(Excerpted from the memoirs of Chandra Wicremesinghe, Rtd. Addl. Secy to the President)
I assumed duties as Additional Secretary in the newly created Ministry of National Security sometime in 1984 and was shortly afterwards appointed Additional Secretary Ministry of Defence as well. The Minister of National Security was the late Lalith Athulathmudali and the Minister of Defence was President, J.R.Jayewardene. The Secretary to the Ministry of National Security was the late Mr.DBIPS Siriwardhana while Secy/Defence. was Gen. Sepala Attygalla.
Mr. Athulathmudali having been at Oxford University, where he had been the President of the Oxford Union, was a brilliant speaker with a sharp intellect to match. Endowed abundantly with these twin attributes, he was able to represent SL at international fora with aplomb and finesse. Many will recall his scintillating performance at a BBC interview where the BBC interviewer tried his utmost to embarrass him and SL over human rights issues et al. Minister Athulathmudali stood up to the barrage of questions with admirable sangfroid, giving cogent answers which left the interogator nonplussed and at a loss for words.
Despite his intellectual brilliance Minister Athulathmudali had his weak moments when he used to quite inexplicably go off at a tangent. This was, I must say, a little known side of his colourful personality. He used to be suddenly obsessed with some pet scheme of his or by some sudden hunch which used to be pursued by him with extraordinary tenacity. One such ignominious episode was the sudden infatuation he took to a confidence trickster called Kelly Senanayake.This man had inveigled himself into the Minister’s confidence promising to get the JVP to give up their armed struggle and come into the political mainstream. It took a while for the minister to discover that KS was a fraud and a cheap crook who had succeeded in leading him up the garden path!
Again, I remember the Minister summoning me to his office one morning and saying that he had a two pronged strategy to bring about reconciliation and amity between the Sinhala and the Tamil people. He outlined his strategy as follows:
1) The settling of Tamils in the South and Sinhalese in the North. He elaborated further that he had already worked out a plan to settle Tamil people in Agalawatte and in Kalutara to start with. He seemed convinced that his plan would bring about amity between the two communities.
2) The Minister also proposed closing down all Universities for a period of two years and converting them into Rehabilitation Centres for the JVP and LTTE cadres who were in detention camps.
I made known to the Minister my own misgivings particularly regarding his second proposal on the grounds that there would be a violent uproar over the proposal by the local undergraduates and the academic staff; while in the International arena, we would be accused of running concentration camps. He however dismissed my apprehensions as being groundless and wanted me to immediately meet Dr. Stanley Kalpage, who was the UGC Chairman at the time and sound him on the proposal.
Accordingly, I went over to the UGC office and met Dr. Kalpage and conveyed to him the plan the Minister had in mind. Kalpage was simply aghast at the idea of closing down the Universities for two years and said that it was a ‘crazy plan’! He also rang up the President and made an early appointment to see him telling me that he was keen on meeting the President before the Minister met him. In the absence of further developments on the matter thereafter, I felt that the Minister’s plan had been shot down by the President.
A few days later Mr. Athulathmudali called me and said that there was a Seminar on the ‘Rehabilitation of Terrorists’ scheduled to be held in Bangkok and added that he was not sending me for it as I did not seem to believe in such rehabilitative approaches. It amazes me even now how a person with such a brilliant mind could get carried away to the point of pursuing schemes which many would consider ill-conceived and highly impractical. It could perhaps be attributed to the streak of intellectual arrogance he had, despite being an eminently likable and personable individual.
Secy/National Security ,Mr. DBIPS Siriwardhana was a person with a keen intellect and a razor sharp mind. As he had many years of experience in high positions in the Public Service, working immediately under him was indeed a rewarding experience immensely beneficial to me. He was quick in attending to files and was famed for having a clean table devoid of files. A literally clean table was an obsession with him and one got the impression that he was waiting for papers to be placed in the in tray to pounce on them and dispose of them almost with undisguised glee! He was indeed phenomenally quick while at the same time being intensely focused on studying the papers submitted to him for orders (which he did in double quick time), attending to them with remarkable facility and promptitude.
His orders were brief and clear and written in a beautiful, flowing hand. Brevity and crystal clear clarity of expression, were his singular forte. I have no doubt that many who had the fortune to work with him benefited immensely by their interaction with him. He was however, at times cynical, often making snide remarks (in rather loud whispers) during meetings even with Minister Athulathmudali, which were strangely enough ignored by the latter. I was serving two Secretaries at the time, the other being General Sepala Attygalla who was Secretary/Defence. I had no problems with either of them and despite the trying times the country went through at that time with the LTTE and the JVP. I attended to the duties entrusted to me diligently and to their satisfaction.
I was appointed a Council Member of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board by H.E. the President in 1986 and continued to function as Council Member of NDDCB, till 1977. As a member of the NDDCB, I participated in several seminars overseas.
Bringing home Lankan refugees settled in India
It was in 1985, if I recall correctly, that President JR appointed me to Chair a Committee to arrange for the transportation and the resettlement of SL Tamils who had fled the island following the communal disturbances of 1983. The other members of the Committee were Mr. Nirupam Sen who was Deputy Indian High Commissioner in SL at the time, the Controller of Immigration and one or two other Senior Govt. officials.
The Committee had three sittings in all, which were held in the conference section of the room of Secy./Defence, Gen Attygalla. The meeting opened in a spirit of cordiality and candor, with the Deputy HC/India promising to extend all logistical support necessary to SL in having the Tamil refugees transported back to the island. Preliminarily, the Committee looked at the magnitude of the problem taking into account the numbers involved, the location of the refugee camps in South India, the transportation problems and finally, arrangements to be made at this end for their re-settlement. In the course of our discussions Mr. Sen ventured to say that as the Palk Straits were somewhat choppy at that time of the year and with the numbers to be transported being substantial, the crossing via the Straits may be quite risky.
Further, he suggested that rather than engaging many small boats for the purpose, it may be more convenient and advantageous to charter two big vessels to transport the refugees bypassing the Palk Straits. He suggested almost as a matter of course, going round the Southern coast and berthing the big vessels in Trincomalee and making Trinco the disembarkation point. This was the time High Commissioner Dixit was acting like a Satrap trying to treat SL like a colony of India. I for one, disliked Dixit’s overbearing demeanour and downright arrogance and whenever he walked into General Attygalla’s office, I made it a point to get up and leave the room abruptly, conveying in no uncertain terms my dislike of the man.
Having my own suspicions about Sen’s move to off load the refugees in Trinco, I immediately pointed out that we should use the traditional passage through the Palk Straits to bring the Tamil refugees back. If the weather was rough and the sea unruly I added, it would still be preferable to postpone their transportation till the weather improved and bring the refugees back via the Palk Straits. I also hastened to point out that the Tamil refugees were for the most part from villages in the Mannar and Vavuniya Districts and it would facilitate the logistics of their inland transportation and resettlement if they came through the Palk Straits and got off at Mannar.
The Indian Deputy HC thereupon requested me to fix the next Committee meeting giving about 10 days time for him to re-canvass the issues of the mode of transportation, the route to be taken and the point of disembarkation of refugees with his Govt. Accordingly, I requested him to inform me when he was ready to have the second round of talks so that I could convene another meeting of the Committee thereafter. He contacted me about a week later and said he was ready to have the next round of talks. Thereupon a date mutually agreed on was fixed.
To my surprise Sen arrived at the meeting accompanied by a couple of others, one of whom was introduced to me as the Dy/Secy. of the Ministry of Rehabilitation in Delhi and the other as a Senior official in that Ministry. This Dy./Secy who was a big made individual, sat in the chair next to mine and without any further ado tried to commandeer the meeting by saying authoritatively: “Gentlemen, Mr. Sen has been briefing us on certain issues that have arisen concerning the transportation of the SL Tamil refugees in India back to SL. The Indian Govt. has chartered two ships to transport the entire lot of refugees in the different refugee camps in India to SL in one operation. The ships will leave the Indian ports the day after tomorrow with the refugees and will go round the Southern coast of the island and anchor in Trincomalee harbour where they will disembark”.
Realizing that this unprepossessing gentleman was trying to bulldoze his way through with bludgeoning tactics, I maintained a straight face throughout this unexpected outburst. The moment he stopped his harangue, I looked him straight in the eye and said quietly that the SL Govt. was not agreeable to the arrangement which had not been even discussed nor mutually agreed upon by the two sides. This gentleman thereupon said that there was no going back on the arrangement as the two ships which were already chartered, would be leaving India in two days time. At this stage I told him that the only thing for the Indian Govt. to do was to cancel the charter as SL will not permit the disembarkation of the refugees in Trincomalee.
Realizing that we were not going to give in on the issue, he asked me whether any other alternative could be suggested. I conveyed to him that if the refugees could not be brought via the traditional route of the Palk Straits the only other alternative was for the two ships to circumnavigate the island and proceed to Kayts. He immediately said that the Kayts pier could not berth the two large vessels to which I replied that arrangements could be made for the ships to be anchored in mid–ocean so that the refugees could be ferried ashore in barges. Knowing that he would not be able to have his way, this gentleman whose name I have forgotten, got up abruptly saying tersely ” This will not do!” and stormed out of the room with the other Indians including Dy/HC Sen following close on his heels.
I brought what transpired at the meeting to Gen. Attygalle who said that it was good that a firm stand was taken by us not to permit the vessels to proceed to Trinco and disembark the refugees there. I fixed the final meeting of the Committee to take place five days later, inviting Sen for same. As expected, he failed to attend the meeting. In consultation with the other members of the Committee, I wrote the report and sent it to Mr. Sen for his signature. Expectedly, Sen refused to subscribe to the document (quoting a line from Rousseau) and returned it saying that he would not be signing it as he did not agree with the recommendations made in the report.
I submitted the Report to Gen. Attygalla who read it and said he agreed fully with the recommendations made as the Indian Intelligence arm RAW was up to tricks in SL and the insistence on Trincomalee as the port of disembarkation was one of their machinations to bring in Indians in droves to Trincomalee along with the SL refugees and set up a little Indian colony there. This was the time Dixit, who was acting like a Satrap, had prevailed on the SL Govt. on various dubious grounds, even citing SL’s own security interests, to permit Indian officials and even Indian Service personnel to enter SL sans visas.
Secretary Defence had, I was told, handed over the Report to the President at the weekly Security Council meeting. On being told by Gen Attygalla that Deputy HC Nirupen Sen had refused to sign it, the President had startd reading the document smiling to himself occasionally. This was told to me by Gen Nalin Seneviratne the Army Commander, who also told me that the President had spent a good 20 minutes reading the Report and had not proceeded with the meeting till he had finished it. (Nalin also told me jokingly, not to write such lengthy reports as the Service Commanders had been kept twiddling their thumbs till the President finished reading the report). He also said that President JR had given the Report back to Secy /Defence saying that it was a good report.
While in the Ministry of Defence, I was able to associate closely with Gen.Nalin Seneviratne and IGP Cyril Herat, two rare gentlemen who headed the Army and the Police Force respectively. They were officers who possessed outstanding leadership qualities and were widely respected for their unimpeachable integrity and the high principles they followed in the discharge of their official duties. IGP Herat in fact, took a scrupulously principled stand by opting to retire prematurely, rather than yield to the importunate insistence of President JR, to promote a certain Police Officer, whose promotion, the IGP felt strongly, would have been grossly unfair by certain other officers who were far ahead in seniority and who in many other respects, merited promotion much more.
(To be continued)
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!
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.
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.
NON-ALIGNED and the NON-ALIGNED MOVEMENT
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 CURRENT CONTEXT
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
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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