Colombo Telegraph

The Crisis In Diplomacy

By Malinda Seneviratne –

Malinda Seneviratne

Diplomacy is supposed to be a profession, an activity or skill of managing international relations, usually by a country’s representatives abroad.  ‘Manage’ is a tricky word, though, pregnant with diplo-speak if you will.  It is essentially about securing advantage, and safeguarding and furthering interests without rupturing relations.

Some countries, if they have guns and bucks, have the inside edge in these matters and can get away with anything, murder included.  Some machinations by some have to be treated with grin-and-bear by some others.  That’s what international political economy is about.  Some arm-twist, some wince and say ‘thank you’.

So when Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State sends an Avurudu message about democracy and human rights, it is not about either but about having bucks and guns to say the most outrageous things.  It’s the same principle that was evident in the ‘diplomatic’ moves of the Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka with respect to the ‘abduction’ of Premakumar Gunaratnam alias Kumar Mahattaya alias Ratnayake Mudiyanselage Dayalal alias Noel Mudalige.

Now the Government’s version of the incident and its shy-making regarding abductions hardly hold water and most certainly make embarrassing reading regarding the law and order situation.  While one can be sympathetic about the difficulties of governing a country that is under threat from within and without, it must be mentioned that no one, least of all politicians, expects running a country to be easy.  Politicians benefit. Enormously.  If managing difficulties is a price to pay then it must be paid.  One would say it’s a ‘small price’, all things considered, except that securing the benefits directly and negatively impacts governability, not to mention that it severely compromises law and order.

In short, while the government finds itself divested of several headaches, the explanations have generated more questions than answers.  Fortunately for the government, Gunaratnam’s apparent penchant for cloak-dagger politics has not resulted in any public sympathy for the man or his party.  The script, if there was one, has been played to perfection; a thorn has been removed and a potentially disruptive political gathering has had its coming-out party pooped. Complicity in the ‘un-thorning’ seems apparent and that can only boost the enemies of the Government, here and abroad, especially in the context of the kind of ‘diplomacy’ that took place in Geneva last month.

What is more interesting, however, is the moves by the Australian High Commission, moves that are best understood if boot was on the other foot.  Imagine an Australian leaving the country under suspicious circumstances including need to evade arrest, violating  all immigration regulations, obtaining citizenship in Sri Lanka, then re-entering Australia, overstaying his visa, and launching a political party along with others who are associated with a political party that has an insurrectionary history.  Imagine the Sri Lankan High Commission being privy to his operations and knowing that he used various aliases.  Need we say more about how flat or otherwise global politics is?

It is in the context of these realities that Sri Lanka cannot afford anything less that utmost professionalism from her diplomatic corps.  We can’t have bickering.  We can’t have braggadocio.  We can’t play the blaming game about a game which was scripted in ways that we just could not win.  We can’t have ambassadors who are more interested in self-aggrandizing.  We can’t have people batting for India or the USA or some other country.  We can’t continue to have political appointees running our missions abroad.  There must be strict guidelines about what is ok and what’s not.  Above all, there must be a cogent policy.   That policy must be informed by national interest, first and foremost, and be crafted in securing the best possible outcomes in a power-skewed world where we don’t call the shots.

The bottom line, however, is that if the national house is not in order, then international moves can only be expected to flounder.  The ‘National House’ has a king post called Constitution and is made of law, order, institutional safeguards that ensure accountability and transparency and so on.  That ‘base’ is shaky and has been so for decades.  The Government can no longer postpone repairs.  The people cannot afford that work to be outsourced.

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