By Dayan Jayatilleka –
The head of the island of Sri Lanka can be separated from the body of the island by overwhelming external force. Does such a force or combination of forces exist? Who, where and what are they? Does Sri Lanka have a credible capacity for deterrence or resistance?
Paranoia apart, there are no internal threats to the strategic and security interests of Sri Lanka, and even if there were, they could easily be prevailed over. There could however be external ones, which are almost impossible to prevail over by domestic military force. The role of the State is to prevent by political, diplomatic, intellectual and ideological means of persuasion, i.e. by the projection of soft power, just such a worst case scenario.
One of the many and painful paradoxes Sri Lanka is living through is a greater parochialism of mentalities at a time of greater external focus on – some may say intrusion in—Sri Lanka. Simply put, Sri Lanka seems to be less aware of global trends at a time the world is more aware of Lankan trends and tendencies. We seem to scrutinise the world less just as we come under the world’s scrutiny as never before. This contradiction is most ironic when it pertains to the immediate neighbourhood, which is more deeply involved with Sri Lanka than it has been for a quarter century.
Things weren’t always so. It is not a form of ancestor worship that makes me recall the well-informed editorials and analytical features on the Indo-Soviet treaty and Nixon’s visit to China, in the Daily News under my father Mervyn de Silva’s editorship. The close focus was through the prism of the enlightened national interest of Sri Lanka, and examined the implications for our national interest.
Today there seems to be zero awareness of the new level of development of the Indo-US relationship and the projections of the strategic arc of that relationship as contained in the detailed joint communiqué and an even more crucial second document, the US-India Joint Declaration of Defence Cooperation, issued after President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent meeting.
Key portions of the Indo-US joint communiqué of end September follow:
“The Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh and the President of the United States of America Barack Obama…reflected proudly on the transformation of United States-India relations during the last decade, affirming that the partnership between the two democratic nations is stronger today than at any point in their 67-year history.
Rooted in common democratic values and strong people to people ties, the United States and India have developed a comprehensive global strategic partnership, both in name and in substance…
President Obama and Prime Minister Singh pledged to make the next decade equally as transformative, challenging their governments to reach the full potential of this partnership, particularly in the areas of security cooperation, bilateral trade and investment, energy and environment, higher education, and global architecture.
The Leaders called for expanding security cooperation between the United States and India to address 21st century challenges in the areas of counter-terrorism, cyber, space, and global health security.
Applauding bilateral defense cooperation, including trade and military exercises, President Obama and Prime Minister Singh expressed satisfaction with the progress achieved to date in defence relations. They emphasized the need for more intensive defense cooperation on both sides. The Leaders reaffirmed their desire to further strengthen defence trade cooperation endorsing a Joint Declaration on Defence Cooperation as a means of enhancing their partnership in defence technology transfer, joint research, co-development and co-production. President Obama encouraged the further participation of US firms in partnering India`s efforts to enhance its defence capacities. President Obama also welcomed India’s decision to participate in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise hosted by U.S. Pacific Command in 2014.
…President Obama and Prime Minister Singh believe that the United States and India should look to each other as partners of first resort in addressing global challenges.
…Reaffirming that in the years ahead, the United States looks forward to a reformed UN Security Council with India as a permanent member, President Obama and Prime Minister Singh agreed that both their nations bear a responsibility to ensure that the Security Council continues to effectively play the role in maintaining international peace and security envisioned in the United Nations Charter.
Building on ongoing consultations between India and the United States on East Asia, Central Asia and West Asia, and the trilateral dialogue mechanisms with Afghanistan and Japan respectively, the Leaders agreed to expand their consultations to include a dialogue on the Indian Ocean Region, to deepen coordination on cross-cutting issues including maritime security and conservation of natural resources.
…Looking forward, President Obama and Prime Minister Singh recognized that increased cooperation in these areas will strengthen the United States-India strategic partnership, highlighting shared democratic values and the capabilities the United States and India have to work together across Asia and around the globe. The two countries have crossed a threshold in their relations where both recognize that successes at home and abroad are further advanced by their cooperation.
Today’s meeting demonstrates that the interests of the United States and India continue to converge, and this partnership will indeed be a defining one for the 21st Century.”
(Joint Statement on Prime Minister’s Summit Meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington D.C. September 27, 2013)
Meanwhile, the much shorter and more focused US-India Joint Declaration on Defence Cooperation, crucially states that:
“The United States and India share common security interests and place each other at the same level as their closest partners.”
As a report from Washington DC in the flagship newspaper of the Delhi establishment, the Times of India analysed it:
“Remember the ”we are just good friends” refrain from Bollywood pairs who didn’t particularly want the world to know they were getting into the sack…? Well, all such pretence goes out of the window with the declaration between the two countries on Friday that they ”share common security interests and place each other at the same level as their closest partners.” In fact, following a summit meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House, the two sides found it necessary to produce a Joint Declaration on Defence Cooperation, separate from the Joint Statement, to codify and announce their defence clinch that is everything but a formal military alliance in name.” (‘US offers “closest partner” India top-end defence tech’, Chidanand Rajghatta, ToI, Sept 28, 2013, my italics-DJ)
Perhaps the assumption of our strategic, security and foreign relations planners and analysts is that this island, thrice blessed, endowed with a 2,500 year history, reinforced by Pakistan, Israel and China, and soon to possess natural gas and atomic energy (not to mention chemical research capacity) , has no reason to take note of the evolving equation between our sole, gigantic neighbour and the world’s sole superpower which is also the strongest power in Asia—not even when the equation explicitly envisages a closer cooperation in the Indian Ocean in which Sri Lanka is situated. By contrast, a realist and rational perspective would reckon with the implications of this upgraded, powerful alignment for Sri Lanka’s strategic and security interests, its diplomacy and its options with regard to the (political) management of interethnic relations and the Northern Province.