Tamil Diplomat

Sri Lanka’s New Foreign Policy: “sovereignty as responsibility”

In an attempt to tackle the international pressure largely on accountability for the mass atrocities during the final war, the Sri Lanka has made a significant shift in its foreign policy based on Francis Deng’s idea of ‘sovereignty as responsibility’.

“Sovereignty carries with it great responsibility which involves duties towards one’s own citizens. When a Government fails to discharge such duties, external intervention of an unwelcome nature is difficult to prevent” Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said in Parliament today.

“Taking action locally as a responsible nation that is accountable to all sections of our population, upholding the rule of law, good governance and democracy while working in cooperation with the international community is the only way to project ourselves as a country that is at peace with itself “.

“ True safeguarding of sovereignty can be achieved only by fulfilling our obligations to our people and by preserving and upholding the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious nature of our society while learning to work with other nations and with international organisations in this interdependent world. Not through the pursuit of adversarial policies as some try to make us believe “ the Minister said.

Important excerpts of his speech is as follows:

Unfortunately, the last few years saw our country drift from this traditional position of engagement not only with the United Nations but with the entire international community. We shifted from our position of a consensus-builder to a path of confrontation, non-engagement and intransigence. We abandoned our traditional partners including those countries that helped Sri Lanka in its journey of development and those who helped us in times of crisis. The Government at the time became obsessed with ideologies and concepts in a world where countries are required increasingly to work together in cooperation with each other to seek solutions to problems, pursue economic progress, increase investment, and achieve sustainable development. Diplomacy was exercised as if it were a zero sum game, cultivating only one set of countries at the expense of another. This was uncharacteristic of our nation’s inherent personality. We recall with shame when ‘senior’ members of the last government made derogatory and highly defamatory statements about senior members of the UN, calling them ‘terrorists’ or ‘terrorist sympathisers’ for merely raising issues about Sri Lanka’s international obligations. Some of these obligations are ones that we had undertaken on our own as a sovereign nation without any pressure from the UN or the international community, in line with our duties and responsibilities towards our own citizens.

Defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country is essential to the foreign policy of any nation. However, no country in today’s world can take cover strictly behind the Westphalian concept of absolute sovereignty, which is no longer valid in the modern world. If nothing else, we must awaken to the reality that the imperatives of globalization and interdependence, connectivity and technological advancements have cast the concept of sovereignty in an entirely different light.  Sovereignty carries with it great responsibility which involves duties towards one’s own citizens. When a Government fails to discharge such duties, external intervention of an unwelcome nature is difficult to prevent.

Having successfully achieved the complex diplomatic task of preventing external intervention under the UN Security Council during the conflict in 2009, the Government at the time, regrettably failed to pursue the path of domestic peacebuilding. By refusing to address issues of concern locally, the Government alienated communities within the country as well as Sri Lanka’s international partners. This resulted in our nation becoming the subject of successive resolutions in Geneva.

Taking action locally as a responsible nation that is accountable to all sections of our population, upholding the rule of law, good governance and democracy while working in cooperation with the international community is the only way to project ourselves as a country that is at peace with itself. This is the only way to enable a secure atmosphere that is essential for foreign investment that is required for the long-term economic development of our nation and for sustainable progress and prosperity of our people. True safeguarding of sovereignty can be achieved only by fulfilling our obligations to our people and by preserving and upholding the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious nature of our society while learning to work with other nations and with international organisations in this interdependent world. Not through the pursuit of adversarial policies as some try to make us believe.