By Nikhil Mustafa
Small countries have little power to alter the region, let alone the world and must seek a maximum number of friends, while maintaining the freedom to be itself as a sovereign and independent nation.
Friendship, in international relations, is not a function of goodwill or personal affection. We must make ourselves relevant so that other countries have an interest in our continued survival and prosperity as a sovereign and independent nation. Small countries perform no vital or irreplaceable functions in the international system. We have to continually reconstruct itself and keep its relevance to the world and to create political and economic space. This is the economic imperative for us.
We need be accepted as a serious player in regional and international fora and earn our living by attracting foreign investments and hopefully producing goods and services useful to the world. Our destiny would be very different if we were sited in Europe or North America.
The Changing International Environment
As the world changes, small countries have to swiftly adjust their policies and positions in a pragmatic and clinical manner. We have to live with the world as it is, not as we wish it should be. We must remain nimble to seize opportunities that come with changing circumstances, or to get out of harm’s way.
With the collapse of the communist ideology of how society and the economy should be organised, all states joined the global wave of the free market.
The most dramatic transformations were China and India. Two huge economies in China and India will reshape the world order before the end of the 21st century.
Rebalancing the world
The present unprecedented global economic crisis is a result from a lack of checks on the many financial products called “derivatives”.
A mood for more regulations and control prevails in many economies. This could slide into protectionism. Protectionist measures to protect domestic employment will prolong the economic crisis with unpredictable geopolitical complications.
This crisis will hasten China’s growth vis-à-vis the US. As the dominant global power, preserving the status quo is in US interests. As a rising power, China will not acquiesce to a status quo status indefinitely. Competition is inevitable, but conflict is not.
China, the EU, Russia, India will be independent players. China has made beachheads in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.
The current financial and economic problems require a global rebalancing of consumption and savings.
Globalisation cannot be reversed because the technologies that made globalisation inevitable cannot be uninvented. In fact, better and cheaper transportation and communications will further advance the forces of globalisation.
Sri Lankas Future
In an era of increasing rapid and convenient transportation and communications, political leaders frequently meet each other at bilateral and multilateral summits; and they become comfortable to phone each other through secure lines. Sound foreign policy requires a president and a foreign minister who are able to discern future trends in the international political, security and economic environment and position ourselves bilaterally or multilaterally to grasp the opportunities ahead of the others. Able foreign ministry officers and diplomats who give insightful recommendations based on dealing with their counterparts and assessments on the ground can greatly assist the Foreign Minister and his cabinet colleagues towards this end. But ultimately, it is the President and other key ministers who decide on changes in policies.
Does our Foreign Service play that role? At a time when even our lies are not believed, our interests are not served. Old baggage in the Darusman note, the US sponsored resolution and the forthcoming UPR all need to be dispensed with convincingly. Planning internal reconciliation is not a foreign policy function even when we lie.
To be competitive, we must remain a cohesive, multi-racial, multi-religious nation based on meritocracy, with a strong economy, accumulated robust reserves, developed a civil service of integrity and ability, a mature and capable foreign policy team, and institutionalised systems.
We need strategic relationships with the major powers and have a credible defence capability, insurance in an uncertain world.
We have to strengthen our national consciousness at a time when the forces of globalisation are deconstructing the very notion of nationhood.