It is a great honour and a challenge for me to speak after such a distinguished scholar Dr. Subramanian Swami and also before lunch. I really admire one point mentioned by Dr.Swami. That is that all of us are equal; the DNA of Tamils, Sinhalese, Aryans and Dravidians is the same. One of the scholars whom I know Prof.Jeannette Wing from Carnagie Mellon University who was involved in the human genome project found out that DNA of 99.9% of us are all the same. Unfortunately we spend most of our lifetime talking about the differences rather than the common values we have.
First let me congratulate the chief architect of this seminar GotabayaRajapaksa, Secretary of the Ministry of Defense & Urban Development and Lt Gen R M D Ratnayake, Commander of the Sri Lanka Army and rest of the organizers for conducting this seminar for the last 4 years. It has been a very successful seminar bringing in diverse ideas from military and non-military panelist from around the world. I thank the organizers for inviting me to speak on ‘Sri Lanka’s Role in the security of Asia in General and in the Region in Particular’.
I would also like to remind and appreciate the valiant effort and courage of members of the armed forces in eradicating terrorism from our Nation, we would have never conducted a conference in this scale during the time of the war.
The 21st century has been labeled as the Asian Century for good reason. The Asian continent’s upwards trajectory in terms of development is exponential, and is spread across many Asian countries to which Sri Lanka is no stranger.
Having successfully combated terrorism and ending a thirty-year war and having established a stable environment within our country we now have the ability to play a vital role in the security infrastructure of Asia in general and the region.
My presentation will discuss the rise of Asia as an economic power and importance of security measures. Then I will look at what Sri Lanka can offer for its role in security to the region and Asia.
Security of Asia and Region.
Asia is the largest continent in the world accounting for more than 60% of the world population. According to an IMF report out of the twenty fastest growing economies, 8 of them are from Asia. The IMF also estimates that by 2030 Asia’s economy would be bigger than that of the US and EU combined. If the current growth rate is maintained Asia’s Purchasing Power Parity could also increase by six fold by year 2050. In addition to this as of 2013 Asia’s share in world exports rose to 38.7%. Comparatively this is a significant percentage as NAFTA’s share only amounts to 13.4%.
Furthermore out of the five BRICS nations, three of them are from Asia. Thus given this pattern, it is clear that power and focus is shifting from traditional centers in the West to the East. Due to these reasons the need for security and stability in the Asian continent is essential, and in this aspect Sri Lanka’s role is undeniably important.
Another factor that makes Asia important in terms of international security is the presence of a number of nuclear powers in the region. Russia, India, China, Pakistan, North Korea etc. command a fleet of nuclear weaponry which adds to the complexity of the security situation in Asia. Any outbreak of violence in the region has the power to transform into an international security threat, and thus security must be kept in check at all times.
With regard to South Asia, this region comprises of seven SAARC states. The region comprises a fifth of the world’s population and 50% of world’s container traffic passes through this region, making security and stability essential. Despite the bright future envisaged for the continent, it faces significant threats to its ascent. Rampant levels of human and drug trafficking are present, alongside arms smuggling, nuclear testing, piracy, religious extremism, border conflicts, a significant lack of resources which directly or indirectly have the potential of affecting the security infrastructure of Asia.
I want to bring to your attention six areas to focus.
1. Rise of violent non-state actors
In the contemporary context the Asian region is witnessing the exponential rise of violent non state actors. India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are all experiencing worrying levels of terrorism within their countries which results in the weakening in the power of the state, and a significant level of instability and unpredictability in the South Asia region. This hinders the empowerment and the growth of the region.
This is corroborated by the presence of terrorism in many South Asian nations.The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces have made a stronghold. ISIS is deemed to be a violent and ambitious terrorist organization not only rapidly gaining supporters internationally, but which now controls a major part of Iraq. Several small Jihadist groups from around the world have already pledged their existence to this cause, creating a global network of terrorist pooling resources and concentrating them in the South Asian region. This poses a risk to the whole of Asia seriously undermining the fragile peace, stability and security of the region.
This is a serious impediment to the growth of our continent, as a volatile region with outbreaks of violence will impede Asia’s rise to power, and will curb Asia potential in the international context.
A few days ago President Obama has ordered to use air strikes against ISIS to prevent genocide in Iraq and today to prevent control of the important Mosul dam to secure water security to the surrounding. This reminds me of Sri Lankan military taking over Mavillaru from LTTE terrorist who was blocking water to innocent villages. When Sri Lanka defeated a violent non state actor LTTE who was referred by FBI as a serious threat, the Government has been questioned the way we have defeated them. Our Excellency the President MahindaRajapaksa was the only President, when looking back with the past leaders who ruled the country, to take a firm decision to completely eradicate the terrorist threat from our Nation a decision that has made him popular and also unpopular. Certain double standards adopted by some nations when fighting terrorism could create further security threats.
There is a reemergence of Taliban and al-Qaida threat in this region. For this Sri Lanka can play a role to strengthen counter terrorism mechanisms for the regional countries to fight terrorism.
2. Weak Institutions will create a security threat
Among the many areas such as poverty, inequality, fighting terrorism, a significant threat to our political stability and peace is the presence of weak institutions within our countries. The corruption of public institutions is a phenomenon that must be overcome. The South Asian region is known for its rampant levels of corruption and lack of transparency, all of which leads to weak institutions. Based on Transparency International scoring, in which 0 = high corruption and 100 = no corruption, South Asian nations are distributed in the below 50 zone, with the exception of Bhutan. This is an alarming statistic as corruption is possibly the biggest impediment to social justice and development. It also plays a large role in the security of a nation, as a corrupt environment with weak institutions will create unrest and violence. To strengthen institutions we need to improve on good governance, a key area to focus. Fighting corruption with tools to empower citizens is important.
Right to information(RTI) act in greater degree has helped the society to question government authorities of the financial budgets and fight corruption with tools such as ipaidabribe a website to complain and analyze and quantify corrupt institutions and officials is a good example from India.
It’s time for the South Asian countries to introduce anti-corruption mechanisms in order to increase transparency of its public institutions. This would grant citizens access to information regarding the running of the country. By making public institutions disclose all information regarding its running and functioning, they will be forced to work efficiently serving the need of the people.
Few months ago at the World Economic Forum in Manila I mentioned the importance of strengthening institutions to fight corruptions to create a better environment. Let me give you a small example to fight political corruption we could introduce a mechanism to quantify the asset growth of politicians from one election to another, rather than just declaring assets we could analyze.
However setting up these mechanisms is not enough, there must exist public forums or programs to make people aware of such mechanisms, and give them the space and opportunity to report injustices without fear of retribution. Adding on to this point, whistleblower legislation must also be strengthened and practiced diligently. In the fight against corruption, whistleblower protection is essential. Government should work on strengthening the “second tier”, which includes public institutions which provide welfare for the people. However there’s a significant time lag involved in putting these policies into practice, and thus it may take a considerable time to reach its full potential.
By facilitating good governance, transparency and accountability on all levels of the country we automatically strengthen our institutions. This enables us to successfully overcome any subversive threat or other forms of conflict, and prevents increased security threat.
3. SAARC : fighting terrorism
The recent statement from PM Modi is commendable a SAARC Satellite than individual satellites for Nations, this is the way forward and right thinking. We need to improve the points of intersection between Nations.
South Asia also lacks adequate coordination between its member states when it comes to overcoming security threats, especially terrorism.
The South Asian region is highly susceptible to violent outbreaks and this is largely due to the lack of strategy between the nations to respond and mitigate violence.
Despite the fact that all SAARC nations passed and ratified a convention against terrorism, the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism and its Additional Protocol (1988) there has been no significant drop in terrorism in the region.
Thus another area in which Sri Lanka could play a pioneering role in the security of Asia is spearheading the establishment of a SAARC anti-terrorism unit. Such a unit is essential in order to provide assistance in terms of logistics, resources and expertise to governments engaged in war with terrorists. It will be difficult for any single South Asian country to address security issues in isolation and therefore a cooperative security framework will becomes increasingly important. Therefor strengthening SAARC anti terrorism unit will definitely benefit the region.
Our President HE MahindaRajapaksa mentioned few months ago the importance of fighting terrorism as a region in his BIMSTEC speech this is commendable.
Let me quote our President HE MahindaRajapaksa
"Terrorism, wherever in the world, in whatever form or manifestation, is a threat to the collective security of all nations."
Sri Lanka could play a significant role to share their knowledge on combatting terrorism on these regional organizations.
4. Sri Lanka’s role in the Maritime Silk Route
Sri Lanka will play a pivotal role in the functioning of the Maritime silk route, a historic trade route spread across several continents. Chinese government’s attempt to restore the MSR to its former glory and success, Sri Lanka plays a pivotal role due to its central geographic location at the heart of the route. Sri Lanka’s involvement with China in relation to MSR includes several areas, most notably in maritime connectivity, maritime search and rescue, as well as disaster prevention. The aim of MSR is not only to further economic ties, but to foster better relationships between China and other Asian states. Sri Lanka is a strategic important partner in that particular venture as Sri Lanka maintains close and friendly ties with all its Asian neighbors, and has maintained the role of mediator for disputes between countries. Spearheading the creation of peaceful relations increases the stability of the region and therefore reduces the likelihood of conflict, enhancing security. Sri Lanka could also function as a transit point in the MSR due to its geostrategic location and could provide its expertise on combating terrorism to secure the MSR.
MSR in my opinion should not confine to only East but also connect West and US in todays world.
5. Sri Lanka’s to contribute to peacekeeping missions
Sri Lanka also conducts peacekeeping missions in many countries, with a total of over 4000 peacekeeping units presently in countries such as Sudan, South Sudan, Congo, Liberia and Lebanon among many others. These forces have also have also undertaken humanitarian projects in South Sudan, where a hospital with the latest technology and a range of facilities was built and as is run by the army. This project came into fruition as result of the commendable efforts of our Secretary of Defense and Urban Development, Mr. GotabayaRajapaksa and the Commander-of-the army. In this way Sri Lanka could provide the assistance of its intelligent, experienced and skilled military to countries that need such military support in order to carry out civilian safety programs, and to carry out humanitarian projects such as this, alongside with those with the need to establish peace and stability in areas vulnerable to conflict. Sri Lanka has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations on Standby Arrangements for United Nations Peacekeeping Operations. Bangladesh is a good example of having the second highest military and civil forces for UN peacekeeping missions.
6. SL to engage in Joint Military Exercises
Sri Lanka can demonstrate its capacity and capability in this sphere by conducting joint-military exercises. Our country has first-hand experience of defeating the LTTE terrorist group and we possess a highly trained military, which together are a very powerful combination in the contemporary setting. This means we can provide military assistance and conduct military training programs abroad as well. These programs would provide guidance in terms of strategy formulation, as well as in-depth information on defensive and offensive tactics pivotal to combating terrorism. Sri Lanka has already conducted one-on-one discussions with foreign military leaders regarding Sri Lanka’s defense strategies as well as the army’s post conflict nation building roles. Greater effort must be made into facilitating long-term defense cooperation and thereby be prepared to collective take action against regional security threats including natural disasters, as inter or intra state conflict etc. Sharing of perspectives and expertise is contributing in substantial measure to curbing terrorism, transnational crimes and other security threats in the region.
The six areas I mentioned could be looked at carefully to create a more secured environment.
In conclusion Asia and the region will be a focus area for the next decade and rising security threat due to its growth and many other factors will be evident. If Sri Lanka engages in sharing its security expertise the country could play a vigorous role in shaping the security architecture of Asia and the region.
It’s also important to note all emerging giants should work with the existing powers in harmony without disrupting the international order. A more positive sum game rather than one side rising and the other side losing should not be the equation. Many countries need to move away from Nationalism confine to their own country to strengthen regional integration by working towards improving points of intersection between countries.
As I always mention in many forums pain of one Nation should be pain of another since we are all connected in this modern era. Sri Lanka as a rising nation should contribute its capacity to the security of Asia to create a better and secured world for our future generations. All of us gathered here from many Nations have a small duty to play to create a secured environment.
Let me end with a quotation from RFK "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation"(KH)