A New Administration and our Hope and Prayer for a new Ministry of External Affairs


A new year has dawned and a new administration has been formed and after almost a decade of mismanagement and the loss of a very special opportunity when Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to finish off the separatist threat to this country (which no leader was  able to do since 1978), a new scenario has emerged and we now appear to be heading towards formulating a proper foreign policy. It is with much regret that I state that the previous administration did not seem to understand diplomacy or what the management of foreign relations was about. In this regard, to state that the country misses the services of Lakshman Kadirgamar, is to make a gross understatement. Let us not forget that even with the war with the LTTE raging, we had no western countries on our backs. He was even able to build the foundation, through diplomacy, to have the LTTE proscribed in the West. The last government forgot that diplomacy is all about persuasion.

A new world order is indeed emerging today with China and India on the verge of becoming Super Powers; a new situation has arisen to which we need to relate to safeguard our national interest. We, because of our particular location, need to do a diplomatic balancing act which brings back memories of the Srima Bandaranaike era and the era of the Cold War, when we had no enemies and only friends, when India not only took back half a million persons of Indian descent but also withdrew her claim to Katchchativu. That was an era of brilliant diplomacy. As it was then, today too we see the US and the West seeking to shape and influence the international system to meet their needs; but this world has changed with the emergence, in particular of China and India and Japan too, shaking off her inhibitions and becoming a ‘player’. As for relations with China and India, both countries are both important for our well being, we must be absolutely NEUTRAL for neutrality can be a bargaining tool for us.

During the period of the Cold War, the Non Aligned Movement emerged seeking to balance the game of great power rivalry, but with the Soviet Union disintegrating that Cold War ended. However we have now a different situation to relate to - we have now another Cold War of sorts developing as a result of the situation in Ukraine and Russia seeking to once again assert itself claiming that she needs to ensure her country’s security by using the Russian speaking diaspora to expand. We as a country need not get involved in this at all but a citizen of  ours has seen in it an opportunity to make money through  the sale of arms to pro Russian rebels; but it  was and is an entirely private matter and should not affect our national interests.

We need to be pragmatic in the conduct of our international relations, in this regard we cannot afford to forget the fact that we export most to the West and that our relationship is almost 500 years old. The US and the West have been seeking, after the two world Wars, to shape the world in accordance with their values, it has indeed been a cold blooded game, but the emergence of new ‘powers’ in recent years such as China and India has changed the situation somewhat; we small countries living in an increasingly interdependent world have more space now to determine and pursue our national interests without being totally dominated by the Super Powers. Our foreign policy must be dictated by our own national interests and no other. We are a small weak country with a powerful neighbour, which is pursuing her own national interest, which we need to factor in, as our own security and territorial integrity are intertwined with hers. Besides Security and safeguarding our territorial integrity ‘Development’ is our principal national interest; there are of course our national values which we hold dear such as Democracy and the Rule of Law; we seek to build a society which is egalitarian, secular, which respects human rights and  is non discriminatory of minorities and, just as much as no State should be allowed to dominate any other, no group in society should be allowed to dominate any other merely on the basis of being a majority.

We should not selfishly pursue our own particular race based interests. Achieving economic development and peace for all along with stability for the country should be the goal of our domestic policy. The importance of that was succinctly stated  in an article by that young intellectual, Salma Yusuf,  titled "Foreign policy and domestic stability" a few months ago: in her concluding paragraph she states "In the final analysis it is the consolidation of peace, freedom, democracy and domestic Rule of Law that will translate into the ability for us to protect our nation and its  sovereignty and have credibility in the international domain; the link between the protection of our national interests and positioning internationally cannot be clearer." It could not have been better said. 

There is no denying the fact of the link between  the situation at home and the perception of our image abroad; we need therefore to be always  mindful of this and  our foreign policy should be directed at winning friends on the international circuit and  promoting investment  trade and tourism to our country as  development of our country is our principal goal and objective. As for the political side, in this day and age of instant communication and easy international travel the Ministry (of External Affairs) should be so staffed as to  be able to easily liase with our missions and direct them on the positions they should take on  any  particular issue – if it is a bilateral matter then the mission would have a critical role to play, but if it is a multilateral issue it would be the Ministry that would be playing a coordinating role to decide on the government’s position.    The Ministry itself would of course have a key role to play in the formulation of our country’s foreign policy.

The Ministry itself should be restructured and revitalized to play its role in the implementation of the government’s policies. In this regard I would suggest that the government appoint a committee of retired senior public servants and also the likes of former High Commissioner Mangala Moonasinghe and Ambassador  Javid Yusuf  to report on the restructuring of the Ministry. This brings to mind that it was this present Minister Mangala Samaraweera who, as one of his first acts after he first assumed duries as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2010, appointed a Committee Chaired by former Civil Servant MDD Peiris and with self, Manel Abeysekera, Ananda Gunasekera and two others to make  a study of the staffing of our missions in relation to the work expected; we prepared what we thought was a comprehensive report but sadly the Minister had some problem with President Rajapaksa and resigned. His successor had no interest and that was it. I do hope Minister Samaraweera revives the process for we must staff our Missions according to our needs, not to give employment to friends and relatives. Yes we should NOT appoint every Tom Dick and Harmanis to promote and safeguard our national interest.

If we are short of personnel of the Ministry to appoint as heads of missions then we could draw eminent persons from the professions and from among the business elite; if they are prepared to accept, they could be put through a six week training program and then appointed on contract for three years and certainly not for two as previously done because the head of mission becomes most effective in the third year. As for staffing of the Ministry and our missions, since the career Foreign Service itself is short-staffed may I suggest that we call for applications from the SLAS and the University lecturers and hold an exam for them, followed by an interview to check on their suitability to serve as diplomats and then appoint them to the Service to fill the cadre. In this regard I wish once again (I have called for this many times over) to request the government and Minister Samaraweera to have a Foreign Service Act to protect and professionalize the Service in the interest of the country.

K Godage

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