Wednesday, December 09, 2009

US Senate Report on Sri Lanka: 'U.S. Cannot Afford to Lose Sri Lanka due to its Strategic Importance'



Read the entire report

Daya Gamage - The United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, a bipartisan endeavor, on Sri Lanka released December 07 was a thorough review of the failed U.S. policies and approach toward Sri Lanka in recent years and recommends that the U.S. needs to adopt a fresh approach to this South Asian nation declaring “the U.S. Government has invested relatively little in the economy or the security sector in Sri Lanka, instead focusing more on IDPs and civil society. As a result, Sri Lanka has grown politically and economically isolated from the West.”

The report shared by the Senate Committee chairman Democratic Party’s John F. Kerry and the committee’s ranking member Republican Richard G. Lugar further observes: “This strategic drift will have consequences for U.S. interests in the region. Along with our legitimate humanitarian and political concerns, U.S. policymakers have tended to underestimate Sri Lanka’s geostrategic importance for American interests. Sri Lanka is located at the nexus of crucial maritime trading routes in the Indian Ocean connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia.”

The United States during a decade or so which exerted pressure on successive Sri Lankan governments and intensified during the current Rajapaksa administration that the nation needs to totally focus on Tamil issues, predominantly Tamil provinces in the north and east, Tamil economic woes and grievances of the 12% Tamil ethnic minority has taken, in this Foreign Relations Committee evaluation, a realistic view most professionals have urged for several years in taking a novel approach saying “U.S. strategy should also invest in Sinhalese parts of the country, instead of just focusing aid on the Tamil-dominated North and East.”

The Kerry-Lugar Report shows how disturbed the United States is to the newly organized global alliance the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration pursued in creating a strategic environment conducive to defeating the Tamil Tigers.

In fact, the report acknowledges that the three Rajapaksa brothers were instrumental in adopting a strategy to defeat a ruthless terrorist group.

Indirectly admitting the shortsighted policies the United States has adopted towards Sri Lanka in recent years the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommends to the Obama administration to “Take a broader and more robust approach to Sri Lanka that appreciates new political and economic realities in Sri Lanka and U.S. geostrategic interests. Such an approach should be multidimensional so that U.S. policy is not driven solely by short-term humanitarian concerns but rather an integrated strategy that leverages political, economic, and security tools for more effective long-term reforms.”

Here are some of the excerpts of the Senate Report titled Sri Lanka: Recharting U.S.Stratergy After the War, authored by Senators Kerry, the Chairman of the Committee and Lugar, the Ranking Member of the Committee.

“The Government considers the bilateral relationship with Washington to be on a downward trajectory. Most U.S. criticisms of Sri Lankan actions at the end of the war and treatment of IDPs have fallen on deaf ears, with Sri Lankan authorities dismissing the U.S. posture as ‘‘no carrots and all sticks.’’ U.S. assistance to Sri Lanka, although delivered in grants and not loans, has attracted criticism from the Rajapaksa Government for its emphasis on political reform. This growing rift in U.S.-Sri Lanka relations can be seen in Colombo’s realignment toward non-Western countries, who offer an alternative model of development that places greater value on security over freedoms.

“Indeed, Sri Lanka’s geopolitical position has evolved considerably. As Western countries became increasingly critical of the Sri Lankan Government’s handling of the war and human rights record, the Rajapaksa leadership cultivated ties with such countries as Burma, China, Iran, and Libya. The Chinese have invested billions of dollars in Sri Lanka through military loans, infrastructure loans, and port development, with none of the strings attached by Western nations. While the United States shares with the Indians and the Chinese a common interest in securing maritime trade routes through the Indian Ocean, the U.S. Government has invested relatively little in the economy or the security sector in Sri Lanka, instead focusing more on IDPs and civil society. As a result, Sri Lanka has grown politically and economically isolated from the West.

“This strategic drift will have consequences for U.S. interests in the region. Along with our legitimate humanitarian and political concerns, U.S. policymakers have tended to underestimate Sri Lanka’s geostrategic importance for American interests. Sri Lanka is located at the nexus of crucial maritime trading routes in the Indian Ocean connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia. The United States, India, and China all share an interest in deterring terrorist activity and curbing piracy that could disrupt maritime trade. Security considerations extend beyond sealanes to the stability of India, the world’s largest democracy. Communal tensions in Sri Lanka have the potential to undermine stability in India, particularly in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, home to 60 million Tamils. All of these concerns should be part of our bilateral relationship.

“The United States cannot afford to ‘‘lose’’ Sri Lanka. This does not mean changing the relationship overnight or ignoring the real concerns about Sri Lanka’s political and humanitarian record. It does mean, however, considering a new approach that increases U.S. leverage vis-√†-vis Sri Lanka by expanding the number of tools at our disposal. A more multifaceted U.S. strategy would capitalize on the economic, trade, and security aspects of the relationship. This approach in turn could catalyze much-needed political reforms that will ultimately help secure longer term U.S. strategic interests in the Indian Ocean. U.S. strategy should also invest in Sinhalese parts of the country, instead of just focusing aid on the Tamil-dominated North and East.

“The Obama administration is currently weighing a new strategy for relations with Sri Lanka. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has closely followed events on the ground this year, including a hearing in February and a staff trip to Sri Lanka in November. In an effort to stimulate a larger debate on U.S. policy toward Sri Lanka, the committee staff prepared this bipartisan report examining recent developments and proposing recommendations for U.S. policy towards Sri Lanka. The recommendations include a broader and more robust U.S. approach to Sri Lanka that appreciates new political and economic realities in Sri Lanka and U.S. geostrategic interests; continuation of de-mining efforts in the North; and promotion of people-to-people reconciliation programs throughout the country.

“Indeed, the end of Sri Lanka’s long-running separatist war opens up enormous opportunities to move the country forward on multiple fronts: political reform, economic renewal, and international re-engagement. For the country to make the transition from a postwar to a post-conflict environment, Sri Lankan leaders must be prepared to take difficult steps to bring the country together and resolve underlying political and socio-economic tensions that led to the conflict. While there have been some success stories such as reducing the number of child soldiers and rebuilding the East, it is not clear that the current leadership understands exactly how to shift from a mindset of conflict and suspicion to a peacetime approach. Moreover, the Government’s paranoia about criticism and the way some government officials equate criticism with support for the LTTE complicates efforts to move forward. Strikingly, the whole Rajapaksa Government strategy seems to be still driven by security concerns.

Strategic Interests In Sri Lanka

“Sri Lanka has been a friend and democratic partner of the United States since gaining independence in 1948 and has supported U.S. military operations overseas such as during the first Gulf War. Commercial contacts go back to 1787, when New England sailors first anchored in Sri Lanka’s harbors to engage in trade. Sri Lanka is strategically located at the nexus of maritime trading routes connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia. It is directly in the middle of the ‘‘Old World,’’ where an estimated half of the world’s container ships transit the Indian Ocean.

“American interests in the region include securing energy resources from the Persian Gulf and maintaining the free flow of trade in the Indian Ocean. These interests are also important to one of America’s strategic partners, Japan, who is almost totally dependent on energy supplies transiting the Indian Ocean. The three major threats in the Indian Ocean come from terrorism, interstate conflict, and piracy. There have been some reports of pirate activity in the atoll islands near Sri Lanka.

“Sri Lanka’s geopolitical position has changed in recent years. The United States has developed closer ties with India while Sri Lanka moved towards China. India has been very concerned with instability in Sri Lanka and has worked quietly behind the scenes to push for faster resettlement for Tamils. India directly suffered from the spillover from the Sri Lankan conflict in 1991 when a LTTE female suicide bomber assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi, reportedly in response to Ghandi’s decision to send an Indian Peace Keeping force to Sri Lanka in 1987.

Communal tensions in Sri Lanka have the ability to undermine stability in India, particularly in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, home to 60 million Hindu Tamils. India’s large Tamil population just across the Paulk Strait fuels fears among Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese community, who represent 80 percent of the Sri Lankan population and are concentrated in the lower two-thirds of the country, that they could be- come a minority under siege. While India has no apparent interest in stoking conflict in Sri Lanka, Indian officials are reportedly increasingly concerned about their strategic role in the Indian Ocean and China’s growing presence in Sri Lanka.

“Chinese activities in Sri Lanka are largely economic, focusing billions of dollars on military loans, infrastructure loans, and port development. While these are loans that will need to be repaid and do not contribute much towards the local economy, they come without any political strings, a fact which makes them attractive to the Sri Lankan Government. According to the Congressional Research Service, ‘‘Chinese activity in the region appears to be seeking friends like Sri Lanka to secure its sea lines of communication from the Straits of Hormuz and the western reaches of the Indian Ocean region to the Strait of Malacca to facilitate trade and secure China’s energy imports.’’

“For instance, in 2007, China reached a billion dollar deal with Sri Lanka to develop a deepwater port in the south at the sleepy fishing village of Hambantota. In 2008, China gave Sri Lanka nearly $1 billion in economic assistance according to the Congressional Research Service. In 2009, China was granted an exclusive investment zone in Mirigama, 34 miles from Colombo’s port. Even for those that dismiss China’s ‘‘string of pearls’’ strategy as overblown, there is concern about growing Chinese influence on the Sri Lankan Government. During the closing stages of the separatist war, for example, China blocked Western-led efforts to impose a truce through the United Nations Security Council and continued supplying arms to the Sri Lankan Government. Sri Lanka’s strategic importance to the United States, China, and India is viewed by some as a key piece in a larger geopolitical dynamic, what has been referred to as a new ‘‘Great Game.’’ While all three countries share an interest in securing maritime trade routes, the United States has invested relatively few economic and security resources in Sri Lanka, preferring to focus instead on the political environment. Sri Lanka’s geostrategic importance to American interests has been neglected as a result. The Sri Lankan Government says American attitudes and military restrictions led it to build relationships with China, Burma, Iran, and Libya.

The Minister of Science and Technology and All-Party Representative Committee Chairman Tissa Vitarana Minister told committee staff, ‘‘We have the United States to thank for pushing us closer to China.’’ According to Vitarana, President Rajapaksa was forced to reach out to other countries because the West refused to help Sri Lanka finish the war against the LTTE. These calculations— if left unchecked—threaten long-term U.S. strategic interests in the Indian Ocean.

Recommendations On Sri Lanka

The Obama administration should:

1. Take a broader and more robust approach to Sri Lanka that appreciates new political and economic realities in Sri Lanka and U.S. geostrategic interests. Such an approach should be multidimensional so that U.S. policy is not driven solely by short-term humanitarian concerns but rather an integrated strategy that leverages political, economic, and security tools for more effective long-term reforms.

2. Continue support de-mining efforts in the North. De-mining will be a major factor in successful resettlement of the North.

3. Engage the United Nations (World Food Programme and other agencies) and the Sri Lankan Government in developing a realistic resettlement strategy for 2010 that reassesses food and nonfood needs to support returnees’ efforts at reestablishing their livelihoods.

4. Promote people-to-people reconciliation programs to build bridges between the Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim communities. A people-to-people approach should be linked to political reforms and processes that support transitional justice. Funding for such programs is available on a competitive basis under section 7065 (‘‘Reconciliation
Programs’’) of Public Law 111–8, and additional funding will be included for such purposes in the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2010.

5. Expand U.S. assistance to include all areas of the country, particularly in the south and central areas so that Sinhalese and other groups also benefit from U.S. assistance programs and reap some ‘‘peace dividend.’’

6. Tighten visa restrictions and revoke U.S. citizenship for any persons who are shown to have committed war crimes in Sri Lanka, whether they acted on behalf of the LTTE or the Government of Sri Lanka.

7. Expand the USAID/Department of Justice police program and provide judicial advisors to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Justice in order to support critical police reforms and implementation of current law.

8. Publicly commit to reinstating Peace Corps operations in Sri Lanka as soon as the emergency regulations are removed. Peace Corps volunteers could focus on teaching English and information technology training.

The U.S. Congress should:

Authorize the U.S. military to resume training of Sri Lankan military officials to help ensure that human rights concerns are integrated into future operations and to help build critical relationships.

The international financial institutions should:

1. Encourage all international financial institutions to systematically factor in the role of conflict, as the World Bank does through its conflict filter for Sri Lanka, to ensure that IMF and development bank financing does not inadvertently exacerbate conflict. Specifically, World Bank staff should be commended on its development of a conflict filter for Sri Lanka, and the World Bank should expand its use in other countries.

2. Proactively review military spending as a component of its financial programs with conflict countries.

The Sri Lankan Government should:

1. Treat all internally displaced persons in accordance with Sri Lankan and international standards, including by guaranteeing their freedom of movement, providing access to war-torn areas and populations by humanitarian organizations and journalists, and accounting for persons detained in the conflict.

2. Recognize the importance of a free and fair press, for both its own democratic traditions and for sharing accurate information with the international community. In showing its commitment to freedom of the press, the Government should welcome back journalists that have fled the country; pardon those such as J.S. Tissainayagam who were indicted under emergency laws; cease prosecuting cases against journalists based on emergency law; and actively investigate threats, abuses and killings of journalists.

3. Take steps to repeal emergency laws that are no longer applicable now that the war is over. This will send a strong message that Sri Lanka is ready to transition to a post-conflict environment.

4. Share its plans for resettlement and reconstruction in the North with Sri Lankan civil society and international donors, who are well-positioned to support such efforts if there is greater transparency and accountability.

5. Commence a program of reconciliation between the diverse communities in Sri Lanka.

6. Engage in a dialogue on land tenure issues, since they affect resettlement in the North and East.

© Asian Tribune

Related Links:
U.S. May Lose Sri Lanka as Ally, Senate Report Says - Bloomberg
US-SRI LANKA: Senate Report Urges Warmer Ties - Inter Press Service
Uncle Sam regains wisdom? - The Island Editorial
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report: Dayan Jayatilleke - Daily Mirror

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