Milinda Moragoda with Indian PM Narendra Modi
By Chinthanee Omattage
In the ultimate analysis, the Moragoda Doctrine is about achieving a creative balance and equilibrium in Sri Lanka’s favour when dealing with ever-changing competing global power blocks. To protect Sri Lanka’s interests and to safeguard her sovereignty, identity and stature in the world is an intricate balancing act that requires a clear-eyed approach.
In today’s context, to do so is an even more precarious task. Because Sri Lanka lies at a strategic crossroads, a nationalist isolationist strategy is counterproductive and can only lead to disaster. Even a cursory look at Sri Lankan history shows that from ancient times, Sri Lankan kings relied on agile networks and alliances to protect the country’s interests. In this context, what follows is an effort to understand the strategy for international cooperation that was formulated and implemented during the 2002-2004 period.
From time to time, organisations and individuals have attempted to examine measures taken by Sri Lanka relating to international relations and national security through the social media. The current hype about the role played by former Minister Milinda Moragoda in relation to foreign relations and national security is one such example. Those who are trying to dissect what took place decades ago in the sphere of international relations and security could very well mean well. However, it is debatable whether the knowledge of events, at least some of them possess, match the interest they have on the topic of discussion. With the advent of the Internet and social media in the 20th century, such as the ‘YouTube’, ‘Face Book’, Twitter etc., those who have access to smart phones with Subscriber Identity Modules, popularly known as SIM cards, desktops or laptops with access to the Internet, suddenly found themselves empowered, which provided them with platforms to comment on any subject, irrespective of their knowledge, expertise or experience.
The end result of this phenomenon is that the general public is being subjected to relentless bombardment of news, points of view, solutions to issues of national importance, as well as mundane matters. In this process, the public is also being supplied with ‘fake news’ or manufactured news by interested parties. This is an entirely a new phenomenon that surfaced during the latter part of the last century and seems to be thriving in the 21st century.
One of the issues that has recently surfaced is the Sri Lanka-US agreement signed in November 2002 relating to the International Criminal Court (ICC). ICC is a permanent judicial body established by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in1998 to prosecute and adjudicate individuals, not states, accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. On 1 July 2002, after ratification by the requisite number of countries (60), it entered in to force.
There are two avenues for prosecution by the ICC. One, a State Party may invite the Court to prosecute an offender, and the other is for the UN Security Council to initiates a case. However, it is also possible for Office of the Prosecutor to initiate an investigation. In doing so, there is a need to satisfy whether the offender/s are being prosecuted by the national government. Only if there are shortcomings on the part of such national processes that the ICC has the authority to extend its jurisdiction.
On 6 May 2002, the Bush Administration announced that the United States does not intend to become a Party to the Rome Statute of ICC and informed the UN of its decision, despite the fact Washington had signed the Rome Statute on 31 December 2000. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka too decided against becoming a Party to the Rome Statute. ICC Statute is not a legal instrument adopted and implemented by the United Nations. Instead, it is a legal instrument that has been negotiated by individual states, who later signed and ratified it. The treaty has neither enforcement powers, nor a police force to implement its judgements. Such responsibilities are entirely in the hands of the signatories. This may be the reason why one of its judges (Italian) described the ICC as a “giant without hands and legs”. Consequently, Sri Lanka was within its rights to decide not to become Party to the Rome Statute.
Following bilateral consultation Sri Lanka had with the United States, both sides signed the Agreement by which they agreed not to transfer a person of the other Party to a third country, when each country decides to extradite, surrender or otherwise transfer a person, without the expressed consent of the government of the United States or Sri Lanka.
It may be recalled that this bilateral agreement was signed in November 2002, at a time when Sri Lanka was having robust political, security and economic relations with the US. Signing of Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) was one of the important developments that took place around that time, which gave rise to the expectation that the US would look favourably at concluding a Free Trade Agreement with Sri Lanka. It is a well-known fact that Moragoda played a pivotal role in concluding the TIFA. That was also the time when Colombo was trying to free itself from restrictions imposed by the US Congress against sale of military hardware, including spare parts to service SLAF aircraft.
Cascading effects of the improved relations between Washington and Colombo resulted in the decision taken by the Bush administration to gift Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) ‘USS Courageous’ in early 2005, a coastguard cutter that was once part of the US 7th Fleet. It is no secret that that warship became a useful asset during the final confrontations the SLN had with LTTE several years later, thousands of nautical miles away from the Sri Lankan shores.
Congressional restrictions against sale of military hardware to Sri Lanka were also lifted soon thereafter, which facilitated Sri Lanka Navy to acquire 30 mm Bushmaster cannons to be mounted on Navy platforms, which provided an advantage over the LTTE firepower at sea. Finally, intelligence provided by the US and India enabled SLN to locate and destroy LTTE vessels that were used for storage and transport of military hardware.
These developments were taking place at a time when the LTTE was taking steps to move away from the peace process alleging that the Government was casting an international safety net designed by Minister Moragoda to restrict freedom of operation by that organisation. It is therefore clear that the Government in Colombo, realising the machinations of LTTE, recognised the need to improve political, military and economic relations with Washington.
Building a ‘like-minded group’
One step in that direction was to build a likeminded group of countries that would take steps to assist each other, when cooperative action was required to safeguard their national interests. Credit of establishing that likeminded group has also been rightly assigned to Moragoda.
It may be against such a backdrop, when Sri Lanka was accused of alleged human rights violations, Minister Moragoda, who was closely associated with the peace process, saw the merits of signing an agreement with the US refusing to extradite alleged offenders to be tried by the ICC, based on biased and spurious allegations brought out by outfits such as diaspora groups that supported LTTE.
However, since the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration suffered an electoral setback at the General Election held in 2004, the kind of coalition his administration was trying to build up with a group of likeminded countries failed to materialise. The idea behind the thinking could have been not to counter the policies of the Non-Aligned Movement, but to build a new coalition that would give priority to national interests of the nascent group. At the time of signing the bilateral agreement, Colombo may not have expected the UN system to bring members of the armed forces, etc. before international tribunals or engage services of international prosecutors, etc., to try them as demanded by the Human Rights Council years later.
If the policy of building a ‘like-minded group’ pursued by Colombo had succeeded, Sri Lanka would have stood a good chance in signing bilateral agreements with several other countries, such as the one it signed with the US on surrender of persons to the ICC. All that is now long forgotten, as the adage says, ‘water under the bridge’.
It may be recalled that from time to time the US administration assisted Sri Lankan armed forces in a number of ways. Way back in 1994, the Office of Anti-terrorism Assistance of the US Department of State undertook a ‘Survey and Evaluation of Dignitary Protective Security’. Years’ later, in 2002 the US Department of Defence undertook a study on SL’s military preparedness and submitted a report to the government. However, it was looked at seriously only during the tenure of Gotabaya Rajapaksa then Secretary of the Ministry of Defence.
It was the time when Sri Lanka depended on the intelligence provided by the West, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the US. Small wonder then, why the US intelligence personnel sat down and conferred with their local counterparts. Their support and cooperation were sought by the government and in providing such cooperation, the US intelligence officials developed a close working relationship with their local counterparts.
Such close cooperation with the US intelligence services continued during the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, coming as he did from a military background, would have understood the importance of military to military relationship with the US. Signing of the Acquisition and Cross Service Agreement (ACSA) in 2007 by Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the result of the close rapport Sri Lanka enjoyed with the security apparatus of the US.
A ‘land like no other’
Sri Lanka is indeed a ‘land like no other’. Velupillai Prabhakaran, Thamil Chelvam and Anton Balasingham who took Sri Lanka on a three-decade long roller coaster ride are no more. Karuna Amman, the Chief Lieutenant of the LTTE Leader, ended up as a Junior Minister in the Parliament.
Prof. G. L. Peiris, who led the Sri Lanka delegations to the peace talks with the LTTE left the UNP, rejoined the SLFP and later helped establish SLPP, which won the 2020 General Election handsomely, is a Minister in the current Parliament. Milinda Moragoda, once credited with creating a standoff between LTTE supremo and Balasingham and many other developments associated with the peace process, will be Sri Lanka’s next envoy to New Delhi.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who fought the war to a conclusion and defeated the LTTE, has once again become the Prime Minister of the island and his brother and former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has become President of the country with wide popularity.
Strangest of all is, after a lapse of 45 years since the assassination of Alfred Duraiappah, a SLFP member has been elected by the voters in Jaffna, the former bastion of the LTTE, as their Member of Parliament. Much has definitely changed. However, those who made a living by disseminating scurrilous and frivolous news and fake stories, continue to ply their trade with gay abandon.
Sri Lankans are no better. Myopia is something that they all seem to have been afflicted with. One decade after defeat of the LTTE, they appear to have forgotten the wretched three-decade long war the country had to face and the endless sacrifices the people of Sri Lanka and members of the armed forces had to endure.
The Cease-Fire Agreement the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration signed with the LTTE may not have been the smartest move of that administration. However, Sri Lankans seems to have forgotten that that agreement was the first nail on the coffin of the LTTE, which turned the tide against that organisation.
The second was Karuna Amman’s estrangement with V. Prabhakaran and his defection, which made the LTE held Eastern Province vulnerable to the extent it fell into the hands of the Government forces lead by Rajapaksa brothers. The rest is history.
Not surprisingly, Sri Lankans seem to have forgotten the root causes of the armed conflict as well. They suffer from short memory as well, as amply demonstrated by the forgetfulness of the critical support Sri Lankan military received from India and the US, during the closing phase of the Eelam war.