Sri Lanka Offers The First Battle Ground For A Neo-Cold War?

N Sathiya Moorthy    2017-03-08

This is not to say that NAM as a concept has failed. It only means that the nation does not have the wherewithal to lead it from the front-line. In a world dictated by the power of the money and of the military that nations can flaunt at friends and adversaries alike, Sri Lanka does not stand a chance.In diplomatic terms, if not militarily, the incumbent Government seems to have developed a knack for running with the hare and hunting with the hound. Rather, it wants to please every nation and seek to benefit from all of them, purportedly without hurting itself. But the history of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM), which is what the nation seems, wanting to restate in a new geo-strategic environment, has only hurt those that used to be on the wall all the time, not helped them in anyway. If instead Sri Lanka thinks that the nation’s geo-strategic location is an advantage, it can go only up to a point. If the nation did not understand the limitations that location-advantage forced on it, just as the benefits it offered, then it can cause more problems than the nation is capable of comprehending, leave alone resolving. ‘Net provider’ A decade or so ago, there seemed to have been a national political consensus especially about not encouraging extra-regional powers in the neighbourhood Indian Ocean. Along with the other island-neighbour, Maldives, Sri Lanka also seemed to have concluded on two aspects of national/regional security concerning them both and together. One, neither nation was capable of taking care of their immediate external security. Two, neither of them should encourage extra-regional powers to enter the immediate Indian Ocean waters, lest it should flag competition among global powers that they were incapable of handling over the medium and long-terms. In the process, the two nations reportedly identified the larger and militarily more capable Indian neighbour as their collective sheet-anchor for neighbourhood security in the Indian Ocean. As if reflecting their approach after due deliberations, India too rose to the occasion and promised to be the ‘net provider of security’ in the region. Then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had come up with the formulation. His successor Narendra Modi, coming from across the contemporary Indian political spectrum, started off his term with a ‘Neighbourhood First’ declaration at his Inauguration. Neither seems to have moved fast enough, for which India alone could be blamed. Nor could the other regional stake-holders be blamed, wholly, either. ‘Elephants’ in the room For his part, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, with a larger global vision than any of his contemporary leaders in the country, has been referring to the US as the ‘elephant in the room’, as far as the Indian Ocean is concerned. He has also been constantly airing an over-arching ambition for Sri Lanka to play a moderating effort in the region, as for as geo-strategic balance or balancing-off is concerned. What however Ranil has not acknowledged is the reality of China emerging as yet another elephant in competition for the very same room-space in the Indian Ocean. The question today is not even if there is space in the room, but if it’s a rooming space for all outsiders and wannabe powers to test their luck in a region away from their own borders, and away from getting their own people hurt. The present Government cannot be blamed for creating additional space in the room for all-comers to try their luck. After assiduously keeping even the US ‘elephant’ out of the immediate neighbourhood, and encouraging the Indian neighbour alone to play that role, if at all, the predecessor Rajapaksa regime, brought in China, as if by the backdoor. Post-war, the Rajapaksa regime granted permission for China to send in its submarines, in the name of creating an R&R economy for the nation. Conversely, it also meant that the Indian neighbour with its historic adversity to its own northern neighbour was made to feel distinctively uncomfortable. It was not unavoidable, especially since Sri Lanka at the time had assiduously avoided entertaining all American initiatives aimed at a military relationship, if only over time. Saying ‘No’ to China would not have been difficult, either, had it not been for all the military and political help that Sri Lanka depended on deriving from the friendship of the time, especially on the human rights front. If Sri Lanka had told off China on the submarine front, it would have been neutrality and non-alignment, if anyone had cared. Instead, the present way of throwing open the nation with its slender security structure in the global and regional contexts, to global and regional powers to compete in Sri Lankan space and place, can only strain Sri Lankan sovereignty, territorial integrity and after a time even the very Independence. Sovereign decisions The argument needs to be looked at for the commonplace arguments that are placed on these scores. Independence and sovereignty do not matter only in the choice of decisions that a nation can take. More importantly, it relates to, and flows from the choicest decisions such nations end up taking. Under Rajapaksa especially, Sri Lanka began leaning on China for developmental aid, and for all justifiable reasons. The US and the rest of the West were already looking up to China for fiscal and/or economic bail-out of whatever kind. The Indian neighbour was still a raising power, less rising than at present. It could promise aid and assistance in and for the future, but could not have addressed the developmental aspirations of a rising Sri Lanka. Possibly drawing from the Chinese experience, so to say, the Rajapaksa regime also seemed to have concluded that development was a substitute for democracy, and that Sri Lankans would accept it with folded hands and whispering humbleness. There was a tectonic difference between the two nations and the two peoples as for as democracy issues were concerned. As the Rajapaksa experience subsequently proved and to poll peril for the leadership, a people who had tasted democracy for long would not compromise any of it for development. It was unlike in China, where culturally the people had not known democracy of any kind from the Ming dynasty, down to the Mao era, and onto the post-Mao Deng prophesies. If anything, the post-war ethnic reconciliation – or the poor progress, it had made – only added a decisive dimension to the ‘Democracy-Development’ discourse. What Sri Lankans voted for is development with democracy, not anything else. But what they continue to get is too much of development in a democratic environment that is not conducive to encouraging either over the medium and long terms. Appeasing all… At a time when Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans should be looking at what is happening around them, they are forcefully and at times forcibly looking more inward than outward. In this, their initiation comes from their own elected Government, They are busy making a new Constitution, which refuses to get into some shape, and continues to harp on the unfinished aspects of a ethnic solution and resolution. This has left the attendant issues of foreign policy and foreigners-driven development to the exclusive care of their political masters. In the name of balancing off extra-regional powers especially, the incumbent Government seems more at appeasing all than ousting them all on the geo-strategic front. What’s happening is a combination of the Cold War past and the post-Cold War past. What the Rajapaksa regime did selectively on the neighbouring seas after starting off on land, the present Government seems to be building up more especially on-shore. The decision to sell of 85 per cent stakes in the Hambantota port project, started off by the predecessor, and offering Sri Lankan real estate along side has consequences in political and geo-strategic terms. Inviting India to do it in eastern Trincomalee seems to be a sop for the neighbour than a strategic balancing act. Even so, it does not help Sri Lanka to play the game big powers alone are capable of playing – and stalemating if not winning, outright. The Government’s indication of land-for-money swap in the name of developing special economic zones by foreign firms has consequences that lil’ Sri Lanka may not be able to handle after a time. This is so despite the government’s reassurance that the Hambantota off-shore security too would be in the hands of the Navy. It’s so despite the national consensus from the Rajapaksa decade on developing Sri Lanka as a maritime, naval and air-hub, apart from ‘knowledge hub’, in economic terms. The construct did not seem to have considered the price that needed paying, in turn and in return. It’s a basic lesson in geo-strategic diplomacy that there are no free lunches in their world. The sub-texts too speak out. One, he who pays the piper calls the tune(s). Two, development and human rights et al are part of diplomatic tactic, the former by those who can pay the piper and the latter for those that cannot but still have the old world halo still hanging around them. Sri Lanka for now has acknowledged the ‘elephant(s) in the room’ in vain pride as if they were a great favour heaped on the nation, be they of China or the US, or of both and more. By the time the nation woke up to the reality that it’s allowing itself to be engulfed in, it would have been submerged in an Indian Ocean tsunami, this time of the geo-strategic kind. By then, extra-regional powers would have made Sri Lanka into the new-world battle-ground for their un-fought neo-Cold War. The West has been deliberating on and has been deliberately making the Indian Ocean the focus of their 21st century attentions, thus moving away from the Pacific, which alone links the existing aspiring super-powers of our times. Such a war would have no winners, yes, but there could however be losers, in Sri Lanka and others who are onlookers and battle-land providers all the same!

N Sathiya Moorthy,2017-05-09

The Government’s decision to increase and improve the recruitment of Tamils in the nation’s polcei force should be welcome, especially by all those that have only complaints in the matter and those of the kind. It would still be worthwhile ....

N. Sathiya Moorthy ,2017-05-03

Independent of G. L. Peiris’ reference to the subject, and the Opposition-driven attaching to it, the British court’s verdict on the ‘self-inflicted’ torture by a Sri Lankan to obtain political asylum in that country needs to be probed for other ....

N Sathiya Moorthy,2017-04-20

In what is seen as a none-too-unsurprising yet unscheduled visit, Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar was in Male, and met with President Abdulla Yameen, Foreign Minister Mohamed Asim and senior officials. The visit came in the ....

N. Sathiya Moorthy ,2017-04-18

Whether or not there is a national consensus of some kind for pushing through constitutional reforms, as promised by the present-day rulers, there are already ....

N. Sathiya Moorthy ,2017-03-27

In contrast, the predecessor Rajapaksa regime might have been unlucky. As incumbent President, Barack Obama got a second term. Though a one-term Senator before become President, by the time the first US resolution on Sri ....

N Sathiya Moorthy ,2017-03-22

Possibly for the first time, media reports have spoken about investigations into the death of a Tamil Nadu fisherman, K Brijto, 21, allegedly in a firing incident involving the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN). The Special Correspondent of The Hindu ....

সৈয়দ তানভরী নাসরীন,2017-03-21

যোগী আদিত্যনাথকে নিয়ে ব্যস্ত ভারতীয় মিডিয়া আপাতত ডোনাল্ড ট্রাম্পকে ভুল গেছে। উত্তর প্রদেশের নতুন মুখ্যমন্ত্রী রাজ্যের সাংবিধানিক প্রধান হয়ে যাওয়ার পরও দাঙ্গায় উসকানি দেবেন কি না বা মুসলিমদের বিরুদ্ধে বিদ্বেষমূলক বক্তৃতা চালিয়ে যাবেন কিনা। সেই নিয়ে চর্চায় আপাতত বিভোর ....

স্টাফ রাইটার,2017-02-03

সন্ত্রাসবাদ দূর করতে ভারত-রাশিয়ার যৌথ উদ্যোগে নিউদিল্লিতে ৩১ জানুয়ারি একটি বৈঠক হয়। রাশিয়ার প্রতিনিধিদের নেতৃত্ব দিয়েছেন ডেপুটি ফরেন মিনিস্টার ওলেগ সিরোমোলোটভ এবং ভারতের পক্ষে উপস্থিত ছিলেন ডেপুটি ফরেন মিনিস্টার পঙ্কজ সারণ। আন্তর্জাতিক সন্ত্রাস প্রতিহত করতে ....

স্টাফ রাইটার,2017-01-31

সম্প্রতি রাশিয়ার বিদেশমন্ত্রী সেরগেই ল্যাভারভ সিরিয়ার রাজনৈতিক প্রতিনিধি দলের সঙ্গে মস্কোতে একটি বৈঠক করেন। সিরিয়ান ওই দলের নেতৃত্ব দেন কাদের জামিল। তিনি একজন ‘পপুলার ফ্রন্ট ফর চেঞ্জ অ্যান্ড লিবারেশন’-এর জনপ্রিয় নেতা। এছাড়া আস্থানা গ্রুপের প্রতিনিধি রানডা কাসি, যিনি বহুধা ....

স্টাফ রাইটার,2016-11-26

কিউবার প্রাক্তন কমিউনিস্ট প্রেসিডেন্ট ফিদেল কাস্ত্রো প্রয়াত। বয়স হয়েছিল ৯০। ভাই রাউল কাস্ত্রো জানান শনিবার সকালে তিনি বিদায় নিয়েছেন। পাঁচটি দশক ধরে তিনি বিরোধীশূন্য কিউবাকে নেতৃত্ব দিয়েছেন। ২০০৮-এ ভাই রাউল কাস্ত্রোর হাতে শাসন ভার দিয়ে তিনি অন্তরালে চলে যান। তিনি অন্ত্রে গ্যাসের.....