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Lanka’s Skyfall:Beyond Gurus Vs. Gundas in foreign policy making

26 June 2012 08:21 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Sri Lanka’s foreign policy mechanism and machinations spawned a multitude of views, analyses and investigations by scholars, prominent journalists and political analysts in the last few months using the Geneva rounds of March as a turning point. This article is an attempt to reemphasize that there needs a significantly grander vision for Sri Lanka and its global relations given the speed and intractable shifts in global political theaters.

While Sri Lanka grapples with events and agents in foreign policy dilemmas the global geo-political and economic imperatives are changing rapidly, thus while turf wars are being fought in and out of Sri Lankan diplomatic circles, political and economic revolutions and fault lines are creating new forms of security imperatives, trade implications and geo political meanings. This article will outline key concerns that Sri Lanka has to take in account from global security, trade to cultural implications of the society.

Security implications

A section of the Sri Lanka scholarship in International relations have pointed out the importance of Sri Lanka and its geo political location in the Indian Ocean given the increased tensions that are building up between India and China, with increased militarization of the Indian Ocean, the advancement of the Indian military which was biggest spender for military upgrading in year 2011.

The Indian military is mainly focusing on upgrading its naval and air assets, along with its land based missile technologies. All three components that Sri Lanka should take seriously, a conflict with Sri Lanka is out of the equation but India is improving its hard power resources, which are still very capable foreign policy tools of pressure. The Western views on the Indian Ocean and role of the United States are spearheaded by Robert Kaplan’s views, which he brought together in his widely read and cited.
‘Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future if American Power’ which also contains an interesting and thought provoking chapter on Sri Lanka. The one time Clinton administration thought master is now taken seriously in the Obama regime, where both Obama’s address to the Australian parliament few months ago and a much direct reference to United States military interests in the Indian and Pacific oceans by defence secretary Panetta at the Shangri la dialogue concluded in May of this year.
The above analysis is quite well understood by policy makers, while China and India are competing heavily to establish as central powers in the combined super region of the Indian and Pacific oceans, the United States is in a fast paced shift in its ongoing military operations on the ‘war on terror’ to the Asia Pacific and Africa. The alarming factor is that, though the so called war on terror a flawed foreign policy instrument of the US, had significant media coverage and a public discourse, with the demise of Osama Bin Laden the darling of the corporate media the eye ball interest on ‘war on terror’ died a natural death. Yet the important fact is that the United States is using this thin veil and other global distractions such as tensions in the Middle East especially with Syrian conundrum, to increased US presence in Africa, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

US special forces teams are deployed in both West and African states, some are actively operational in places like Uganda, while the more sinister development is the US surveillance and drone operations which fan the African continent, Southern Middle East bordering Indian ocean, Indian Ocean and Philippines. A drone strike couple of weeks ago in Philippines was hardly reported. US surveillance operations in West Africa have kicked off from Burkina Faso and Mauritania this year. The increase militarization is a deep concern for Sri Lanka and its aspirations of being a hub in the Indian Ocean, the questions should be focusing on challenges or opportunities that emerge in promoting this role. Will the hub be a node symbolizing peaceful coexistence in the Indian Ocean? A concept that Sri Lanka pioneered in the early 70’s to convert the Indian Ocean into a peace zone. Another dimension would be how to manage such significant international powers at seas and yet be non aligned or will a certain alignment towards one power mean a serious concern to another and what would be the possible repercussion of siding with one great power in this complicated contestations. These important foreign policy decisions needed to be thought seriously and a consensus derived politically, as such decisions will decide the future of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean context.

Meanwhile, the afore mentioned US military operations signify the strategic and tactical shifts in the military with excessive developments in surveillance and unmanned attack capabilities and its F-35 lightening strike fighter program which are all a part of conducting operations from ocean based platforms and littorals that form the geography of African borders, Indian Ocean and South China Sea. With increasing strikes in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and rim lands of East Asia, US is bringing the fight against terror into the cradle, to where it all began in the mid 90’s. As most Islamic fundamentalist groups originated in these peripheries such as East Africa, Indonesia, South Asia and locations in East Asia. Such moves by the US pose serious security implications for a region that has already witnessed a surge in rivalry between two emerging powers.

Economic and trade
 implications


These security implications are not the sole factors the foreign policy community in Sri Lanka needs to decipher and advise the regime, the shifts in regional and global trade regimes needs to be clearly comprehended and trade policies rethought. With a bleak economic outlook already forecasted for 2013, such foresight of trade regimes will be life saving for Sri Lanka businesses and ailing economic health of the state. China seems to be the buzzword and go place for economic relationships for Sri Lanka, which is understandable given the Chinese investments and interests not just in Sri Lanka, in the South Asian region and further such as in USA, Europe and Africa. Chinese trade was 160 billion US dollars in Africa last year, which made China surpass the US dollar 129 Billion mark of the United States and be the single largest trading partner for Africa.

Again if one looks further few more developments are on the horizon, last month delegates of China, Japan and South Korea agreed on principle to establish a Free Trade Area which will bring together the world's second, third and 12th largest economies together to form the biggest free trade bloc surpassing EU and NAFTA. There is potential the bloc will get ASEAN members on board and India has already set eyes on being a member. Preempting such a formation Obama regime introduced its Trans Asia Trade agreement policy, which made USA be part of any new trade blocs emerging in Asia. Australia will definitely set eyes on such a formation; this bloc will probably mean a three billion-person customer base. Such formations may take place soon as, speed is a defining feature in current global relations and if Sri Lanka is to make any sense of it’s ambitions to be the hub of the Indian Ocean, potentials and challenges in new trade and market transformations needed to be grasped.
This article attempts to provide a snapshot of what is to come in global political changes that may significantly affect Sri Lanka. The timing is important in such developments where inevitably strategic interests of US, India and China may compete and contest and result in extreme militarization and emergence of new political, economic alliances and regional groupings. Both Sri Lankan foreign policy gurus and gundas, as the service spawns avatars of both a plenty, needs to look beyond the turfs they battle and develop a framework that comprehends such shifts or skyfall will not just be a metaphorical nemesis for the service and the state.

 The writer is Visiting Assistant Professor of Government, St. Lawrence University, New York.
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