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Root cause of the decline of the force

(Excerpted from Merril Gunaratne’s ‘Perils of a Profession’ )

In a disciplined service, rank is sacrosanct. An officer has necessarily to aspire to higher rank through performance. If his work had been of exceptional merit and distinction, he may even be considered for a special promotion. A promotion can also be posthumous where the deceased officer had been exemplary in performance and achievement. An officer will therefore naturally like to safeguard his position in the line of seniority. He will be unhappy if a junior officer is placed over him merely because the latter wields influence. It is natural for an officer in a disciplined service to jealously protect his place in the line of seniority against encroachment.

Two matters of concern had emerged in the wake of the exacerbation of ‘interference’ that had plagued the police since 1977. Those who looked for undue favours from the police by baiting officers with assurances of recognition and promotion outside the line of seniority, had often found pliant policemen ready to do their bidding. Many have thus prospered without satisfying the required criteria for key posts and promotions. The pattern, so monotonous since 1977, had seriously demoralized the service. Some have been adept not only in the ” long jump,” but also in “hop, step, and jump”, by the acquisition of more than one rank promotion outside the ” eligibility criteria”.

The second matter for concern had been the ineptitude of IGPs to counter this pattern. The fundamental premise in leadership is the undiluted authority of the leader to reward the good and punish the errant. This foundation was uprooted in 1977 mostly because those at the helm of affairs in the police abdicated or surrendered to political demands without resistance to interference. If a united front was presented based on a cohesive policy, the political establishment may have found it formidable.

The inadequacies of those in the highest echelons to stand up and protest at the onset, enabled the entrenchment of a pernicious system. The good were often overlooked, whilst some of those with chequered careers but were favourites of patrons, found recognition. The IGP became a figurehead who watched passively. Attempts to resist such pressure and insist on the right course would have been costly. Cyril Herath alone stood up to such a demand and quit his position of IGP, rejecting a compensatory sop of a diplomatic assignment. Such honorable conduct was a noble alternative to taking the easy road, a lesson to the establishment, and an inspiration to the service.

A few instances of the violation of the line of security.

Following the sweeping victory of Chandrika Kumaratunga as the president in 1994, six police officers, after being away from the force for some time, were reinstated in the service in the rank of senior DIG. They were thereby restored to positions they enjoyed in the seniority line at the time they left the service. Of these six officers, Messrs Rajaguru, Wickramasuriya and Iddamalgoda were victims of persecution as extensions of service was denied them without valid reasons. The others did not fall into such a category, with two of them quitting on their own, while the third had been served notice of vacation of post. Those who were dislodged from their positions in the seniority line by such reinstatement had served without interruption in the most taxing and testing times. Somewhere in 2018 or 2019, three DIGs who had retired long time ago, decided to appeal for promotion to senior DIG rank. The ‘Yahapalanaya’ government promoted them through a political victimization committee. This was incredible.

Inflation of the DIG cadre when D B Wijetunga was president.

Shortly after DB Wijetunga became president, the government suddenly took a decision to introduce a radical increase in the DIG cadre. The directive came from the president, and his proposals should have been examined in depth, before being implemented. The DIG cadre increased from 19 to 30 overnight. An SSP was able to secure a DIG rank from the ninth or 10th place in the line of seniority when the number of DIGs was raised to 11. The coincidence of the enlargement of the DIG cadre and the simultaneous accommodation of this officer close to the president at the tail end of the expanded number of 11 DIGs gave rise to considerable speculation. I had dealt with this controversy in my book “Cop in the Crossfire”.

In fact if a cohesive policy with fixed quotas based on cogent reasoning was firmly in place, there may have been space and scope to explain why such a sudden increase in the DIG cadre would have been difficult to accommodate. Anyway, the president’s suggestion required a careful study to assess whether it was possible to accede to the request. I was then third or fourth in line of seniority from the IGP down but my views were not solicited. I think a study in regard to the request of the president should have included “inter alia”, the following: Did the service face additional responsibilities to warrant an expansion? Above all, did numbers in subordinate ranks – SSPs, SPs, ASPs, inspectorate, sergeants and constables, justify a sudden increase in the DIG cadre? Would the radical increase have disturbed ratios, proportions and balance? In actual fact, even if we assume that the request was to increase the cadre by one or two more, a rational decision had to depend on a proper study.

President Wijetunga was generous in interfering with, or fragmenting police ranges to placate officers. Two weeks before my promotion to the rank of senior DIG, T.V. Sumanasekara was appointed as DIG of Mt Lavinia and Kalutara divisions which actually were within my range. I promptly telephoned the president and requested him to carve out the new range after my promotion, so that I would not be embarrassed. The president agreed, and as a result, the dismemberment of my range was suspended till my promotion. Such was the level of interference at that time.

Even the cadre of senior DIGs which stood at three when president Wijetunga assumed duties, rose to five in the same manner as the increase in the cadre of DIGs. A DIG secured a promotion to the rank of SDIG shortly before retirement. The officer concerned was in a post which had, before such promotion and even after, been assigned only to a DIG. Therefore this promotion was secured despite there being no vacancies in the cadre. The cadre of senior DIGs then became five since the officer lying ahead of the officer who thus secured a promotion, rushed to the president and argued that he would lose his position in the line of seniority unless he was also promoted. The largesse of president Wijetunga bestowing promotions disregarding standards, rules and procedures of a service knew no limits.

POSTSCRIPT (this is not part of the book)

Responding to a perceptive review of the book, “Perils of a Profession” by Shamindra Ferdinando in the daily “Island” paper, veteran retired Senior DIG HMGB Kotakadeniya had pointed out in the issue of Jan. 20, 2021 that when DB Wijetunga was president, the DIG cadre was increased from 19 to over 40, and not 30, as stated in my book. He had also pointed out that such an increase in the cadre was possibly done to elevate Senior Superintendent of Police Mahinda Balasuriya who was lying 44th in the line of seniority, to the rank of DIG.

Never in the history of the police had the cadre of DIGs been increased in such a manner. This political decision was shocking. It also shed light on how a self seeking officer can abuse and bend standards at will and acquire benefits when two factors are in place: first, when enjoying a post close to the head of state/government; second, when the head of the service fails to preserve the required balance between the interests of the service and those of officers.

The usual tactic of those who aspire to steal others’ places in the line of seniority and become DIG is to overtake a few officers through the influence of patrons. Balasuriya could not adopt this ruse because he was very junior, being 44th in the line of seniority, with 25 SSPs/SPs ahead of him. Climbing over such large numbers would have earned the ire of a large number of officers facing displacement. He therefore appears to have used his position to persuade the president to enlarge the DIG cadre from 19 to 44 to reach him.

But before doing so in such a sweeping manner, President Wijetunga had first invited the views of Senior DIG Kotakadeniya whom he knew, and who was serving in a key position in police headquarters, whether DIGs could be posted to police ranges as “Welfare” DIGs. SDIG Kotakadeniya had said in all sincerity that such an arrangement would have been superfluous and therefore absurd. Had he agreed to the proposal, the president may have justified the inflation on the score that the service required a large number of DIGs to supervise welfare arrangements.

Having failed in this subtle bid, the order for the enlargement of the DIG cadre far out of proportion to necessity to accommodate Balasuriya appears to have been brazenly imposed on the police service by President Wijetunga. The most reasonable inference that could be drawn was that there was not only clear collusion between the President and Balasuriya, but that Snr DIG Kotakadeniya had apparently been victimized by being shifted out of his key post for his dissent. An honest, professional opinion had resulted in persecution. Frank de Silva was IGP when the massive inflation of the DIG cadre occurred, resulting in Balasuriya being the beneficiary. I am thankful to the retired Senior DIG for providing the backdrop to the subtle plan. They was truly “scenes behind the scenes”.

The organisation of any institution, particularly the police, has to resemble a pyramidal structure. It has to be narrow at the top, as the IGP and his deputies (DIGs) would be numerically few, being vested with the task of coordinating large bodies of men and large areas or territory than SPs and ASPs relatively junior in rank. The higher the rank, the role of coordination of work would entail far greater territory and oversight. The responsibility to determine numbers in senior ranks rests with the IGP and his deputies, and should be underscored by specific criteria and standards. As a result of what Balasuriya unjustly acquired, the cadre of DIGs enlarged to a point disproportionate to the strength of the numbers in ranks below them.

Consequently, many DIGs’ had to perform “coordination functions” of SSPs and SPs overlooking police divisions. To have called such a unit in the range of a DIG would have been a misnomer. The excess committed by Balasuriya was analogous to a bottle where the mouth was wider in diameter than the girth at it’s center. Such a distorted shape cannot be ideal to hold water or anything else. As a result of there being far too many DIGs than necessary, vacancies for promotion were also galore, and some SSPs reached DIG rank and DIGs, Senior DIG rank, without being adequately tried and tested in their previous ranks. Could this be one reason why the IGP, senior DIGS and DIGs had failed to react with responsibility and maturity in the face of intelligence received from India about plans by the NTJ to commit terror strikes on Easter Sunday in 2019? Many of those who acquired benefits also displayed greater loyalties to their patrons rather than to the service.

The sudden expansion in the DIG and Senior DIG cadre between 1989 and 1995 out of proportion to necessity may have been one of the major contributory factors toward the gradual decline of police standards. In fact the staggering increase of DIGs on a political diktat, saw implementation without even a discussion in police headquarters with officers in the highest echelons. The cornerstones or fundamental prerequisites which help any institution to prosper are first the organization’s vision, concepts and goals; second, the identification of the ideal administrative structure to run it and third, the posting of competent persons to the senior slots in the structure.

Once the structure loses shape, and corresponding postings lose meaning or purpose, the “out of shape” organization becomes far less effective. If the excess or surfeit of DIGs had an adverse impact on performance, the remedy would obviously have been a drastic reduction in the DIG cadre. But this was not possible because once promoted, an officer cannot be reduced or demoted, unless for disciplinary reasons. The harm caused to the service had therefore been irreversible. Knowing the capricious nature of humans, an institution such as the police should hold the balance between self seeking officers one the one hand, and the interests and well being of the service on the other. The interests of the service should always predominate or prevail over devious designs of self-seekers.

This balance has to be maintained by the IGP. His abdication of this responsibility would allow self-seekers to abuse standards at will. The submission and surrender by police heads to demands from the politicl establishment for arbitrary cadre increases and backdoor promotions contrasted sharply with what prevails int he the armed services. Their chiefs always held the policy in regard to senior cadre and promotions as their exclusive preserve.

The undesirable process had it’s roots in the days of IGP Ernest Perera in 1987 when the Ministry of Defence commenced holding interviews among senior superintendents to select DIGs. It was a move to wrest the authority previously enjoyed by the IGP to nominate SSPs to fill the vacancies in the DIG Cadre. Submission without a murmur to this arrangement paved the way for greater encroachment.

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The Gem and Jewel of Pohottuva governance



What a gem of a minister he is!


Who else, State Minister Lohan Ratwatte, the gem and jewel of today.


He resigned from his Prison Portfolio, not having done anything wrong, as he says it. He has gone beyond the stuff of any politician. He truly deserves to be given the highest regard by the Saubhagya Strategists. Just think of any politician of today, especially from the Pohottuva Team, who will resign from a portfolio for not having done anything wrong, when those who have done so many blatant wrongs, keep glued to their portfolios?

What do you think should follow?

Surely, it is so simple. Get promoted to the Cabinet. Take the “State” off his ministerial title and swear him in as the Minister of Prison Reforms, etc,, and Gem and Jewellery Industry.

Do you think that is the strategy of the Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour of the Gotabaya Politics?

Why not? Promotion, elevation or unearned freedom is the very stuff of today’s Rajapaksa governance. We don’t forget the pardoning of former Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, convicted with death sentence, for the murder of eight Tamil civilians inlcuding three children, affirmed by the Supreme Court.

Come on. That is just one Saubhagya move.

OK. The next Saubhagya move was the pardoning and release of Duminda Silva, sentenced to death along with four others, over the murder of a rival politician and three others. He has also been appointed the Chairman, National Housing Development Authority.

Keeping with that trend of Saubhagya-Rajapaksa politics and governance, is it wrong to soon promote Lohan Ratwatte as a Cabinet Minister, giving him back the power over all prisons and prisoners, and the gem and jewellery industries, too.

But what about all these complaints about this Lohan man? Flying to the Anuradhapura Prison by helicopter, getting Tamil prisoners held there to kneel before him, holding this revolver against two of them ….

He says he has done nothing like that. He has visited the prison as the minister in charge, and never even touched a Tamil prisoner … Shouldn’t we believe such Ratwatte words? Should we not forget that the first public report on this came from a Tamil MP, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam. Should we forget how the Ponnambalams have opposed the Sinhala Only politics of Sri Lankan progress?

Then what about all this talk of this Lohan minister’s visit to the Welikada Prison?

 C’mon, why must you believe such gallery nonsense, when there is no report from the Prison authorities?

It is not gallery nonsense, but the Stuff of the Gallows, with a beauty queen or cosmetics queen in his company.

Just remember that he went there too as the Minister of Prisons. As he says, he could go there at any time. That is the power of even a State Minister. The man who stopped the prison from burning, as he says it!

But, what about the gallows, of wanting to show it to his beauty/cosmetics queen?

I’m sure that Lohan R would have seen the opportunity to use the Welikada Gallows as a new tourist attraction.

What tourist attraction?

We are now in the process of reviving tourism, especially from Ukraine and Russia. They may like to see real gallows, and how it functions too. He may have been thinking of adding the Welikada Gallows as a special tourist attraction – where persons sentenced to death could be really hanged. There are many who applied to be hangmen when President Sirisena wanted the gallows to function again. They remain unemployed. Shouldn’t the gallows be revived to give more employment to future hangmen?

Just see the Saubhagya opportunity if the Welikada Gallows is promoted as a tourist attraction. How much would a ticket cost in dollars? Think how this would help Ajith Nivard Cabraal in his new plans to bring in more foreign exchange. This surely is the stuff of Lohan Ratwatte, apart from his continued interest in gems and jewellery.

But, surely didn’t he know that the UNHRC is now in session in Geneva. Has he not known anything about Michelle Bachelet, who is raising questions about Human Rights violations in Sri Lanka?

Now, now, don’t move into unwanted terrain. Human Rights and the Prevention of Terrorism Act are all being handled by Foreign Minister GL Peiris, with punditry of increasing question. You mustn’t try to put Lohan Ratwatte to the same rank of political and diplomatic punditry.

Just remember that Lohan Ratwatte is an elected SLPP – Pohottuva – politician. He is certainly one who likes both Gems and Jewellery. He was ready and fast in giving up Prisons and Prison Reforms, with no charges framed against him. There were only allegations about him, made by a Tamil and other Opposition MPs and such persons. Our system of governance and justice is far removed from what is known as the Rule of Law. It is the Rule of Power.

Let’s forget detainees in prisons (for many years), the so-called reports of a drunken minister with friends and beauty/cosmetic queen, just think of the Rule of Power – just now it is the Power of Lohan and Gotabaya.

When the President received Lohan’s letter of resignation from the Prison Sector, he was not asked to leave the Gem and Jewellery Sector too. He could look after and promote Gems and Jewellery, and remain the stuff of Pohottuva.

This is the Gem and Jewellery line of Rajapaksa Governance. Lohan Ratwatte has displayed his love for gems and jewellery. With his promotion to Cabinet status, will he be known as the “Muthu-menik Lohan Amathi, Sir”?  The true Gem of Pohottuva Politics and Governance!

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The wonder of youth



By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

The wonder of youth was best on display in the evening of 11 Sept., when two hugely talented teenagers, both unseeded, gave an amazing display of tennis in vying for the US Open title. Of course, I wanted Emma Raducanu, who represented GB, to win but had lingering doubts as her opponent, Leylah Fernandez was more experienced and had defeated players ranked 3, 16, 5 and 2, to reach the final. This was only the second Grand Slam Emma has played in, having to withdraw during the fourth-round match in Wimbledon due to breathing difficulties which made some wonder whether she had the mental grit to stand the rigours of tough competitions. She proved them wrong in a spectacular manner, reaching the final in an unprecedented way. She had to win three rounds to get into the tournament as a qualifier, and won the next six rounds, reaching the finals without dropping a set in any of the matches. By then, she had missed the return flight to the UK which she had booked as she never expected to be in the competition so long!

Sports are so commercialised that many Brits without Amazon Prime subscription were going to miss seeing the first British woman to play in a Grand Slam final after 44 years. Fortunately, in one of its rare good deeds, Channel 4 paid for screening rights and we could join over 9 million Brits on the edge of their seats for two hours. It was well worth it, as Emma won the final again in straight sets, creating yet another record by being the first qualifier ever to win a Grand Slam! In another rare gesture, Amazon had agreed to donate the fee for advancement of tennis for girls.

Emma Raducanu’s spectacular win was witnessed by Virginia Wade, the first winner of the US Women’s title in the open era in 1968, Arthur Ashe winning the Men’s. She was also the last British woman before Emma to win a Grand Slam; Wimbledon in 1977. Fortunately, Sir Andy Murray was able to break the even longer drought in Male Tennis by winning the US Open in 2012, 76 years after Fred Perry’s 1936 Wimbledon win.

It was very sad that Emma’s parents could not be there in person at the proudest moment of their lives due to quarantine regulations. Whilst shedding a tear of joy for Emma Raducanu’s ‘impossible’ victory, I was saddened to think of the wasted youth in Sri Lanka. How things changed for the worse in my lifetime continues to puzzle me.

We belong to a fortunate generation. We had excellent free education which we made full use of. We had good teachers, not ‘private tuition masters’! We could plan our future as we knew we could get a place for higher education as long as we got the required grades. Our progress in universities was not hampered by student’s unions controlled by unscrupulous politicians with warped thinking. I started my practice of medicine a few months after I turned 23 and was a fully qualified specialist by the time I turned 30. I was not one for sports but did writing and broadcasting. Therefore, I can look back at my youth with a sense of satisfaction.

Unfortunately, we lacked a political class with a vision. Perhaps, this happened because most of the politicians except those at the time of independence took to politics by exclusion than by choice. Lucky politicians got ministries, not because of competence or education, but on the basis of caste, creed, religion, etc. There were no shadow ministers in the Opposition and with the change of government another set of misfits became ministers. For some time, the status quo was maintained by senior administrators who were trained for the job after being selected following a highly competitive examination.

Anti-elite campaigners succeeded. Permanent Secretaries became secretaries and Ministers became permanent as long as they did not upset their bosses! No proper planning was done and the slippery slope started. Then came the terrorists; the JVP destroyed a generation of Sinhala youth and the LTTE destroyed a generation of Tamil youth. Now, there is a greater danger affecting some youth the world over––Islamic extremism.

When I started training postgraduate trainees from Sri Lanka in Grantham Hospital, the first thing I noted was their age and started diplomatically finding out why it had taken them so long to get into PG training. I was shocked at the unwarranted delays they faced which were not due to any fault of theirs. All of them were brilliant but the system had failed them. We need to reinstall discipline so that we have schools and universities functioning properly, ensuring valuable years in life are not wasted.

Perhaps, we need to get out of our insular attitudes. There may be some lessons to learn from studying the background of these two talented players. Leyla Fernandez, born in September 2002 in Quebec, Canada has an Ecuadorian father and a Filipino mother. Emma Raducanu was born in November 2002 in Toronto, Canada but moved to the UK when she was two years, with her Romanian father and Chinese mother. Three months before winning the US Open, she got an A star in Mathematics and A in Economics, in the A level examination whilst attending a state school.

These two teenagers, 23 years old Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese and 25-years-old Ashleigh Barty, whose father is of indigenous Australian descent and mother is of English descent, joined to form a ‘fab-four in women’s tennis, dawning a new era in tennis as the era dominated by the fab-four; Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic of the men’s game is drawing to an end. Considering their dexterity, women’s tennis may become more popular than men’s. Who knows!

It is well known that mixing of genes has an enhancing effect. It is also well established that inbreeding leads to many genetic defects. Perhaps, this is another reason why we should get rid of artificial divisions like caste. Although one would have expected that we would have a more enlightened attitude, the matrimonial columns of any newspaper give enough evidence that archaic institutions are still strong.

It is high time we stopped protecting archaic systems and moved forward. This will give an opportunity for the talents of our youth to be displayed and it is our duty to harness the wonder of youth for the advancement of the country.

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A neutral foreign policy in current context



By Neville Ladduwahetty

During a recent TV interview, the Host asked the Guest whether Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy is in “shambles”. The reason for the question was perhaps because of the lack of consistency between the statement made by the President and the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry relating to Foreign Policy. For instance, the first clear and unambiguous statement made by the newly elected President during his acceptance speech delivered in Sinhala in the holy city of Anuradhapura in which the only comment in English was that his Foreign Policy would be Neutral. This was followed during his address to Parliament titled: The Policy statement made by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka at the inauguration of the Fourth Session of the 8th Parliament of Sri Lanka on January 3, 2020, in which he stated: “We follow a neutral foreign policy”.

However, the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry has on different occasions stated that Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy is “Neutral and Non-Aligned”. Perhaps, his view may have been influenced by the President’s Manifesto, “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour”, that stated that out of 10 key policies the second was “Friendly, Non-Aligned, Foreign Policy”

The question that needs to be addressed is whether both Neutrality and Non-Alignment could realistically coexist as policies to guide Sri Lanka in the conduct of its relations with other Nation-States. Since neutrality is a defined policy that has a legal basis and has a history that precedes Non-Alignment, there is a need for the Neutral State to conduct its relations with other States according to recognised codified norms with reciprocity. On the other hand, Non-Alignment was essentially a commitment to a set of principles by a group of countries that had emerged from colonial rule and wanted to protect their newly won independence and sovereignty in the context of a bi-polar world. The policy of Non-Alignment therefore, should apply ONLY to the members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Thus, Non-Alignment, being only a set of principles adopted by a group of like-minded sovereign States to protect and preserve their common self-interests, its conduct in respect of States outside the Non-Aligned Movement becomes unstated and therefore undefined. Neutrality instead is a clear policy that defines how a neutral country such as Sri Lanka conducts its relations with other countries, and how other countries relate with Sri Lanka primarily in respect of the inviolability of its territory.


A statement dated August 22, 2012 by the External Affairs Ministry of the Government of India on the historical evolution of the Non-Alignment Movement states:

“The principles that would govern relations among large and small nations, known as the “Ten Principles of Bandung”, were proclaimed at that Conference (1955). Such principles were adopted later as the main goals and objectives of the policy of non-alignment. The fulfillment of those principles became the essential criterion for Non-Aligned Movement membership; it is what was known as “quintessence of the Movement until early 1990s” (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “History and Evolution of Non-Aligned Movement, August 22, 2012).

“Thus, the primary objectives of the non-aligned countries focused on the support of self-determination, national independence and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States; opposition to apartheid; non-adherence to multilateral military pacts and the independence of non-aligned countries from great power or block influences and rivalries; the struggle against imperialism in all its forms and manifestations; the struggle against colonialism, neocolonialism, racism, foreign occupation and domination; disarmament; non-interference into the internal affairs of States and peaceful coexistence among all nations; rejection of the use or threat of use of force in international relations; the strengthening of the United Nations; the democratization of international relations; socioeconomic development and the restructuring of the international economic system; as well as international cooperation on an equal footing” (Ibid).

These commitments did not deter countries such as India from violating the very principles India committed to in Bandung. To start with, India undermined the security of Sri Lanka by nurturing and supporting the training of non-state actors in late 1970s. Having made Sri Lanka vulnerable, India proceeded to coerce Sri Lanka to accept the Indo-Lanka Accord under which India was committed to disarm the militants. Having failed much to its shame, India violated the principle of the right of self-determination when it compelled Sri Lanka to devolve power to a merged North-East Province. All these actions amounted to a complete disregard and the mockery of the lofty principles of NAM undertaken to protect India’s self-interest. What is clear from India’s actions with regard to Sri Lanka is that when push comes to shove, self-interest overrides multi-lateral commitments.

In a similar vein Sri Lanka too, driven by self-interest, voted in support of UK’s intervention in the Falklands because of the debt owed by Sri Lanka to the UK for the outright grant given to construct the Victoria Hydro Power Scheme, although conscious of the fact that by doing so Sri Lanka was discrediting itself for not supporting the resolution initiated by NAM to oppose UK’s actions. These instances demonstrate that Non-Alignment as a Foreign Policy is subservient to self-interest thereby underscoring the fact that it cannot be a clear policy to guide how a State conducts itself in relation to other States.

Commenting on the issues of limitations imposed by being a Member of NAM Shelton E. Kodikara states: “For Sri Lanka as indeed for many of the smaller states among the non-aligned community, membership of the Non-Aligned Movement and commitment to its consensual decisions implied a widening of the institutional area of foreign policy decision-making, and collective decision-making also implied a limitation of the area of choice among foreign policy options…” (Foreign Policy of Sri Lanka, 1982, p. 151).

Therefore, arrangements with common interests such as those by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) or Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or any other group of countries with common interests, are mechanisms whose support and solidarity could be sought when needed to advance causes, as for instance when Sri Lanka advanced the concept of making the Indian Ocean a Zone of Peace, and later in 2009 did so in Geneva. Notwithstanding such advantages, the hard reality is that Non-Alignment does not represent a clear statement as to how a State conducts its relations with Nation-States outside the Non-Aligned Movement. Therefore, it follows that Non-Alignment cannot be considered a statement of Foreign Policy by a State.


The statement by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of India cited above that the “quintessence” of the principles of the Non-Alignment lasted until early 1990s, was because the bi-polar world that was the cause for the formation of NAM had ceased to exist with the territorial break-up of one of the power blocks – the USSR. Consequently, the USSR lost its influence as a global power. In this vacuum what exists currently is one recognized global power with other powers aspiring to be part of a multi polar world. In the absence of recognized power blocks the need to align or not to align does not arise because Nation-States are free to evolve their own arrangements as to how they conduct their relations with each other. Consequently, the concept of Non-Alignment individually or collectively is a matter of choice depending on the particularity of circumstance, but not as a general Foreign Policy to address current challenges.

With China attempting to regain its lost territory and glory as a civilizational State following its century of shame, the geopolitical matrix has changed dramatically. The economic gains of China the likes of which are unprecedented alarmed the Western world to the point that the US deemed it necessary to adopt a policy of Pivot to Asia thereby making the Indian and Pacific Oceans the focus for great power engagement. This shift of focus has caused new strategic security alliances such as the Quad to emerge to contain the growing influence of China among the States in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. With the Maldives joining India as the latest members of Quad, Sri Lanka has become isolated; a development that has brought Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean into sharp focus as being of pivotal strategic interest to great and emerging powers.

It is in this newly formed geopolitical context that Sri Lanka has to formulate its Foreign Policy that necessarily must be fresh if Sri Lanka is to equip itself to meet the new challenges created by a coalition of States to contain the rise of China. One option is to join the Quad. This could mean Sri Lanka distancing itself from engaging with China. The other option is to engage with China to the exclusion of the Quad. Either of these options would cause Sri Lanka to lose its independence and the freedom to protect its core values and interests. Therefore, the choice is not to settle for either option.

These unprecedented circumstances and challenges cannot be countered by harking back to the glory days of Non-Alignment, because major influences of the movement (NAM) such as India, have recently abandoned the original principles it subscribed to when it became a part of Quad. Therefore, although NAM still represents a body of likeminded interests with the ability to influence causes limited only to resolutions that further the interests of its members, it is not in a position to ensure the inviolability of the territory and the freedom of a State to make its

A neutral

own hard choices. It is only if a Nation-State proclaims that its relations with other Nation-States is Neutral that provisions codified under the Hague Conventions of 1907 that would entitle Sri Lanka to use the inviolability of its territory to underpin its relations with other Nation-States. Therefore, the Foreign Policy statement as made by the President to Parliament should guide Sri Lanka in its relations with States because it is relevant and appropriate in the geopolitical context that currently exists.


The Foreign Policy of a State is greatly influenced by its History and Geography. Historically Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy has been one of Non-Alignment. Furthermore, Sri Lanka participated in the Conference in Bandung in 1955; a date recognized as the beginning of the Non-Aligned Movement. Thus, although the geographic location of a State is well defined, the significance of its location could dramatically be transformed by geopolitical developments. The staggering economic revival of China from early seventies under the leadership of President Deng Xiaoping whose philosophy was to hide capacity, bide time and never claim leadership, was perhaps the reason for China’s tremendous transformations both economic and social, to proceed relatively unnoticed.

It was only with the announcement of President Xi Jinping’s policy of the Belt and Road Initiative announced in 2013, that the world came to realize that the power and influence of China was unstoppable. This policy resulted in China establishing its footprint in strategically located countries in the Indian and Pacific Oceans by funding and constructing infrastructure projects. Sri Lanka happened to be one such country. The need for the U.S along with India, Australia and Japan to form a security alliance to contain the growing power and influence of China in the Indian and Pacific Oceans was inevitable.

India’s alliance with the US has shifted the balance in Asia causing China to be the stand alone great power in Asia. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned this new dynamic compels Sri Lanka to make one of four choices. One is to align and develop relations with the US and its allies. Second is to align and develop relations with China. The third is be Non-Aligned with either. The fourth and preferred option is to be Neutral not only with the Quad and China, but also with all other States, and develop friendly relations individually with all States.

The policy of Non-Alignment by a State is an external declaration of intent that a nation would not align itself with either a collective or individual center of power such as the Quad or China, in the conduct of its relations. Neutrality by a State, instead, means not only a statement that it would be Neutral when conducting relations with collective or individual centers of power and other States, but also how such a State expects all States to respect its Neutrality; a policy that would be in keeping with Sri Lanka’s unique strategic location in South Asia. Thus, while the former works outwards the latter works both ways. More importantly, how Neutrality works is governed by internationally codified laws that are in place to guide reciprocal relations.

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