29 October, 2020

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GR’s Concept Of Neutrality Is Vastly Inferior To Nonalignment As Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy Framework –  Response To Mr. Rusiripala

By Dayan Jayatilleka 

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

“…the Non-Aligned Movement, [is] the main political coordination mechanism of the countries of the South…Our movement gathers the majority of all countries and UN member States.”  – Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, Ministerial Meeting of the Coordinating Bureau of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, October 9, 2020.

1. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, addressing the UN General Assembly’s 75th anniversary summit, omitted any reference to Nonalignment or the Nonaligned Movement. That was the first time that any Ceylonese/Sri Lankan leader had omitted such a marker reference since this country was a founder-member of the Nonaligned Movement in Belgrade in 1961. Why did the President omit such a defining reference? The President used instead the term ‘neutral’. He did not say ‘neutral and Nonaligned’ as does Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, which itself is a departure from the norm, and in any case would read better as ‘Nonaligned and neutral’, but is far better than the sole use of the term neutral/neutrality instead of Nonaligned/Nonalignment.

2. While SWRD Bandaranaike did use the term ‘dynamic neutrality’, that was years before the founding of the Nonaligned movement in 1961, at which Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike represented Ceylon. The NAM (and Sri Lanka) never used the term ‘neutral/neutrality’. Firmly rooted in the NAM and the doctrine of Nonalignment, Madam Bandaranaike was famously able to balance between India and China. Balance and equidistance need equal friendship with both players; not the abandonment of Non-alignment and declaration of a conversion to ‘neutrality’ –while in practice, permitting one’s State Minister to speak in hostile terms in parliament about the Prime Minister of your neighbor while a dignitary of the other country is visiting. 

3. The Secretary to the Foreign Ministry, Rear-Admiral (retd) Dr Colombage, made clear in an uncontradicted, on-the-record interview, that the President’s vision is of Sri Lanka as a neutral, not a Nonaligned country. This explains why, in his UNGA address, the President used the term neutral rather than Non-aligned, and chose not to use the inclusive terminology of Nonaligned and neutral. It denotes a change-over, a switch, a conversion. It is a switch that in no way serves the National Interest of Sri Lanka as a state; a country. The Non-aligned Movement may be likened to an extended family or a trade union. As in the case of families and trade-unions, there are fluctuations in its fortunes. However, at the last summit of the Movement in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2019 – the same year that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected—the NAM had 120 member states, making it the largest grouping in the UN and the international system as a whole. It is this global coalition and our membership of it, and role and status in it, that gives us the chance of a bloc-vote in UN bodies. How can it be in the interest of Sri Lanka, a small state, to drop any identification with, and role in, such a large coalition of which it was a founder-member and a chairperson?  

4. Only a handful of countries, barely making it into a double-digit total, identify themselves as ‘neutral’. Neutrality is also generally understood as relevant in the context of a shooting war or its imminence. How can it be a rational choice to drop the identification with a category that 120 countries subscribe to and opt instead for a category that barely a dozen countries do? 

5. How can the fact that Mervyn de Silva identified and criticized the deviation from Nonalignment in the 1980s soon after Sri Lanka handed over its Chairmanship of NAM, contradict my assertion that the same mistake has been made yet again? Sri Lanka’s departure from its foreign policy norms in the 1980s was an aberration which was corrected by the trauma of 1987, and it returned to its home turf thereafter under Presidents Premadasa, Kumaratunga and Rajapaksa, with even President Sirisena fighting against a repetition of the deviation under Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. During the Sirisena administration, under the Foreign Ministerships of Tilak Marapana and Sarath Amunugama, we had returned to centrist Nonaligned position after a drastic initial deviation which accounted for the co-sponsorship of the disgraceful Geneva 2015 resolution. 

6. It is precisely when Sri Lanka deviated from Nonalignment in the 1980s that we experienced international intervention and found ourselves isolated. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s commitment to Nonalignment kept Sri Lanka safe in the war years, from possible interference and intervention. 

7. Postwar, we lost the vote three times in the UNHRC Geneva because he delayed, under hawkish pressure, the implementation of his promise to India regarding the 13th amendment and thereby lost the unstinted support of India, which as Mervyn de Silva pointed out in the 1980s, was the cornerstone of our Nonalignment. What is the logic of President GR repeating an error of President JR in the 1980s—of deviating from Nonalignment—an error which made us vulnerable and isolated– while completely abandoning Nonalignment and renouncing our Nonaligned collective identity and sense of belonging which kept us safe from interference/intervention in wartime? 

8. The non-mention of Palestine by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, for the first time by any Sri Lankan leader in a UNGA address after the founding of the NAM, is no mere slip. Palestine is the longest standing issue on the NAM agenda and the most glaring moral and ethical issue in world politics today. President Gotabaya’s deafening silence is not only in stark contrast to the commitment to the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution of his predecessor President Mahinda Rajapaksa over decades, but will also not go unnoticed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Nonaligned group in UN forums, which constitute important voting blocs for Sri Lanka. 

9. Since Sri Lanka is neither an absolute monarchy nor a dictatorship—as yet—by what policy process, involving whom, and when, did President Gotabaya Rajapaksa decide on replacing nonalignment with neutrality, redefining Sri Lanka as a neutral, not nonaligned country, and dropping any reference to our membership of the Nonaligned Movement, a huge community of similar and like-minded states, mostly of the global South? Did Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, the Cabinet, and the Government Parliamentary group join in the policy deliberation and was there a policy consensus? 

10. What Singapore is to development, Cuba is to diplomacy: a classic success story of a small state punching way above its weight. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his hawkish foreign policy team (Moragoda, Gunaratna, Colombage, Weerasekara et al) would do well to understand the importance of the Nonaligned Movement and the continued relevance of Nonaligned principles—which should not be traded in for “neutrality”—from the speech by the Foreign Minister of Cuba, Bruno Rodriguez, just ten days ago (Oct 9th 2020), at a virtual NAM meeting: 

Sixty years after their adoption, the principles of Bandung, which were the most immediate precedent of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, remain fully valid and are ever more relevant. 

We recognize the work carried out by the Presidency of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Movement and its efforts to preserve and strengthen the indispensable activism of the countries of the South…

…the Non-Aligned Movement, [is] the main political coordination mechanism of the countries of the South… 

…Since its inception, the Movement has supported the struggles against colonialism, neocolonialism and apartheid and stood in favor of the Palestinian cause, nuclear disarmament, peace and a new and more just, democratic and equitable international economic order.

…Our movement gathers the majority of all countries and UN member States. If we stand together, our voice could not be ignored…” 

(Statement by Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba, during the Ministerial Meeting of the Coordinating Bureau of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries. October 9, 2020.)

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Latest comments

  • 2
    7

    Non alignment did more damage to SL than anything else. While SL held the NAM summit in 1976 and held its leadership another NAM country India was busy weapons training Tamils to break SL up. No wonder NAM is now dead. SL should be friendly with all.

    Allow India a military base in Jaffna. China to have Hambantota. USA and Saudi to have Trincomalee. Russians can be based in Galle. Israelis in Colombo.

    Why make enemies? The problems they have are between them. SL cannot take sides. Indian IPKF in Jaffna was wonderful towards Tamils and they loved them very much. Even today Tamils talk about IPKF fondly. Cultural and religious sameness played a huge role in each accepting the other.

    Equidistance is the name of the new game.

    • 1
      2

      Dear Mr. Gatam, The formula you suggest to make everybody happy or appeasing every one is the one that was manifested by the “Yahapalana” Government. To you the existence of “foreigners” would be loved by the locals and you give your version of the encounters with the IPKF. But some of the persons in the localities of the North and the East have given me other accounts of the IPKF. For instance, they tell me during IPKF times that it was compulsory for women to be without their underclothing so that they are easily “rapeable” even in standing postures in various corners. So, this is a highly debatable matter. In any case any foreigner will not love us except if we have something attractive to offer. Pleasures of the flesh is one of them. I do not think that any right-minded person would like our women and children be exposed to foreign predators.

      • 3
        1

        Dear Good Sense, Tamil women say far worse things about the SL army. In comparison they find IPKF way better.

        e.g. Isaipiriya, Krisanthi Coomaraswamy, 12 Tamil boys abducted from Colombo and killed, killing ACH workers, killing Red Cross workers, killing 6 Trinco Tamil boys, the list is too long.

        This is the reality you don’t wish to hear. SL army has no more right than the IPKF to occupy Tamil areas. At least Hindus have very many things in common with the IPKF than the SL army.

        Appease all superpowers and let them sort out their problems between them.

    • 3
      1

      ‘Allow India a military base in Jaffna. China to have Hambantota. USA and Saudi to have Trincomalee. Russians can be based in Galle. Israelis in Colombo.’
      .
      Any place for the Sri Lankans here? Ridiculous idea.

      • 2
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        Stanley

        “Any place for the Sri Lankans here?”

        Nopes, however they can have their ancestral homeland in South India.

      • 1
        1

        No way! It is practical. Aren’t there any other places apart from the 5 places I mentioned? Well there are 31,000 other villages apart from these! And also when IPKF bases in Jaffna, they don’t occupy the entire Jaffna! Only a very small part. At the moment all these places have SL military bases too? Where are the Sri Lankans?

    • 5
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      GATAM

      “While SL held the NAM summit in 1976 and held its leadership another NAM country India was busy weapons training Tamils to break SL up. “

      Could you let us have some prove Hindia trained Tamils before 1982.
      It does not matter if you can’t find any because there was none before 1982.
      You must be getting old and seems you suffer from memory losses.

      The war crime denier and war monger Dayan was doing some clandestine work in Hindia. Details are not known.

      • 2
        0

        Native
        When did India start training Tamils, for information’s sake?

        Soma

        • 1
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          soma

          “When did India start training Tamils, for information’s sake?”

          Definitely immediately after your great compassionate act in July 1983.
          However VP, his mates and some members of little known “MIlitant” organisations, Tamil Speaking pacifists, peaceful agitators, innocent victims of police brutality, political activists …. frequented Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra, …. since 1980 according to my Elders, numerically very small, maybe less than 100.

          However it was your war criminals who acted being the recruiting sergeant for abhorrent VP.

          • 1
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            soma

            By the way self confessed Dayan once typed he did clandestine work in South India. We do not know what kind of work or whom he was working for.

      • 2
        2

        Have you forgotten the war started in 1975? Tamil terrorists bombed a civilian plane of Air Ceylon in 1978. That is war. Did they do it with masala wade?

        India turned against SL since 1971 when SL allowed Pakistani civil flights en route to Bangladesh use SL airports. But these flights had Pakistani military men in civil clothing.

    • 3
      3

      “Even today Tamils talk about IPKF fondly.”
      Really? Which Tamils? Ones born after 1989?

      • 3
        1

        The how about the SL army? Do Tamils talk fondly of SL army? ? Still they are based in Jaffna!!

    • 2
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      GATAM

      Love your sarcastic point making and cool.

  • 3
    2

    We should not allow any foreign military bases in the island.

    • 4
      4

      Noel

      “We should not allow any foreign military bases in the island.”

      As far as Hinidans are concerned Sri Lanka is the Sinhala State of Hindia. North and East are part of Akhand Tamil Nadu.

      Its is not a question of letting Hindia building a base, it is a matter for Hindians to decide if they want a base in this island.

  • 6
    3

    When there’s no proper democracy in the country, people lose not only their rights. They lose control over their land and resources. Autocratic governments and corrupt regimes often make deals with foreign powers compromising the interests of the people in order to stay in power. The Rajapaksas are masters at doing this while making the people believe they are the sole protectors of the sovereignty of Sri Lanka thanks to the marketing prowess of the Mahanayake Theros and the brand loyalty of the Sinhala-Buddhist herd.

  • 5
    1

    DJ,

    “President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his hawkish foreign policy team (Moragoda, Gunaratna, Colombage, Weerasekara et al) “

    Moragoda has been a businessman. The others have military or ‘counter terrorism’ background.

    If these are the foreign policy advisers….

  • 1
    2

    Dear Dayan

    You may have noticed we are learning to walk again after been fatally wounded due to the FP/ITAK folly and the betrayal by the fellow NAM mother India.

    The next step will come where will be Non-align and Neutral based on how we get back on our feet first after the fatal blow after blow by the gun trotting kids from North to South.

    If the kids turned out to be qualified experts to contribute to the Nation building program (instead of experts in explosives) we could have done much better than NAM too.

  • 4
    1

    SL is a poor small and weak nation in comparison with super powers. Only a total fool would confront any of the super powers. If SL confronts super powers, what happened to Sudan will happen to SL. Super powers split it between them. The only way to keep SL in one piece is to allow all top super powers military bases in the island.

    Look at India. They buy weapons from Russia, USA, France, Israel, China and the UK. Same with UAE.

    Saudi Arabia is a very powerful country but they allow US, Pakistani, etc. military bases.

    SL has no choice. China, USA, India, Israel, Russia are here to stay. Period!

  • 2
    1

    “Even today Tamils talk about IPKF fondly.”
    .
    Is that why they call them the Innocent People Killing Force?

  • 1
    0

    Surely Mahinda must understand the danger in this? Ironically Mahinda got called ‘Pro – China’ just for development projects by the Western bloc, while in fact he stuck to the non-aligned side in all international matters. Gota on the other hand seems to want to leave it behind entirely. I hope saner counsel prevails.

  • 1
    0

    And in response to ur writeup dated the 12th I think ( Colombo Telegraph has the most ridiculous policy of disabling comments after the span of a week);

    Hasn’t Sri Lanka technically already unilaterally acted on the Indo-Lanka Accord? Several times in fact. In 2007 we signed ACSA and gave the US access to Trincomalee (which some would argue was the sole reason for the accord in the first place) and India couldn’t do anything about it. Then we partially implemented the 13A and spoke of amending it (13+ / 13- ) to not much Indian reproval. The Lankan supreme court demerged the North and East Provinces in 2006. And in 2014 2 Chinese submarines were berthed at Colombo Port. All in violation of the Accord.
    Modi’s mention of the 13A as ‘essential’ now of all times is purely geopolitical. Not to mention the mixed messaging. With a Buddha prathima as the back drop, naming the talks “Mithrathva – Magga’ ( Sanskrit-Pali) and then offering a grant for Buddhist ties. It is all over the place.

  • 2
    0

    I was not aware, until reading Dayan’s article, of the “non-mention of Palestine by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, for the first time by any Sri Lankan leader in a UNGA address after the founding of the NAM….”
    ——
    And I entirely agree that this “is no mere slip. Palestine is the longest standing issue on the NAM agenda and the most glaring moral and ethical issue in world politics today. President Gotabaya’s deafening silence is not only in stark contrast to the commitment to the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution of his predecessor President Mahinda Rajapaksa over decades…”
    ——
    Is this omission the conscious stand and deliberate policy of a Sri Lankan citizen and leader, or of one who clings to his more powerful citizenship (in spirit if not on paper)?

    I’m sad to see no response from readers to GR’s implicit reflection of (subjection to?) US policy regarding this tragic and enormous crime against the people of Palestine.
    ——-
    May I recommend two books by an Israeli historian in Tel Aviv University, Shlomo Sand, which fly in the face of colonisers’ “superior” claims to this disputed territory:
    “The Invention of the Jewish People” and
    “The Invention of the Land of Israel”.
    ——-
    A pity they are not in Sinhala as they should be gifted to all our “literate” leaders and politicians, most of whom have forgotten this country’s struggle for independence — such as it was.

    • 2
      0

      Great comment Ms Fonseka. Take good care of u???????

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