At the end of the day it is the national interests of any country that decides its position on any issue. Security concerns and securing our territorial integrity go hand in hand in the country’s development programmes and the securing of a better Life. This happens the world over through the promotion of trade and commerce. We too should tread the same path in the most aggressive way possible.
In the past our diplomats and our diplomacy has secured our country. Diplomacy is universally regarded as a country’s first line of defence. After we gained independence from Britain we entered into a defence agreement with Britain to safeguard national security. At the time we were fortunate to have able and experienced men such as Sir Claude Corea, RSS Gunawardena to represent our country and safeguard our interests. Sri Lanka is the permanent Chairman of the UN Committee inquiring into “Israeli practices in occupied territories”, such was the respect our country enjoyed, thanks to such greats as Shirley Amerasinghe, who put our country on the world map. Let us not forget that the United Nations did the unprecedented in electing him in his personal capacity as Chairman to the Law of the Sea Conference when our country refused to name him even as a mere delegate. After him came the likes of Neville Kanakeratne and Jayantha Dhanapala, who successfully Chaired that critically vital NPT Review Conference in 1986. With his efforts being recognized internationally the government was (unofficially) asked to nominate him for the Chair of the IAEA which was vacant at the time, but the government of Chandrika Kumaratunge did not do so for reasons best known to it; We have had the great Justice Weeramantry and Dr. Chris Pinto who Chaired the US-Iran Claims Tribunal while not forgeting Dr. Rohan Perera who heads the UN Ad Hoc Committee on Terrorism and Ambassador Pallihakkara who was on an Advisory Committee of the UNSG whose contribution to the work of the world body, was also recognized. These were some of the men who did this small country of ours proud in the past; this is not to forget other greats from our small country who served the UN with distinction such personalities such as Dr. Gamini Corea, Raju Coomaraswamy and AC Arulpragasam to mention just a few. Where are we today? And what does this say of us today.
Today, our world has undergone and is undergoing a huge change. The globalization of the world economy and the Cyber Age is upon us with the revolution in Information Technology. Then there is the intrusion/extension of the tentacles of the United Nations and from the Environment and Climatic change to Human Rights, Women’s Rights, Population, Outer Space, coupled with easier international travel, and world leaders meeting at summit level on a regular basis, have made many 19th and 20th Century Institutions obsolete. The end of the Cold War and with it the general adoption of free market policies around the world has also contributed to the new situation, resulting in greater interdependence.
Information, the life-blood of the Diplomat is immediately available electronically. This introduces new pressures from citizens on governments. The very nature of international business has indeed changed; new opportunities have now become available. New structures need to be put in place to meet these new challenges. New actors, some of them quaint, have also arrived on the scene. The best examples of an ‘outsider’ dictating International policy was the use of the Internet by a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for Peace. She used the Internet to bring pressure to bear even on the United States of America to sign the Landmine Treaty. What better example of new actors determining foreign policy and reducing the exclusive power of States.
Old bureaucratic structures cannot meet the new challenges. As mentioned earlier, there are also new actors on the scene. ‘Multi-Nationals’ operating without borders, some with budgets bigger than the national budgets of countries, supported by powerful governments exert tremendous influence on international relations. These ‘Multi-Nationals’ and NGOO, working in many fields, including Population, Environment, Climatic change, Human Rights and Women’s Rights, quite often set the agenda. The ICRC for instance played what I would describe as a curious diplomatic role, in the conflict in Sri Lanka. There are also government agencies, which have become more important than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Take an example from our own country, defence considerations dictated a major change in our foreign policy, when we resumed relations with Israel. In today’s world many other Government agencies, other than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also involved in a country’s ‘Foreign Affairs›.
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