BY SARATH WIJESINGHE
The Buddha professed, “He who lives by ‘Dhamma’ is protected by the ‘Dhamma’ signifies that the ‘Dhamma’ (teachings of Buddha) is supreme and should be practiced for success and protection. An individual or Nation will be protected by the ‘Dhamma’ they practise. In the same way if and when a nation has a firm and correct foreign policy it will contribute to the protection, growth and success of the nation.”
The above quotation signifies the need for a vibrant and correct foreign policy for a country which is an extension of the domestic policy they practise, which is people-friendly despite the most recent allegations by the Human Rights Commission on human rights in Sri Lanka.
Proper and effective foreign policy is a necessity for a country such as Sri Lanka, pressurised by Covid-19, economic and human rights demands that are unbearable and has to to be handled properly and professionally based on internationally accepted foreign policy guidelines.
Apart from general conventions and treaties, Sri Lanka has entered into, the United Nations Charter is the main instrument bonding the States together with subsidiary legislation, and post and pre Independence instruments legally and technically binding.
Among the international agreements, the 1815 Convention with the British and a part of the Kandyan Sinhala Chiefs, is given priority, confusing, controversial and enforced from the day it was signed.
Sri Lankans fought back the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British from 1505, until the British cheated the Kandy Chiefs in a most cunning way to sign the agreement giving away the sovereignty with the guarantee to safeguard Buddhism and traditions therein, which they broke almost immediately, similar to the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord signed under countrywide curfew, which is linked to the 13th Amendment creating Provincial Councils, a white elephant and a burden to the nation.
The entire world is suffering due to Covid-19, including Sri Lanka, which withstood the first wave successfully by following the basics with the help of the health sector and the security forces. Unfortunately, we messed up with the second and third waves, with deaths and infections increasing daily. We are going through the worst stages with no success in sight despite the hard work from the health sector working under pressure with politicians interfering in the work of health sector.
In some countries where the death toll was high has been brought under control; such as the United Kingdom and Israel, where the death toll at the peak was heavy, has today come down to near zero, apparently due to vaccination discipline and by following health guidelines.
Are we non-aligned?
Are we a non-aligned nation? This has to be clarified under the present circumstances. Non aligned does not mean being a silent and impartial umpire. States must play a proactive role in dealing with the interests of the country and play a proactive role, whether small or powerful.
When the new President of the USA was elected to office, his first job was to formulate his foreign policy and make a declaration to the world of the policies because it was so important. It may not be too late for us to follow suit as it is necessary for the nation and the world to know us and our future policies.
Switzerland is impartial in its international affairs but does not belong to the non-aligned movement or adhere to its principles. Sri Lanka must have a powerful, correct, and coherent Lanka-friendly foreign policy that will give strength, direction and acceptance while acting swiftly and intelligently with a proper policy framework.
A key condition for the practise for such a policy is the presence of an effective Foreign Minister, and an efficient Foreign Secretary, a vibrant Foreign Ministry and an extremely an able battery of ambassadors and diplomatic staff to come under the Executive whose decisions solely reflect the needs and aspirations of the country in carving a prominent role for itself in the progression of the nation and the region. We can only comment on the Indian diplomatic service as to its high standards, which do not change with the change of governments.
Another area Sri Lanka is pressurised, is the Human Rights regime that stems from the United Nations Charter and the Geneva process that periodically monitors the human rights situation. The Human Rights Commission was set up to monitor human rights violations and the situation in member countries. Sri Lanka too is a signatory to the UN Charter.
Allegations against Sri Lanka are the violations supposed to have been committed during the last phase of the battle against terrorism in 2009 and the alleged violations by the Sri Lanka regime complained of by some non-Governmental Organisations and the Tamil Diaspora living outside Sri Lanka.
The Ambassador’s Forum published a book – ‘The Geneva Crisis – The Way Forward’ based on the Geneva Process One and is making arrangements to publish book Two in view of the second and third wave in anticipation of the next two deliberations, which are still inactive due to the pandemic that has engulfed the entire world. The introduction of the two books – The Geneva Crisis and Port City Colombo and International Financial Centre will take place in London soon and the venue and date will be notified in due course.
Economy and foreign policy
The economy in Sri Lanka is in bad shape, with less national income and exports, with unlimited expenditure which is not properly managed by the government with no proper plans for recovery or leapfrog development with economic or development strategies. Covid-19 has almost retarded the state machinery, which is common to the world.
The President is vested with enormous powers unable to be executed at will. The Prime Minister heads the legislature and happens to be the brother of the President for the country’s luck avoiding rifts between the Executive and the legislature as in the previous regime.
Economic independence is a prerequisite for an independent foreign policy, and unfortunately, Sri Lanka lacks financial independence and depends on assistance from economic powers or powerful countries, which compromises independence. Sri Lanka depends on the IMF, other international organisations, and power blocks for financial assistance subject to terms and conditions that are most favourable to the creditor.
While the rich and powerful such as the USA, UK, the Russian Federation, and even India, maintain a fearless and independent foreign policy, Sri Lanka may find it difficult to be straight and brave in managing the policy based on ‘’friendly with all and angry with none’’ while being nonaligned to any power or a block.
Forerunner of a nation
Foreign policy is the forerunner in a nation sandwiched by international and external forces with unfair demands pressurised by anti Sri Lankan forces. Actual independent foreign policy is unlikely in Sri Lanka with economic and political pressure regionally and locally, and it is time we place our house in order at any cost.
Is Sri Lanka truly independent on the economic front to take independent decisions on economic issues in relation to dealings with the member nations, international organisations, and monetary institutions on domestic or international issues? This question needs to be answered. We are strategically placed on the main sea route, next to a major regional power, competing with China. A powerful economic giant has a direct ripple effect on Sri Lankan foreign policy, which has to be seriously considered by Sri Lankan policy framers.
Foreign policy is the set of rules or practices followed by a nation as a member of the global forum linked by the UN as guidelines to international organisations and member states. This is the simplest definition in addition to detailed academic definitions.
A set of rules could be written, direct, and indirect or in the form of speeches or declarations of the head of the state, generally the policy’s formulator implemented by the Foreign Minister or a group of ministers. In any event, any state enters into agreements, conventions and treaties which are part and parcel of foreign policy which is intact in the system on foreign policy.
Some countries give special attention to foreign policy while others do not. The USA, the UK, the Russian Federation, and China prioritise foreign policy and are sensitive to other countries’ foreign policies due to their interests in different countries and their policies.
One of the first duties of the new USA President was take take a complete u-turn from that of the policies of his predecessor on human rights and war which has a bearing on Sri Lanka and the Geneva process.
Member nations today are giving top priority to economic connectivity directly to foreign policy giving full power and responsibility to the network of Ambassadors who are guided and trained on promoting economic and financial needs of their countries, given targets and strict guidelines. Unfortunately, this trend has no ripple effect on our network of Ambassadors around the globe enjoying the perks at the cost of the taxpayer.
Foreign policy is the strategy, and the future line of action of a nation on other nations and the world at large is a broader definition in terms of economic, defence, and all other areas which are so important and sensitive the world over.
This brief explanation shows how important it is for a country such as Sri Lanka desperately in need of good friends and backers considering the weak economic structure deteriorating gradually in need of FDIs, and other economic backing including the goodwill of friends when the economy is in bad shape.
No nation can live in isolation in the new world interconnected digitally with physical barriers not taken seriously when interrelations and interconnections are essential for existence. The statement of Henry Kissinger (given at the end), may apply to many countries as the interest of any government is their own country, is a reality all the other states must remember. This is a classic example and a lesson for those countries that are aligned to groups or clicks based on various considerations.
There are theories and pronouncements and suggestions such as Look Asia, India First, Asia First, and Sri Lanka First, from multiple sources without the direct attention of the head of the state, the formulator and creator of policy. A country’s leaders and government consist of human beings with human weaknesses and human qualities which are suppressed due to greed, power and pride. The quotation indicates how selfish they are as any other human being vested with power. The interests of the country are what matters more than other considerations.
Foreign policy and the pandemic
Covid-19 has shown the world the need to be ‘’friendly with all and angry with none’’, the main motto of Sri Lankan foreign policy. Indian foreign policy is one of the most professional, advanced, and sophisticated – yet has not been able to attract friends and the world and is in need of desperate help from friends.
We watch India with utmost sadness watching the TV footage, which is worrying. We have now forgotten all previous issues and enmities during a pandemic when all are in danger (reminder of the cobra and mongoose – arch enemies – clinging into the same wood during floods until they reache land – a famous village adage) waiting for the worst to come.
The entire world, including world powers, is engulfed in the worst pandemic with a high number of deaths and disasters. It may be that the world may rethink the way forward in foreign policy. This is the best era to extend loving-kindness, sympathy and ‘Mettha’ to all nations by the rich and the powerful, especially to those poor and unfortunate who have still not received a single vaccine when some powerful and wealthy nations have excess vaccines, about to expire.
The pandemic is not expected to end soon and we will have to live with it for a considerable period.
Apart from the WHO, only China came forward to help us, followed by Korea and vaccines from India. Unfortunately, India has her own problems and is unable to give us the promised second consignment.
Foreign policy and human rights, and the United Nations are interwoven and interconnected. The Charter of the United Nations was brought in, to reaffirm the fundamental human rights to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which has brought untold sorrow to mankind twice, as the primary human right document followed by the Universal Declaration of Human rights.
Human rights are freedoms human beings enjoy being human, which is more fully described in the two primary documents and subsequent jurisprudence, which protects individual and collective human rights equally by a battery of subsidiary legislation and the Geneva process being a by-product of the legislation and procedure.
The United Nations Organization is the link and the centre of the human rights mechanism managed and monitored by a number of conventions and instruments. The Human Rights Commission and the committee that are by-products of the legislation have certain powers and duties in monitoring the human rights of member nations alleged to be in contravention of violation of human rights in member counters.
It is alleged that there were human rights violations during the last phase of the thirty year battle against terrorism in Sri Lanka that fortunately ended in May 2009 with relief to the entire SAARC region and the world in relation to the most ruthless and feared the tersest outfit in the world astold by the USA and international organisations.
At the 47-member Council in the UN, 22 voted in favour, 11opposed, 14 abstained for the resolution on the human right situation in Sri Lanka, wanting to accelerate the reconciliation process and improve the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
It is noted with concern that our immediate neighbour India and close friend Nepal abstained without voting in favour of Sri Lanka, reminding us of the theories on foreign policies of nations and the impact on world affairs which are so important.
It seems that we must rethink, reform and readjust our foreign policy with our close neighbours and friends for our benefit and safety and foreign policy has to be considered seriously. Even though the Human Rights Council has no power to implement the Resolution, its impact has to be considered seriously in making recommendations to the General Assembly and the Security Council despite the sovereignty Sri Lanka maintains under the UN Convention.
The United Kingdom initiated the resolution against Sri Lanka and Canada in the forefront, contemplating a resolution, namely Genocide Education Resolution Bill No. 104, which is worrying and affects the friendly relations between the two countries. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardene has had a meeting with the Canadian Ambassador on the issue and it is doubtful whether the initiators will abandon the move. Sri Lanka has still not appointed High Commissioners for India (for one year) and Canada, which are supposed to be crucial stations, and one wonders whether Sri Lanka lacks qualified people to represent the nation.
Human Rights Commission in Sri Lanka
The Human Rights Commission in Sri Lanka is a well-funded independent body by the State and international organisations, is headed by a powerful, highly connected former Minister who does not seem to be active at this crucial juncture when it should be in the forefront defending and promoting Sri Lanka in the Geneva process.
The only book published in this area is the Geneva Crisis, the way forward by the Ambassadors Forum assisted by international Sri Lankan bodies, including the London Initiative based in London.
The Geneva issue is brewing, and the second and third wave is going to be dangerous, and it is time for the Minister and Ministry to act fast with the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission to defend and promote Sri Lanka. The commission should be proactive and live up to the expectations and the facilities provided.
Sri Lanka is a member of the above and many other regional and international organisations as an active and senior member of the United Nations playing a pivatal role in global affairs that need the promotion of Sri Lanka in areas of national and international interest.
Regional groupings are essential and an integral part of foreign policymaking on a regional basis while the UN deals internationally. SAARC, the South Asian Association for regional cooperation was set up aiming to be another EU in Asia, had a natural death due to the animosity between India and Pakistan giving birth to BIMSTEC with another group of Asian countries, while ASEAN was active with another vibrant group with different agendas organising on the world stage meeting competition from the West.
All the groups are the worst hit, with India most affected with no joint and cooperative efforts to meet the central challenge of Covid-19, which is the main drawback. International and regional relations should play a more critical and active role in these matters.
Historical aspects of foreign policy
Foreign policy is a part of history and interactions of the rulers with other nations in the past. We are supposed to have a written history over 2,500 years, and an unwritten one of over 5,000 or more with legends such as Rama and Ravana substantiated with Asian history which cannot be ruled out and among the written are the arrival of Arahant Mahinda as an emissary of his father King Asoka. The powerful KIng sent his son and daughter to propagate Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century BC. Chinese bikkhu Fa-Hsian visited Sri Lanka in 426 BC with other monks and developed close relations with the King and Sangha bhikkhus in Sri Lanka and wrote extensively on Buddhism and Sri Lanka. In 7AD, during Claudius of Rome, Ambassadors from Sri Lanka were recorded in Rome, showing the historical prints of foreign policy development with Sri Lanka and many countries in the Middle East, China, and India.
Pre and post-colonial era’s agreements entered into with foreign powers and Sri Lankan rulers until 1815 when the British entered the ’Kandyan Convention’ with some Kandyan Leaders surrendered sovereignty to the British until we regained it in 1948.
Network of Ambassadors in the forefront
Ambassadors are the forerunners of any nation in promoting the country they represent based on the foreign policy and directives and are learned active men of honour promoting trade, investments, and policies of the country they represent to the world, assisting the leader of the country.
Ambassadors in many countries appear to be active and at times overdoing and reacting in crucial matters but do not appear to be active in times of need, such as defending the malicious propaganda against Sri Lanka, especially on the Geneva issue. We do not hear of any documents, webinars, or articles by our ambassadors in protecting and promoting the country. Are they promoting the country and the nation’s policies are questions raised by the concerned citizens and students of international relations worldwide. It is agreed that they should be more proactive with other ambassadors worldwide.
We are in grave danger in all areas, especially with regard to the pandemic. It is the duty of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the State Minister to consider the issue more seriously and draw up a plan to mobilise the ambassadors, the able Ministry staff and the international organisations such as the London Initiate and many awaiting and eager to help mainly on the Geneva Process brewing daily fast reaching wave two and three approaching faster than expected and covid-19 the entire country and the world is engulfed with.
It is the duty of professionals and like-minded concerned persons worldwide to rally with the Minister and the Ministry in fighting against Covid-19 and helping Sri Lanka. The economy is in bad shape. It is time to prioritise economic diplomacy and open a separate desk in all Embassies for financial promotion, including tourism, exports, agriculture, and learn from the success stories of our colleagues and apply it to ourselves.
It is also a good idea for the Ambassador of the host country to be responsible for all government institutions in the country they represent. Israel has successfully clamped down the pandemic menace, and our relations with Israel are excellent and they are waiting to help us. The Prime Minister of Israel and former President of Sri Lanka met each other and discussed matters of mutual benefit and interest some time ago. We have close diplomatic relations with Israel, and it is a matter of initiatives to go forward for the benefit of all. Our representatives by now may have reported other success stories to the Minister to learn from others.
We can work in cooperation with Israel in agriculture, where they are the leaders on the subject, advising even world powers on drip irrigation, seed fertiliser and related matters. China has always been a friend helping us for thousands of years, and others need not be ruled out, such as India and even the West in these troubled days would like to reactivate friendship with us out of sheer necessity, including world powers ailing from beatings from the pandemic.
A joint effort is needed with the cooperation of the UN, all minor and major authorities, and international organisations to launch a consolidated joint effort taking our giant neighbour as an example, unfortunately, mismanaging the covid-19 situation (including Sri Lanka). The Foreign Minister and the State Minister have the responsibility and a pivot role in mobilising the ambassadors in the fight against Covid-19 using the goodwill and good offices of the ambassadors to gather assistance from Sri Lankans in those countries obviously in the highest positions to fight the pandemic and formulating of a new foreign policy. Sri Lankans worldwide, especially in the UK, the USA, Europe and powerful countries and international organisations, are eagerly awaiting to help Sri Lanka, and we suggest that the Government invite Sri Lankans living overseas, other groups, and it is time the two Ministers and the Ministry give leadership for the initiative, while discussing with the President and the Prime Minister new strategies foundations and roadmaps for a Sri Lanka-friendly Foreign Policy as suggested in the five volumes on Foreign Policy Books published by the Ambassadors’ Forum.
America has no permanent friends or enemies – only permanent interests – Henry Kissinger