Colombo Telegraph

For An Island, Internationalism Is A Strategic Imperative 

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Will a JO government be primitive nationalist or Smart Patriotic? What foreign policy direction will it take?

Prof Nalin de Silva, co-ideologue together with Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara of the Sinhala ultra-nationalist and borderline racist “Jathika Chinthana”, has devoted a long blog post on his site ‘Kalaya’, just reproduced in, to attacking my ideas on “Smart Patriotism” presented at the recent Viyath Maga annual convention. Apart from an attack on me, he has also attacked Emeritus Prof Carlo Fonseka and most amusingly, dismissed one of modernity’s finest thinkers Antonio Gramsci, while characterizing his celebrated concept of “organic intellectuals” as “kasi kabal” i.e. “ramshackle”. The good professor insists on pronouncing Gramsci as “Gramsky” when any politically literate undergraduate knows that it is pronounced “Graamshi”. In his Kalaya blog post Nalin de Silva attacks me for attempting to formulate an internationalist nationalism, “a nationalism which can be internationalized”, saying that nationalism can do perfectly well without internationalism and that internationalism is an attempt at subverting nationalism. He equates internationalism with “Western-Graeco-Roman-Judaeo-Christian” intellectual, cultural and philosophical influence which must be ‘cleansed” so to speak.

My perspective and Nalin de Silva’s critique are symptoms of an important battle of ideas and ideologies within the Sri Lankan Oppositional space, which Nalin de Silva interestingly and not inaccurately sums up as “Jathika Vyaaparaya saha Ekaabaddha Vipakshaya” –“the national movement and the Joint Opposition”. This battle of perspectives will impact on the shape and trajectory of a future post–UNP administration, which is only a few short years away, given that this Government will almost certainly follow the path of many earlier one-term UNP administrations.

In addition to making the case for a Smart Patriotism in the speech I delivered that evening, Viyath Maga had, to mark the occasion, requested selected personalities for future-oriented policy papers on their assigned themes which were then gathered into a publication and presented to the distinguished invitees. The publication opened with a lengthy, statistic packed essay on “A People-Centric Development” by Viyath Maga coordinator Dr. Nalaka Godahewa. It was followed by a two page paper by me rolling out the rudiments of a Smart Patriotic foreign policy which I spoke about that evening, entitled “For an Island, Internationalism is a Strategic Imperative”.

The publication featured essays on “National Security and the Betrayal of War Heroes” by Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara, “Reconciliation Through Equity” by Arun Tambimuttu, “Secessionist Demands and Constitutional Change” by Manohara de Silva, PC, “Yahapalanaya and the inversion of the Rule of Law” by Premnath Dolawatte, and “What Future for Sri Lanka’s Education?” by Prof. Sudantha Liyanage.

What follows is my paper setting out the rudiments of a Smart Patriotic Sri Lankan Foreign Policy, as contained in the Viyath Maga publication.]


Internationalism isn’t just a necessity…it’s a condition for survival.” -Fidel Castro

Sri Lanka must possess and display the political will to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty against anyone who would threaten it. In this effort, internationalism is not a luxury but an imperative; it cannot be an intermittent gesture, but has to be a permanent posture and relentless practice.

Sri Lanka should have an independent foreign policy which is globalist, in the dimensions of politics, security, culture, and consciousness. My argument is for a Gaullist policy of tous azimuths, meaning all points or directions of the compass– or, to use an even more refined expression of the Putinist Russian strategic elite, for a multi-vector international policy, rather than one which privileges partnership with the West.

Such a policy should build cross–regional bridges to all areas (“re-discovering” Latin America), diversifying Sri Lanka’s dependence and giving it more options to engage in power balancing. It would be a globalism that is flexible but not free-floating, solid identified with the global South, the Non-aligned Movement and G 77, while prioritizing Asia, chiefly its drivers India and China.

In addition, building a strategic identification with Eurasia, the part of the world that respects national/state sovereignty, must be the cornerstone of our external relations. It is the Archimedean point of leverage.

The finest political strategist of modernity, Lenin, concluded at the tail end of his life, in an article published in Pravda on March 4th 1923, that: “In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China etc. account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe“.

Sri Lanka’s relation to India is almost unique. There are no neighbors to the south of Sri Lanka or around it except for the Maldives, and only the Indian Ocean surrounds it right down to Antarctica. Even if the Tamil factor did not exist, Sri Lanka’s relationship with India would be its most vital external relationship. However, inasmuch as the Northern part of Sri Lanka ethnically mirrors the Southern part of India and is separated only by a narrow strip of water; insofar as there exists a demonstrable and felt ethnic kinship between the Tamils of Northern Sri Lanka and those of the Tamil Nadu state of India, the relationship with India is a vital constituent of its management of the internal ethnic relationships, just as its relationship with its own Tamil minority is intrinsic to the management of the larger and essential relationship with its sole and giant neighbor India.

While Sri Lanka should be active in the global inter-state system, the Government of the Republic of Sri Lanka is primarily responsible to the citizens of Sri Lanka. That is what popular sovereignty in a res publica, a republic, is about.

The four pillars that a strong successful state and a good society must rest upon equally, are national sovereignty, popular sovereignty, individual rights and self-determination.

National sovereignty means that a nation-state (or a pluri-national state) is a political unit or community entitled to its unity and territorial integrity, and has the right to determine its own path, regulate its own affairs, without external domination, intervention or interference in its internal affairs.

Popular sovereignty means that the right to rule rests with the people, who decide who rules, how and for how long. If the rulers violate this social contract, this sacred trust, the people have the right to replace, even overthrow them. The Sri Lankan Constitution makes explicit that as a republic, sovereignty is vested in the people, who exercise it through a regularly and periodically elected Executive president and legislature.

Individual rights pertain to the sovereign individual person; to the equality of every citizen, who is inalienably possessed of a stock of rights and freedoms which must not be transgressed upon.

Self-determination refers to the right of a collective to determine its own destiny. The structural coordinates of that collective or community impose limitations upon the degree to which the right of self-determination is exercised. The right to set up an independent state belongs to a nation, not a national minority. An established nation-state possesses the right of self-determination. The entire (multi-ethnic) nation and not one part of it, is the legitimate agency of self-determination. A nation which is under colonial occupation or annexation has the right of self-determination (e.g. Occupied Palestine). An ethno-national minority, on the other hand, has a structurally more limited right to a reasonable measure of self-governance and self-administration, which may be termed the right to autonomy.

The pro-Tamil Eelam Diaspora has made its case globally, not only in the West and India but also in South Africa and Malaysia. For the anti-Sri Lankan Tamil Eelamist network , the struggle is global. For many of us, it is not yet a struggle that is truly global in scale and scope, mobility and outreach. Since the problem is international (‘jathyaanthara’), the solution cannot be national (‘jathika’). If the problem is international, so, too, must be the response and the solution. It is a global contestation. Therefore, it requires the construction of a global united front.

Sri Lanka can regain the respect and role it once had as a source of guiding ideas and a leader of the global South, which contains the vast majority of the world’s nations, through building a global united front that is ‘sovereignist’, i.e. the broadest front of states, regions and movements that respect national independence and sovereignty and a more democratic, balanced , non-hegemonic and equitable world order, while maintaining friendly relations with all countries, societies and peoples.

Back to Home page