Since 1956 and the social revolution of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Sri Lanka has played a leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). After Mr. Banadaranaike’s assassination in 1959, his widow Sirimavo Bandaranaike as prime minister continued Sri Lanka’s important role in NAM along with other legendary leaders like Yugoslavia’s President Josip Broz Tito, India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Sri Lanka’s role was so valued that we were in 1976, given the opportunity of hosting NAM’s annual conference with more than 75 leaders attending it. With the sweeping 1977 election victory of the United National Party (UNP) leader J.R. Jayewardene and his commitment to the globalized capitalist market economic system, NAM meant less to Sri Lanka. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, NAM’s role also became less relevant because its’ main aim was to be neutral in the cold war between the United States and its’ North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies on the one side and the Soviet Bloc with its Warsaw Pact allies on the other. In the modern world, with the marvels of information and communication technology bringing people closer, the global village concept has virtually gripped the whole world and NAM appears to have little or no place. Its role is largely being overplayed by countries like Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Iceland.
It is in this context that we today mark the United Nations’ International Day of Neutrality with the world body in a statement saying neutrality is defined as the legal status arising from the abstention of a State from participation in a war between other States, the maintenance of an attitude of impartiality toward the belligerents, and the recognition by the belligerents of this abstention and impartiality. This is critically important for the UN to gain and maintain the confidence and cooperation of all to operate independently and effectively, especially in situations that are politically charged.
As Article 2 of the UN Charter obligates member States to settle their international disputes by peaceful means and to refrain from the threat or the use of force in their relations, the General Assembly reaffirmed those obligations in a resolution. It underlined that some States’ national policies of neutrality could contribute to the strengthening of international peace and security and play an important role in developing mutually beneficial relations among countries of the world.
Recognizing that such national policies of neutrality are aimed at promoting the use of preventive diplomacy, which is a core function of the UN and occupies a central place among the functions of the Secretary-General, the General Assembly decided to declare December 12 as the International Day of Neutrality. It has called on all countries to mark the day by holding events aimed at enhancing public awareness on the value of neutrality in international relations.
In the face of political tension and escalating crises, it is of great importance to uphold the principles of sovereignty and the sovereign equality of States, territorial integrity, self-determination and non-intervention in the internal affairs of any State and to defend, promote and encourage the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security are not endangered, the UN says.
Therefore, the policy of neutrality contributes to the strengthening of peace and security in relevant regions and at the global level and plays an important role in developing peaceful, friendly and mutually beneficial relations among the countries of the world.
It is worth noting that the policy of neutrality — a key factor for providing conditions and building a platform for peaceful negotiations — is also closely interconnected with and based on the tools of preventive diplomacy, such as early warning and prevention of conflict, mediation, good offices, fact-finding missions, negotiation, the use of special envoys, informal consultations, peace-building and targeted development activities. Hence, preventive diplomacy is a core function of the United Nations and is central to the role of the UN Secretary-General, including the special political missions of the UN and the good offices of the Secretary-General in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace-building, the world body adds.
In the 1960s, Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike played a successful role in mediation during the war between India and China. But today with India and China vying for economic power and control of the vital Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka appears to be caught in a trap between the two Asian giants. Foreign policy experts need to properly advise our leaders on how to restore and positively use our status of neutrality and preventive diplomacy.