lanka’s relations with all States would be Neutral in respect of security related issues. Such a policy would enable Sri Lanka to stay clear of major power rivalries.

CONCLUSION

The suggestion that Neutrality was an appropriate policy to guide Sri Lanka’s Foreign Relations was mooted in an article titled “Independence: Its meaning and a direction for the future” (Ladduwahetty, The Island, February 14, 2019). This article stated: “Traditional thinking as to how small States could cope with external pressures are supposed to be: (1) Non-alignment with any of the major centres of power; (2) Alignment with one of the major powers thus making a choice and facing the consequences of which power block prevails; (3) Bandwagoning which involves unequal exchange where the small State makes asymmetric concessions to the dominant power and accepts a subordinate role of a vassal State; (4) Hedging, which attempts to secure economic and security benefits of engagement with each power centre: (5) Balancing pressures individually, or by forming alliances with other small States; (6) Neutrality”.

Continuing, the article stated: “Of the six strategies cited above, the only strategy that permits a sovereign independent nation to charter its own destiny is neutrality, as it is with Switzerland and some Nordic countries, not only because domestic rivalries prevent the development of consistent policies for engagement with great powers but also because Sri Lanka does not have the skills or the level of sophistication to emerge unscathed from “grey zone coercion” of the great powers. Neutrality has relevance at this particular point in time because regional cooperation arrangements among countries in the Indian Ocean Rim and South and South East Asia have lost its appeal due to each country attempting to engage in arrangements that suit them best. Under the circumstances, how could neutrality translate itself in real terms”?

“Instead of making a public declaration that henceforth Sri Lanka would be neutral in its relations with the great powers, it would be more prudent to express neutrality via the manner in which Sri Lanka engages with the great powers. To start with, Sri Lanka should cease taking outright loans or loans to finance infrastructure projects however attractive the terms from either of the power blocks. Equally important is for Sri Lanka to cease participating in security related land or sea operations with either of the power blocs because they are clearly conducted to further their own security preparedness”. 

In the current geopolitical setting where the Indian Ocean with Sri Lanka right in the middle of it has become a theater for rivalry between the security alliance of the US, India, Japan and Australia (popularly referred to as the Quad), and China, the most prudent policy for Sri Lanka, given the prevailing geopolitical particularities is one of Neutrality, as advocated and articulated by the President during his inaugural speech in the hallowed precincts of Anuradhapura.

Features

Neuro-science that underlies Buddhist philosophy

Published

on

Dr Channa Ratnatunga

Buddhist philosophy does not mention the Brain, only the mind or citta. It does not mean that the organ i.e. the brain was unknown at the time. Recorded in the Maha-Vagga, ’the book of Discipline’ of the Tripitaka, one Jeevaka Kohombacha a reputed physician was trephining the skull, presumably to drain blood accumulated within the skull. He would have known how it could affect brain/mind function.

In the Western front, it was Galen who was thought to be the 1st to attempt changing the existent opinion, in 200AD; he held that it was the brain and not the heart that was the seat of ‘intelligence’.

We have now moved on far beyond. I thought it appropriate to place Buddhist philosophy on a more scientific footing by correlating it with current Neuro-biology of Neuroscience. The data is both subjective and objective as a science.

‘The Reptilian Brain ’

A portion of the brain of all vertebrates, becoming more prominent in mammals, more than birds and reptiles is the reptilian brain. It is now described as the Limbic system. It deals with a whole lot of reflexes which deals with survival. For a species, the typical instinctual behaviours are involved with it: flight-fight reaction, aggression, dominance, territoriality and ritual displays. In mammals, specially the higher groups, which include Chimpanzees, Gorillas and man, it subscribes to most emotional responses for survival, procreation and other basic needs of fulfillment i.e. of thirst and hunger. Links through the hormones and the autonomic nervous system, permits fulfillment of the different roles it is responsible for.

Structurally they are constituted by the sensorial input through the Thalamus (other than smell), Hippocampus, Amygdala, hypo-thalamus and the Cingulate Gyrus of the Brain (see diagram) below.

All emotional responses, are kept controlled by the pre-frontal cortex often described as ‘the leader of the Orchestra’.

Hence inbuilt into all of us by millennia of selection are reflexes for survival. Social anthropology teaches us that security of survival is enhanced by belonging to a society. After all, we are inbuilt to be, a social animal. Dominance in the society, needs suppression of competition to get the cream of both the spoils for; food and procreation. Both Tribalism and a hierarchy, is born and needs to be sustained. Anger, greed, theft, promiscuity and other ill-gotten traits are hence a part of our inbuilt armamentarium. Most are inherited by being installed on our limbic system (in the human brain). The degree of pre frontal lobe control to keep checked these primitive urges is what Buddhist philosophy is all about.

Current studies of neuroscience, using; functional MRI and other imaging and electrical recording procedures have shown that Mindful Meditation enlarges the prefrontal cortex (i.e. more cells, synapses in this area) of the brain. Mindfulness skills are now recognized in the west, as premium in many areas of human endeavour. In fact, it is hailed as the ‘way to go for evolution for the human kind!

As long as we have the Limbic system installed for survival, we will continue to volitionally (think, speak and act) behave to survive, permitting the karmic energy to be formed. Maybe the survival apparatus was installed to maintain sentient life-forms in the universe, a part of nature (could even be a natural law i.e. like gravitation). The Buddha discovered it and showed a way to avoid it, so securing avoidance of karmic generation.

With this background permit me to speculate on the philosophy we have tried to give a more solid scientific background.

The ultimate truth of human existence, we all seek: the ultimate reality, has to be within Nature, bound by laws, known and; as yet unknown that govern it.

Nature as we know it consists of the physical universe as we know it, the dark matter we are not yet familiar with, energy and dark energy associated with it and the sentient life forms that inhabit, so far in at least on our planet.

Science so far has not made inroads into the nature of sentient life forms, other than to define their detailed physical structure, the nature of their behaviour, their evolution by natural selection (Darwin). It is not known what forces form life forms; why they grow? Why the varied circumstances of their individual existence; what their designated purpose is and where they go after death. Into this vacuum, walks religion!

Having said this, all the tribalistic institutions, ceremonies, incantations, etc. that have since developed around a variety of prophets, are at best, a means of keeping man, a social animal, controlled. Society is competitive and to maintain a semblance organization within, laws have to be promulgated. The unknown, have at various times been deified, i.e. the sun, fire, a creator, a destroyer, etc. The Latin saying by Petronius; ‘Timor primus in Orbe, Deos fecit’ (Fear caused Gods first on Earth) has much to say for itself, as does the pithy advice of the Persian philosopher poet Omar-Khayam, referring to the sky and presumably deities, ‘lift not thy hands to it for help, as it rolls impotently on as thou and I’. Security offered by herd behaviour of a tribe, or as offered by supernatural power or being, in trying circumstances is a human need and faith helps. Religion Modern society needs to be re-thought, as to its place.

Returning to the subject of this essay, Newton (Laws of Motion), Einstein (Laws of Gravity), Maxwell (Laws of Electro-Magnetism), the strong and weak force of atomic structure, and others have propounded physical laws for, that govern matter and the known energy forms that exist in the Universe. Based on the accuracy of the application of such laws, man has set foot on the moon. Science prides itself on accuracy and being evidence-based.

If sentient life-forms too are part of nature, the detailed laws have yet to be postulated by science. Unlike the study of matter, a need to understand the ‘nature of existence of life-forms’ has not yet been undertaken by the scientific community. After all, survival and procreation to live on the harsh environment that exists at the time seems to be their only purpose.

To hypothesise, speculatively, could it be that Siddhartha Gautama, by meditative practice of a high order, enlarging his pre-frontal cortex of the brain, broke into ‘the insightful realization of how life forms are governed: it’s laws in nature’.

As evidence-based data has to be adduced for this possibility, I will now place evidence, as to these conclusions, speculative no doubt.

It is claimed that he realised the truth of reincarnation, i.e. rebirth, samsara and the sorrow. We sow and we reap, and the Karmic law will enact Samsara for eons to come.

Rebirth will account for the protean differences that exist in human form, circumstances, talents, life events (Narada Mahathera’s text reproduced in The Island last Poya Day (01 Oct). Stevenson’s1 detailed scientific enquiry on children who could recollect past lives, birth marks attributed to trauma provides anecdotal evidence.

The scientific value of past life regression (PLR) by psychiatrists using hypnosis on selected subjects, Near Death Experiences (NDE) is difficult to assess. For instance, it has been shown that diminished blood flow to the brain as experienced in certain circumstances can simulate NDE.

This leaves the practising Buddhist to focus on meditation to see the veracity of the truth of rebirth. That rebirth is sorrow, I think can be realized, as death in most life forms be it animal or insect, is painful. According to Buddhism, to be born in a human life-form with pre-frontal decision making ability is a great opportunity to negate rebirth and sorrow. This opportunity is yours.

Continue Reading

Features

What’s the Plan?

Published

on

We have a new government in Aotearoa; we even have a Sri Lankan born MP! The landslide victory of her party was so marked that some said that even an inanimate object put up as a candidate for the labour party, under Jacinda magic, would have won. Not fair methinks on this young lady who apparently worked her electorate very hard. There is a celebratory dinner to be held for her next month. I look forward to attending that and gleaning a few more facts for my readers. On the other hand I may be banned by the cohorts of her countrymen forming barriers (protective or offensive) around her.

So, the new Government has big plans. Improve the availability of houses, especially for first home buyers since the National Party when they governed allowed foreign investors to buy up multiple properties with small deposits and then making the tenants effectively pay the mortgage, creating a massive shortage of houses. There was also a rather grandiose plan named Kiwibuild that was supposed to “create houses” at low cost and in no time for those who desperately needed them. There is also Child poverty in NZ, believe it or not. Ranging from children not having lunches to take to school, to not having shoes to wear to school and older children leaving school early to work and earn money to support their families. This of course almost exclusively among the Maori and Pacific Islander communities.

Unemployment is also rampant Covid19 is being touted as the excuse but to be frank we were heading for an economic slump before Covid in Aotearoa. This level of unemployment is blamed on the work ethic or lack thereof among the Maori and Pacific Island communities but there is a deeper connotation to this. It was recently found out that the big fishing companies in NZ have been flying in crews for their trawlers from Russia for 25 years! These fishermen fly in during the Russian Winter and crew on the massive sea going trawlers. This was only highlighted because a whole lot of these fisher folk got Covid 19 while in quarantine. The official story is that for 25 years they have been unable to train or find people who can work on these ships from among the people in NZ. If you buy that, I’ll throw the harbour bridge in free!

What is pretty obvious is that big business in NZ is allowed to prosper regardless of the economic implications of them doing so. They are allowed to use and employ foreign sources purely on a profitability basis with no concern for the domestic economy or the strengthening of same. There are lots of semi monopolies, supermarkets being a prime example. All the major supermarkets are owned by two parent companies. Is it a wonder that groceries are so ridiculously expensive in NZ when compared to Australia? Are we denizens of Aotearoa really expected to believe that an oligopolistic enterprise is charging fair prices? Let’s hope the Labour Government with its huge majority that we have just appointed, looks into these matters.

The thing about the traditional Kiwi is that they spend money. They do not save everything to be able to give houses to their children or dowries! Now that they are “trapped” in their islands, they are spending the money they would have used for foreign travel for domestic tourism. They are also spending on improving their houses and property and of course retail therapy. The NZ economy is still not floundering. In fact, it is buzzing, how long that will last is of course the multi-billion-dollar question!

The Pearl doesn’t look that good does it? No income from the housemaids, tourism at a standstill and even the garment factories under fire. The big hotels are closed except for those who have

been able to wrangle a contract to house those being quarantined. I know for a fact the tragedy of the boutique hotels and other mid-sized tourism ventures. All forms of spending must be curtailed, so, the “wheeler” drivers must be destitute. I don’t even want to think about those paying off leases and mortgages.

Now I see many articles to the papers these days. Written by people with qualifications that would take up the first 500 words of the articles I write, and designations that would account for the balance, size of my articles I mean. Some write them like scientific dissertations, other dabble in humour and innuendo, however I have read nothing so far that has any content that shows us a pathway out of the economic morass that the Pearl is in.

Borrowing has its limits and it has connotations that scare the living daylights out of me. Printing money can of course go on and be used to pay wages in the grossly overstaffed Government institutions that are currently closed and distribute largesse to the selected few. If there are any younger readers of what I write, do you know that the Sri Lanka Currency was Rs15 = US$1, when I started working. Can you even believe it? The last time I checked I was not a thousand years old!

How are we going to stop chaos and mayhem hitting the streets? When people cannot feed their families what are they going to do? WHAT IS THE PLAN? If we are going to grow our own food in our back gardens, use our hotels as storage facilities for the produce, re-export and sell off all those ludicrously expensive automobiles that our politicians gad around in, sell our elephants to zoos, find oil off the coast of Mannar or whatever the hell we have to do, shouldn’t we START doing it now?!! Waiting until the proverbial s— hits the fan and then ordering the army out into the streets under martial law may not work O, people of the Pearl.

Maybe, the plan is to fall back on the good old tea industry. Rubber and coconut seem to have been totally decimated. For your information the tea industry that used lay the golden egg has been so mismanaged by brain dead proponents of management theory and with plantations largely handed over to our rival India for management, what else can you expect. The export trade is so fragmented and totally without principals or ethics that any buyer worth his salt has only to fish around among the many exporters to get the rock bottom price for what he wants. Others have used political influence and robbed the funds demarcated for that wonderful institution the Tea Promotion Bureau (a concept far ahead of its time) and built their own family dynasties and brands. That horse or goose is well dead and long buried.

My question to the brand-new government of Aotearoa which has a massive majority in parliament and the not so new Government of Sri Lanka which now has the 20th amendment to the constitution passed, is WHAT IS THE PLAN? It better be good and it better be quick, because the people are going to be very desperate real soon. It is solely down to the leadership and there are no excuses!

Continue Reading

Features

Executive presidency or premiership?

Published

on

Better option:

by Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

I have been fascinated by politics all my life though not directly involved in it unlike some others in my family. I have devoted some of the free time COVID-19 pandemic has given me to pondering the merits and demerits of the executive presidency and whether it is less democratic than an executive premiership. For a long time, there has been a clamour for the abolition of the executive presidency, but since the election of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa opinion seems to have reversed. The SLPP sought a mandate to abolish 19A and, using the unexpected two-third’s majority, it enacted 20A ensuring reversal to an executive presidency.

On gaining Independence we opted to be a dominion with a Governor-General representing the British Crown; he had some room for manipulation although the Prime minister held the reins of power. In 1972, we became a republic, and the prime minister became even more powerful and a titular President was appointed! J. R. Jayewardene changed all this. Elected with a massive majority in 1977, JR metamorphosed from Prime Minister into an executive president. JR started well, pulling the country out of the economic hellhole created by the Sirima Bandaranaike government, but intoxication with unbridled power affected him.

JR brought about this radical change of having an elected Executive President for good reasons and opted for the French presidential system rather than the American system. Some may argue that JR should have gone for the American system because his main argument was that a presidential system which could produce results quicker was more suited to a developing country. In the American system, Cabinet positions are held by non-elected technocrats. Perhaps, like in the US, had we allowed the elected representatives to debate issues in Parliament, formulate laws governing the country and sit on committees overseeing the appointments for senior posts and performing the function of oversight of their work, a greater purpose may have been served. It would also have prevented politics from turning into a money-making business. The President could have chosen experts in various fields with proven track records to run various ministries to usher in rapid development. Perhaps, this is the sort of radical change we need that warrants serious consideration by those who are tasked with the onerous duty of formulating a new constitution.

JR opted for the French system where all the ministers including the prime minister are elected representatives. The phrase some commentators use ‘Prime Minister is reduced to the status of a peon’ is ludicrous and may well stem from the unguarded statement made by Ranasinghe Premadasa, the first non-executive prime minister. Instead of being impatient, he should have worked towards defining the role of the prime minister in the new system. Of course, JR’s ill-judged remark that he could do anything other than changing the gender, albeit in jest, also contributed to the growing suspicions about the presidency.

All executive presidents, elected directly by the voter at tremendous expense, vowed to abolish the executive presidency just to please the voters but none even attempted to do so. But Gota was an exception, never making such a promise. Further, during the short period he had been in office he had behaved very differently to his predecessors. He has shown that he is there to work, not for the glamour of office. Therefore, I would argue that what matters more than the office is the person who occupies it. This imparts even a greater responsibility on the voter to elect the right person.

In any country, either the president or the prime minister would have to be powerful. In the UK, the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’, Boris Johnson holds power and makes all the important decisions. It is only rarely that Parliament acts to change his decisions. Ranil considered himself to be the executive prime minister and set up various units at Temple Trees, and some of them were not lawful. This too highlights my view that it is not the office that matters but who holds the office.

If not for the powerful presidency, we would still have been fighting terrorism. How the Opposition mocked the war efforts is a long-gone memory. The worst possible scenario is where the power is shared, as happened during the ill-fated yahapalana regime. What is transpiring before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday attacks amply illustrates how security of the country was neglected

The passage of 20A is a turning point in the history of our country. By giving the mandate for this to the SLPP, the voters have opted for a presidential system of government and it is my humble opinion that this was almost entirely due to the statesmanlike behaviour of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. During his campaign he never attacked his opponents but proved his ability to perform any responsibility he was tasked with. On being elected, he dispensed with glamorous frivolities and got down to hard work. He has faced many challenges with vigour and has been successful so far.

What makes Gota different from all other ‘chief executives’ of Sri Lanka is that he is the first non-politician to hols this coveted position. Perhaps, that is what we needed. I do hope he would set the example for what a good executive president should be so that the electorate would not regret the momentous decision it made. I do hope that he would introduce a new Constitution, which gives due place to technocrats and usher in true reconciliation by ensuring that we obey one law as one nation as well as getting rid of race and faith based political parties which have been the bane of unity. The only purpose these parties have served is sowing the seeds of division and disunity whilst making some leaders rich and powerful.

I do hope Gota would prove that the executive presidency is the better option.

Continue Reading

Trending