By Dinesh Weerakkody
A lot has been said about the current state of our external relations with the West. While the fallout of all this is often exaggerated, many of us know that diplomacy plays a direct role in addressing the root cause of insecurity and improving relations between countries.
Diplomatic initiatives build partnerships so nations can work together to address bilateral and multilateral issues. Diplomacy refers to communication or negotiations tactics that use political and legal channels to address both bilateral and multilateral issues.
Good diplomacy works at least in four ways: a) to protect a nation’s security, b) to stop potential threats from becoming real, c) to secure a nation’s economic future and d) to protect the global environment. Therefore, the members of the Foreign Service play a crucial role in making the kind of lucrative international connections/agreements possible to help a country to look good and in the pursuit of economic objectives.
Diplomats need to help to set up partnerships and relationships worldwide so that a country can understand global issues, maintain global competitiveness and to capitalize on the opportunities globalization creates. Diplomacy used to be thought of as the quiet, behind-the-scenes, government-to-government communications. It’s now so much more than that. In order for a country to promote the kind of economic and trade policies they want around the region and the world, a country needs to have competent people to build a public case internationally for their policies, for their values and for their interests.
Foreign policy is often the bridge between a country and the world. In pursuit of our country’s mission, we should therefore build and maintain a persistent foreign policy and conduct proactive diplomacy guided by principles, which are sustainable and have continuity.
First, we should strive to build and maintain strong bilateral and multilateral relationships that will ensure Sri Lanka’s role as a fully-fledged and reliable partner in a new Asian resurgence. We should therefore establish stable and solid course of foreign policy and able to adjust to the rapidly changing environment. At the same time, we should avoid sudden and surprising changes that might lead to new challenges for the continuity of our relations with certain countries.
Secondly, sustainability of steady and coherent foreign policy initiatives will depend on our ability to strengthen institutional foundations of the foreign policy so that we can deliver on the promises we make at international forums. This will allow our allies and friends to engage in mutually beneficial, durable and trusting bilateral and multilateral relationships.
Third, our foreign policy should focus on continuity of national interests, which is based on consistent consensual priorities to be promoted internationally. These principles if pursued will enable a nation to become a credible and trusted partner, while remaining devoted to their national interests and also promote their economic ties at the same time.
Therefore, the officials appointed to promote Sri Lankan interest abroad should as far as possible be people who have the skill to focus on economic diplomacy to secure our core national interest. That would require for the service to have a mix of top quality non-career and career diplomats with good academic pedigrees and technocratic mettle and with character, integrity and helicopter quality to drive our political and economic agenda. In the final analysis, given the economic and socio political shift that has occurred in the international scene and the need for active international engagement, which is basically leveraged upon the pursuit of economic objectives, promoting good diplomacy can increase our ability to play a constructive role in building a more peaceful and prosperous country, region for us and others.
(Dinesh Weerakkody has authored two volumes titled Selected Essays on Foreign Affairs Part 1 and 2)