Why Lanka should remain non-alignedView(s):
The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) shows little movement other than when summits are held. And so, it was with the latest, just concluded summit in the Iranian capital of Teheran. In the intervening years between summits, what on earth the second largest grouping of nations, only next to the United Nations Organisation, does is anybody’s guess.
This time round, the fact that Iran was to host the summit and assume the leadership of NAM attracted more attention that such summits normally do. This is purely because Iran is seen as the devil incarnate to the United States, the only surviving super-power of the Cold War, which gave birth to the Movement in the late 1950s, first through the Afro-Asian Solidarity Movement, and then NAM.
The US Assistant Secretary of State went to the extent of writing to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking him to refrain from visiting Teheran for the summit. Israel formally protested as well. In election year in the US, politicians would want to woo the powerful Jewish lobby more than ever and jingoism on Iran’s nuclear programme is only to be expected.
The fact that Mr. Ban ignored the request and proceeded to Teheran only enhances the credibility of the office of the UNSG. Turning down a request from a meeting of 120 countries at the highest levels of government at the virtual command of the US would have only confirmed the belief of countries like Sri Lanka that the holder of the office of the UNSG is a mere puppet of the US. But in his speech to the summit, Ban did a ‘non aligned’ or balancing act — going to Teheran and then slamming the hosts on the twin issues that concern the United States: Iran’s nuclear programme and its alleged call for the destruction of Israel.
At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro recently, President Mahinda Rajapaksa called for a new world order when he met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He did not quite spell out what that new world order was, but on the face of it, it would mean an anti-western order, or at least, a world order that is not dictated to by the West, especially the US.
Hardly had President Rajapaksa returned home, then facts hit home.
The US embargo on Iran prevented Sri Lanka from doing business with the President’s Iranian soul-mate, only to be given a reprieve and concessions granted for limited oil imports from Iran because of ‘good behaviour’ (i.e. attempts were made to make alternative import arrangements) on Sri Lanka’s part.
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy has taken a marked anti-West stance more so after some Western nations were aghast that the Government had the temerity to defeat terrorism without their permission. But a ham-handed foreign policy thereafter, bungled from day one aggravated the situation. Instead of tempering the instant knee-jerk reactions from the Presidential House and the theatrical street protests unleashed at home, the External Affairs Ministry opted to sing along.
On many occasions it was caught on the wrong foot, so to say. How it first rejected the UN Darusman report and then went secretly to meet the report’s authors was the highlight of this twisted policy. Without mending fences with the West, it went and hit its head on a rock; without implementing the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) recommendations for the greater good of all Sri Lankans, it ended up with a anti-Sri Lanka resolution at the UNHRC (Human Rights Council) and then came up with an Action Plan to implement those recommendations.
Now, the country’s foreign policy is on a voyage of discovery searching for friends in the far off Pacific, in Africa, South America, inviting Kings and Presidents of countries with which this country has otherwise nothing to do. That re-positioning of Sri Lanka in the modern world begs the question; what earthly purpose does this serve the country and its people.
To some extent, the frustrations of the powers-that-be in Colombo’s corridors of power can be understood. Hardly two months ago, the President personally journeyed to London to celebrate the British monarch’s Diamond Jubilee and show his good faith. Then comes a slap across his face in the form of a British Government travel advisory warning Britons against going to Sri Lanka.
To issue such an advisory when the England cricket team and its followers are preparing to visit this country for a world cup cricket tournament, and its MPs are preparing to arrive for the sessions of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is twisted British humour, to put it mildly. It would seem that this is a precursor to torpedoing next year’s CHOGM (Commonwealth
Heads of Government Summit) in Sri Lanka. It is like any country issuing a travel advisory on Britain just before the Olympics.
But yet, it does not warrant provocation from Sri Lanka’s decision-makers. This country’s trade, travel, tourism, higher education, employment and the like are still very much pegged to the West – not to Iran or Venezuela, or Cuba or even China.
There will be no cost-benefit for Sri Lanka if the Commonwealth summit, which will cost the country’s direct and indirect tax payers dearly, is going to end up in the drain. Non-Alignment does not mean being anti-West. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Government (1970-77) took that approach referring to the “rapacious West” and the country faced the economic consequences of that policy. On the contrary, J.R. Jayewardene’s pro-West economic policy maintained Non Alignment, despite some aberrations, as the silver thread that ran through its foreign policy.
A new cold-war like scenario is emerging – with China and Russia on the one side and the US and its allies on the other. The Syrian crisis, where China and Russia thrice used their vetoes at the UN Security Council, makes one wonder whether the cold war has returned. Who knows; if that were to happen, NAM may once again come in handy, and Sri Lanka will need to keep its options open – not closed.
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