State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene speaking at the recently concluded International Maritime Conference, Galle Dialogue stressed the importance of how small nations should be united in fighting against terrorism. Here follows the extract of the speech.
This is the 6th consecutive year that this International Maritime Conference is being organized by the Navy in the historic city of Galle.
Bound together as we are, as inhabitants of the rim of this vast Indian Ocean, and beyond, we come together despite vast differences in terms of size, population, resources and development and the absence of contiguity, in a spirit of oneness to deal with maritime concerns. It is in this spirit of oneness that we in Sri Lanka welcome all of you to this very significant meeting. Hence the theme for this year “Secure Seas through Greater Maritime Cooperation: Challenges and Way Forward”.
The purpose of this Conference is simple - to bring together countries across Indian Ocean Region and beyond to exchange ideas and experiences on enhancing maritime co-operation.
It is perhaps also appropriate that this discussion should take place in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s geographic location has meant that it has been at the centre of ancient trading routes linking the East and the West. In today’s context, one of the most important Sea Lanes of Communication (SLoC) as well as Sea Lanes of Trade (SLoT) runs just South of Sri Lanka. The Indian Ocean has also gained increasing prominence in the current era as a very high proportion of the world’s seaborne trade takes place across the Indian Ocean.
I would like to share with you some ideas on some interconnected issues, not specifically focused on Indian Ocean Affairs or maritime cooperation per se but which I believe are of relevance to us all.
Kenya, Beirut and France- captured the attention of millions across the globe in recent times due to the horrific terrorist attacks that took place in those countries. These attacks demonstrate our increased vulnerability and expose our collective failure to deal with the scourge of global terrorism.
For many years we have theorized on definitions of terrorism, played with ideas of freedom fighter vs terrorist, turned a blind eye to terrorism if it happens in other countries, sympathized, empathized but failed to act in a decisive manner. Our collective failure has fuelled the global terrorism movement.We are all responsible. So instead of sympathy and empathy, our resolve should be to ensure that no individual should lose his “right to life” due to an act of terrorism.
We cannot do this alone. Our resolve should be unanimous and without exception.
Speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London in 1998, the Late Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka expressed some views which stand true to this date. He said
“ Terrorism is by no means a new phenomenon. It has been with us from the dawn of recorded history. Every single country in the world, every civilisation has at one time or another in history suffered the cruelty, the agony of terrorism. But what is new today or at least what has been new over the last 30 years, is that terrorism has acquired an international dimension. It is this international dimension that has brought with it new concepts of terror, new and more sophisticated methods of dealing out terror. “
This was well before terrorists started using the internet and social media to recruit its fighters, before we heard of cyber terrorism, and before there were instructional videos online on how to make explosives, accessible to just about anyone with some interest. I wonder what the Late Minister would have thought had he lived to see these new forms of terror that is engulfing the world. As you know, he was also gunned down by a suspected LTTE terrorist.
In this speech he also expressed frustration at the support he was receiving.
“Then there have been so many occasions when after a terrorist attack in Sri Lanka, in a city, in a temple, in a mosque, on a railway train, in a business centre, in a school, numerous messages of condolence, sympathy and succour arrive and I have often said to myself, well it is good to know at least that our friends remember us on these sad occasions, but as the messages have gone on and on and then one finds that the senders all friendly countries begin to run out of ‘adjectives’ these condolence messages become repetitive. It is a question of horror, shock, outrage and then the whole cycle all over again the next time when a bomb goes off”.
We in Sri Lanka can be relieved that the brave men and women of our Armed Forces defeated terrorism against insurmountable odds. But is there where we stop? Do we now say, well, we’ve rid this nation of terrorism so what happens elsewhere, is for them to sort out. Having been at the receiving end of this scourge, having lived through extremely difficult times, it is our responsibility to cooperate with our friends in the international community in this global fight against terrorism. We take this responsibility very seriously.
History has demonstrated that we cannot fight terrorism individually. It is only if we work together that we can defeat terrorism.
Looking at the recent as well as other terrorist attacks across the globe, around, it is very clear that the militaries in most cases respond in a REACTIVE manner and not in a PROACTIVE way. If we want to change the dynamics of terrorism we have to be proactive. If not, we will be only reacting to terrorism, whenever they launch an attack we will respond by sending troops and activating our contingencies and various other measures that we all have in place. I am sure you will agree that this ‘proactive’ approach can be applied to any situation, be it on land, or out at sea.
I could not find a better saying to share with you on this than what John Calvin Maxwell, who is an American author, speaker, and pastor, who once said,
“I believe that everyone chooses how to approach life. If you’re proactive, you focus on preparing. If you’re reactive, you end up focusing on repairing”.
I think we have to make a serious commitment towards this end, either to be proactive and concentrate on preparing well in advance, or be reactive and end up focusing on repairing. We need to better understand each other’s concerns and build cooperative arrangements.
This is where trust and co-operation between our armed forces, regional institutions, military leadership, and the political leadership comes into play. Conferences such as the one you are participating in today play an important role in building such networks. When we know each other better, cooperating and understanding each other’s issues become simpler.
Let’s change the way we think. Let’s start today. Terrorism is no more an issue that affects few countries in the world. It has become a global issue. So the terrorist issue of a country which is thousand miles away from us has a very high probability of becoming your issue the next day. Let’s awake to this reality. We will remain strong if we stand united.
At the end of the day, what we want is a peaceful environment for our children to live.
Gaius Sallustius Crispus or Sallust, a Roman historian, and a politician once said:
“By union the smallest states thrive. By discord the greatest are destroyed”.