President Maithripala Sirisena addressing the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday, spoke of Sri Lanka being a good UN member-state abiding by its treaties and obligations. And yet, while in the city all week, neither he nor his Government signed the Nuclear Treaty that the country voted for. The signature book was open all week [...]


Lanka’s nuclear policy unclear


President Maithripala Sirisena addressing the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday, spoke of Sri Lanka being a good UN member-state abiding by its treaties and obligations. And yet, while in the city all week, neither he nor his Government signed the Nuclear Treaty that the country voted for.

The signature book was open all week at the UN headquarters in New York, but Sri Lanka’s apparent volte-face (being one of the 122 countries that voted for it) remains unexplained up to date. A request to the Foreign Secretary for a comment more than a week ago has gone unanswered. Why?

The world right now is resonating with the buzz of a nuclear war exploding around the Korean peninsula. And yet, the ‘UN Week’ when leaders from around the globe descend on the headquarters of the world body – there were 77 heads of state and 38 heads of government –to make speeches on peace and prosperity, saw no support for nuclear disarmament. The treaty aims to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons and promote nuclear disarmament.

The US President went a step further suggesting he would “totally destroy” North Korea if it started a nuclear war, something peace activists compared to “putting out the fire with gasoline”. In addition, he pledged to roll back the deal struck with Iran on its nuclear programme. A UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of yesteryear is now history, and so it seems the latest treaty.

At Wednesday’s signing ceremony of the new edition of the NPT prohibiting nuclear weapons, the UN Secretary General said survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to remind the world of the devastating humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and this new document, is the first multi-lateral disarmament treaty in more than two decades. He pointed to the “increasing concerns” of the existence of some 15,000 doomsday nuclear weapons that endanger the world and the risk of nuclear fallouts.

Unfortunately, like Sri Lanka, not all the countries that voted for the treaty signed it this week. Not even Japan, the only country so far to have faced a nuclear bomb, nor South Korea which has a belligerent neighbour threatening war – both, clearly arguing that they cannot defend themselves without nuclear power when North Korea is threatening to use it – the same argument the world over.

That is why at the UN, they just cannot walk the talk. But Sri Lanka’s position, its silence, is deafening, to say the least. The questions seem to be which super (nuclear) power or powers twisted our arm not to sign the treaty, or who were we trying to please. Was the President adequately briefed about Sri Lanka’s position, and if so, wouldn’t he look a bit silly when he says in New York that Sri Lanka abides by all UN treaties – and yet, doesn’t sign this treaty. Is there good reason, bad reason or no reason to do so?

It cannot be that Sri Lanka wants to be a nuclear power itself. Against whom would Sri Lanka use a nuclear bomb? On the other hand, there have been Government Ministers who have articulated the need for Sri Lanka to go ‘nuclear’ for peaceful purposes, especially to boost its energy capacity. That is what all nuclear powers start off by saying and justify their membership in the nuclear club.

Many countries in the economically developed world are moving away from nuclear powered energy because an accident at a reactor can cause irreparable human and environmental harm. Notwithstanding these worries, India is on a nuclear building programme, while Germany has a policy to phase out all its nuclear power plants.

This non-placement of Sri Lanka’s signature on the UN treaty to prohibit nuclear programmes cannot be an oversight. Not only did this newspaper run the story of Sri Lanka’s absence from the list of signatories but the normal UN channels communicated the invitation for the ceremony. No doubt, the signing can be done on a later date, but what is the Government’s stand on this? No one knows.

One only hopes it is not a precursor to Sri Lanka’s departure from an independent foreign policy and signalling a dance to the tune of any one, or more foreign powers.

PC elections: Missing the forest for the trees
The Government was determined to postpone the impending Provincial Council elections by the 20th Amendment – or by a bill gathering dust in the Legal Draftsman’s Department.

And so, with the Supreme Court determination on the Constitutionality of the 20th Amendment (which was to hold all PC elections on a single day) being torpedoed by calling for a Referendum of the people, the Government came up with ‘Plan B’ – i.e. to delay the elections by constituting electorates within a province. It would be a delimitation process that could see months-on-end delays, even though time limits were solemnly given in Parliament, just like what the Government has done with electoral reforms delaying Local Government polls.

The Government’s fear of mid-term elections is patently, and manifestly clear. Of the two partners within the National Unity Government, the UNP-led UNF is at a distinct advantage given the SLFP-led UPFA being split down the middle. The biggest nightmare President Maithripala Sirisena harbours is if the UPFA that he leads comes a poor third in an electoral contest to the UNP and the UPFA faction led by his predecessor and nemesis, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

All this dust pitifully revolves around elections to Provincial Councils, as if elections are the panacea to all the ills of these nine costly ‘white elephants’. Both factions of the SLFP took to the streets when laws were introduced in 1987 to establish these PCs. Now, at least one faction sees virtues in it for no other reason than one-upmanship over the other. The Rajapaksa Administration used these elections to demoralise the Opposition UNP by repeatedly defeating it, only to come a cropper at the ‘big race’.

If the Government had wanted to put off these elections come-what-may, a better alternative would have been to reconsider this entire system that was forced down Sri Lanka’s throat in 1987. Alas, the All Party Constitutional Steering Committee drafting a new Constitution seems to say that PCs have come to stay.

Today, these PCs are viewed, not so much as the decentralisation of power or the nurseries for future political leaders, but through tinted political glasses. Are they all missing the forest for the trees?

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