Foreign Affairs and Defence to be one portfolio?

Thursday, 18 July 2019 00:34 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lanka would not want a military presence from any country on our territory including in the legal Sea territory. Infighting amongst the political forces within the country on foreign policy should give way to a bipartisan policy that recognises the realities around us and the opportunities that it provides


Unless we are all suffering from dementia, the last experience with a foreign military on our soil should be very clear in our heads. The Indian Peace Keeping Force landed in Sri Lanka to supposedly bring peace to the war-torn country when the LTTE took on the Sri Lankan Government. 

As we all know, the peace keepers became combatants and the mighty Indian Army lost more than 1,000 soldiers in Sri Lanka. They were killed by a non-conventional guerrilla outfit who were supported by the Sri Lankan Government who at the time adopted the policy that a common enemy made strange bed fellows.  

Sri Lanka is or should be aware of the military design of the USA which clearly wants to establish a military presence in the country. This message may be cloaked in many ways and our current leadership may play hide and seek around this issue, but all Sri Lankans with some intelligence should see through these games and subterfuge and see the reality that is only a bit beyond their noses.  

The US interest is understandable from their strategic prism. It’s simple. It’s China and their long-term designs on dethroning the US as a super power. Sri Lanka happens to be in the pathway of this strategic vision.

Sri Lankan foreign policy should have been handled in a more pragmatic fashion recognising the realities surrounding us. Instead we have time and again attempted to be the Ant that bit the Elephants genitals. A foolish exercise. Sri Lanka should have been smarter and seized the opportunity we had to benefit from the interests of the super power rivals and the interests of the regional super power without compromising our sovereignty.

We failed to find a solution to the ethnic issue with the Tamils and we gave birth to the LTTE assisted by the mid wife India. We continued to nurture the Tiger cubs and realised too late that they had become ferocious adults. Only a full-scale attack would eradicate the Tiger fighters. That however didn’t snuff out the message the LTTE very ably marketed overseas. The Sri Lankan political, religious and civil society leadership had no answer to that. The Government of 1977 or sections of it unleashed 1983 on all of us, and that cardinal mistake made sure that the LTTE message would get more popular but more strident with compromise almost impossible.

Besides the internal issue, this disquiet provided an opportunity for foreign powers to sense an opportunity for them to influence international opinion about Sri Lanka, and for the country to commence selling its soul to survive the multi-pronged international onslaught directed at us by its leaders, many of the Western nations.

Sri Lanka then turns to China, the war ends, and the economy takes off. This red rag stirs the US Bull, and they look for new avenues to enter Sri Lanka. 

Wahhabism is spread in the country with Saudi help and soon, there is disquiet with the Muslims. This emerging disquiet is seen as a new opportunity. A popular regime is changed with plenty of money thrown in to do so, and a Government “friendly” to the US takes over. The constitution is changed to give effective power to the Prime Minister, making the presidency a self-deluded position that imagines it has power.   

Muslim extremists are used to create violence while responsibility for this is alluded to the ISIS who probably did not have anything to do with the incidents. The US fast-tracks discussions on three agreements, two of which (SOFA an ASCA) are Military related. Everyone in the Government denies these two have been signed while the Prime Minister admits that discussions/negotiations are going on with the US. It won’t be beyond the realm of possibility that all serious contenders to the Presidency in Sri Lanka have been contacted for discussions, willingly or otherwise, and support obtained for approval in principle for these agreements.

Despite the bravado talk of leading political figures, it is likely that these agreements will be signed with some facile compromises to keep them happy.

In this situation, what is the pragmatic strategy that Sri Lanka could adopt? The concern that India may have on account of China getting more and more involved in Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka sinking further into debt to China is understandable. We are after all 20 KM from the nearest point to India. Chinese and Indian involvement in Sri Lanka is inevitable. Rather than viewing this as a threat, why not make this an opportunity for all three? 

In a previous article this writer suggested that our foreign policy should be based on a three country compact, meaning Sri Lanka, India and China. This compact could ensure and should work towards avoiding and eliminating irritants that impact on the three countries.  China is in Sri Lanka to stay and so is India. This is a reality that cannot be erased off. So why not work with both countries to ensure Sri Lanka is open for the commercial interests of both countries and not open to any Military interests?

What then would the position of the USA be? If they are clever, they should also recognise reality and accept that they will have another power overtaking them in the future or at least sharing the super power status with them. 

The challenges that any super power or a regional power will face in the future will not be like challenges of the past. The world population is increasing, global warming is increasing, resources are shrinking, food security is no longer a given, and freely available arable water is no longer a given. 

The new information technology revolution is breathtaking, and the advent of Artificial Intelligence is bound to have a major role in many spheres of human activity. Huge strides in medical technology, agriculture technology, driverless cars, a holiday on the moon are the realities staring at us. The world is shrinking and what may have been what a super power meant and entailed, would be vastly different in the next 20-30 years. 

In this climate, doesn’t it make sense for the US, China and India to work together for their people plus the rest of the population of the world? And shouldn’t Sri Lankan leaders demonstrate that we are open for business with all three of them? Commercially of course and not militarily. 

Sri Lanka could declare its ports nuclear free as New Zealand did long ago, and we could also declare that we are free of any Military presence from these three countries and from any other country. In a military sense, truly non-aligned.

In regard to the compact suggested, US interests need not be specially protected if (a) we are open for commercial engagement with all three countries and (b) we are not open for any military engagement with any country. China and India are Asian countries, with India being our closest neighbour physically and psychologically and China has been close to Sri Lanka for many decades and they have invested substantially in Sri Lanka and helped our economy to gain momentum.

Sri Lanka needs a foreign policy that is bipartisan and designed in the interest of Sri Lanka. It must be a policy that has consistency and longevity and not be subject to the whims and fancies of competing political forces in the country. It must be a policy that is geared for the future more than for today.

Another suggestion that the writer would like to place before the readers is that the combination of Foreign Policy with Defence and having one capable person in charge of the portfolio. All our threats are external and even internal threats are driven by external elements. In this context, it is important for the country to recognise that if there were no externally-driven threats, there would not be a need for a large defence establishment. Managing our foreign policy well with a bipartisan approach that recognises the realities around us, including the new technological revolution, and leading rather than always being led, would negate the uncertainty that surrounds us today about Military agreements signed, not signed or about to be signed with the USA.

Our leaders in politics, business, religious institutions and in civil society should think strategically of the world we will live in 10, 20, 30 and 50 years and so on. Political infighting, religious disharmony, bribery and corruption are all short-term and short-lived. 

The generations that follow the current generation will face new challenges and new opportunities. Those who have some foresight will seize such opportunities and usher in a better world for the coming generations. Those who are stuck where they are now and capable only of looking back into the past will be doing a major disservice to the future generations

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