It looks like it is complicated and difficult to understand world affairs today. Many say that there are double standards, hypocrisy and hidden agendas in international relations. It is simple to understand the complicated situations if one can go to the basics. What are the basics? They are self-protection and self-interest. Let us try to understand the complicated scenarios objectively by examining the basics.
The foreign policy of any super power is based on the defence strategy of that country and then comes trade interests. American foreign policy is based on the defence strategies of America. When defence strategies are considered, they are not based on rules and regulations. Those emerge out of fear which can be real or imaginary and are necessarily based on self-protection by hook or by crook.
What happened in Ukraine?
What happened in Ukraine? Crimea was under the Soviet Union and during the time of Nikita Khrushchev, who served as the First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist party, Crimea was handed over to Ukraine. Once the Soviet Union was broken up, Ukraine became an independent state in 1991.
Ukraine inherited nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union and hence entered into the Non Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state. In 2004, Viktor Yanukovych became President and the Supreme Court held that the election was largely rigged and subsequently Viktor Yushchenko became the President and Yulia Tymoshenko the Prime Minister. Viktor Yanukovych was once again elected President in 2010 with 48% of votes.
A wave of demonstrations and civil unrest called Euromaidan began in November 2013 mainly to protest against the suspension of preparations to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union by the President and by and large to protest against widespread Government corruption, abuse of power and violation of human rights under the current President who is loyal to Russia.
The United States intervened in the unrest and it was reported that the US invested around five billion dollars in ‘developing Ukrainian democratic institutions’. In a leaked telephone conversation between Victoria Nuland, US Assistant Secretary of State, and Geoffrey Pyatt, US Ambassador to Ukraine, Nuland wanted Arseniy Yatsenyuk, then an Opposition leader, in the Government of Ukraine after throwing President Viktor Yanukovych against another leader, Vitaly Klitschko. In this telephone conversation, Nuland used obscene language against the European Union. Ironically Yatsenyuk is the current interim Prime Minister of Ukraine after the President took refuge in Russia.
The Crimean population is largely Russian. Crimea was an autonomous Parliamentary republic within Ukraine and was governed by the Constitution of Crimea in accordance with the laws of Ukraine. Citing the interests of Russians in Crimea, Russia invaded Crimea and arranged a referendum to decide whether they wanted to stay with Ukraine or join Russia. On 16 March 2014 Crimeans by voting 97% in favour wanted to join Russia. Now Russia is in the process of acquiring the Ukrainian military bases in Crimea by force.
Analysing the Ukraine crisis
The facts were given above in brief and if we try to analyse the Ukraine crisis, one can argue the US is wrong and another can argue Russia is wrong, but in fact both are wrong.
The US capitalised on the civil unrest to plant a leader of its choice in Ukraine which is on the Russian border and having nuclear weapons. In turn Russia invaded Crimea against international rules and norms. The US and Russia both acted to secure their defence at the expense of the rights of the Ukrainian general public.
In the case of Russia it was very evident and the issue was very close to them. In the case of the US, it wanted to destabilise Russia to a certain extent and secure its defence to that extent. The US certainly has not done what it preaches. In the case of Russia also hypocrisy is evident if we take the reasons it gives against the resolution on Sri Lanka at Geneva.
Crimeans I suppose got what they wanted. Ukraine lost Crimea, most probably permanently. With the organised civil unrest, Yatsenyuk became the interim Prime Minister with the support of the US. What happened to the interests of the general public of Ukraine? In today’s politics one has to look at national interest or the interests of the general public of that country independent of the interests of the leaders of that country since the leaders very often look after their personal interests ahead of the interests of the country.
The Ukrainians had a ruler who was convicted in 2004 of rigging the elections. He was corrupt and autocratic and imprisoned the former Prime Minister who was his political opponent. He was a violator of human rights. The Ukrainians probably wanted him out. He was a man of Russia so Russia wanted to keep him and the US wanted him out. This is what happens when the international power struggle is connected with domestic politics, especially for the small countries bordering powerful countries.
Situation in Sri Lanka
In line with this experience let us examine the situation in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is located in a strategic position in the Indian Ocean and very close to nuclear-powered India, which is in search of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and has been having rapid economic growth in recent times.
Moreover Tamil Nadu, an Indian state with a large Tamil population of 72 million, is very concerned about the situation of the ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka. During the time of President Jayewardene, it is considered that the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu played a pivotal role in the ethnic conflict here, which was reversed with the killing of Rajiv Gandhi.
Hence Sri Lanka will have to manage Indian political interests and the concerns of Tamil Nadu. In addition to that, due to its geographical location, Sri Lanka will have to manage the interests of the super powers as well.
From the Jayewardene era during the war, Sri Lanka did not get an adequate supply of weapons from the West due to its bad human rights record. The situation changed during the time of President Kumaratunga, when Kadirgamar was the Foreign Minister.
Sri Lanka used to buy weapons from China. Presently Sri Lanka leans more towards China, firstly in order to counter the Indian influence and secondly to counter the Western pressure coming after the war. We should emphasise that this is not the non-aligned foreign policy practiced by Sri Lanka successfully during the time of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. This is somewhat a bargaining policy so that the country can get more benefits from one power in the face of pressure from another power.
India handles this situation cautiously considering the alignment of Burma with China a long time back due to the Indian policy towards Burma. However, the West will handle this aggressively considering what happened in Ukraine. We know that India is now aligned with the West and not with Russia as in the Jayewardene era.
Any country helps us for their benefit and for their benefit only. We should be cautious about China considering its policy towards Burma and South Sudan. Burma, after realising the Chinese aggression and with the international influence for human rights, disassociated with China. Now the Chinese influence is diminishing there. China abandoned South Sudan at that crucial moment and country was separated later.
A just and fair request
We have a domestic problem which is highlighted by the international community. The international community is demanding by and large just and fair treatment to all the citizens and the ethnic and religious minorities who are very vulnerable under the present regime. This is a just and fair request which is in line with the international treaties the country has signed.
In addition to that they want us to have a credible investigation of what happened during the last stages of the war. In line with what the President agreed with several international dignitaries including the UN Secretary General and in line with the international norms, this request is also reasonable. This would help the country to clear its image.
In line with the historic stances taken by the Sinhalese heroes from Dutugemunu, who fought a one-to-one fight with his opponent by his will in order to avoid casualties to ‘both parties,’ to Keppetipola who returned the weapons of the British which were in his possession in order to fight with them, this would be in order. How can we approve of deliberate killings of unarmed civilians, if there were any? If there was nothing, we should come forward and clear our name.
What is the Government doing? It does not want to solve this problem eternally. However it wants to be in power eternally. Hence it uses the communal-mindedness of the majority Sinhalese by influencing their sentiments by showing international pressure which is interpreted in an undue manner and by showing the requests of minorities interpreted as separatism.
With this strategy to be in power for a long time, it is combining a domestic issue with a subtle international power struggle among superpowers very dangerously. As evident in Ukraine with this dangerous combination, there can be far-reaching repercussions to the country – if not in Geneva, probably thereafter.
Therefore what should the general public of this country do? We should realise that there is absolutely no point in blaming the West. It is true that there can be double standards, hypocrisy and all the rest of it, but what can we gain by blaming them? Blaming someone for your problem is you disowning the problem, which means you are not capable of getting a solution to the problem.
This should not be done at national level and by solving our own problem there would be no room for international interference. Rulers have their strategies to stay in power. The strategy of the general public should be not to fall into the trap set by the rulers. Everything is based on self-protection and self-interest!
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and holds a Master of Business Administration degree awarded by the Postgraduate Institute of Management of University of Sri Jayewardenepura.)