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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2525

Sri Lanka’s Diplomacy: a Response to Kalyananda Godage

Professor Laksiri Fernando, University of Colombo

Kalyananda Godage, a former senior diplomat in Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service, in several of his recent articles, seemingly questioning Sri Lanka’s current diplomatic thrust in its fight against LTTE terrorism, has in fact centered his barrage against the current Foreign Secretary, Dr. Palitha Kohona, the motive of which might not be so difficult to guess.

I am in particular referring to the article titled “Sri Lanka is Making Enemies of Friends through Amateurish Diplomacy” (by Kalyananda Godage Island 30 July). The article raises several issues in respect of diplomacy in general and professional ethics of diplomats in particular, former or current. The question of ethics seems to appear much grubbier when former diplomats turn third class journalists combining fact with gossip or judgment with personal animosity.

About Diplomacy

Any student of international relations would know that diplomacy both as a theory and a practice has changed over time. All these changes, at various turning points, have often been named as ‘New Diplomacy.’ In making the current phase of new diplomacy, both the event of 11th September and the trends in globalization have made a major impact.

The first event has brought the countries under the threat of terrorism closer (e.g. US and UK or US/UK and SL), but definitely not in the same manner. The forms and levels of threat are different and so do the understanding and perceptions. Sometimes it requires candor or even outspokenness to bridge the gaps of perception and understanding. Other times, the foreign policies might simply differ (e.g. Palestine). Terrorism definitely is not the only issue that countries have to confront in foreign policy.

The second set of trends with globalization has made diplomacy much more dynamic, complex and multi-dimensional. There are new opportunities and draw backs to a small country like Sri Lanka. Backstage diplomacy is no longer the main norm. It may require at times, but not as the main strategy. More professional, experiential and even an academic understanding of world politics, international institutions and their legalities are required to be a new diplomat. There is no reason to resent PhD holders in the diplomatic service, emerging within or drawn from outside.

On the positive side of the trends, both the end of the Cold War and globalization have allowed small countries like Sri Lanka more opportunities and maneuverability among the international or the regional players. This simply means that Sri Lanka could be proactive in its foreign policy and could make new initiates in political, economic or social fronts, realizing of course its limitations. This is also a delicate job and could even lead to occasional mistakes. But the unwillingness to venture on the opportunities for the fear of mistakes would be the biggest mistake. No one advocates adventure or ‘revolutionary diplomacy,’ but proactive diplomacy with candor and professionalism.

Dependency Syndrome

Godage’s perception of diplomacy is based on the dependency syndrome. He has accused Sri Lanka for “making enemies of our friends,” but no solid evidence is given. Making enemies of friends, whether it is India or USA, of course is not diplomacy. Warning of a possible deviation is one thing, but calling it as an established fact is another. He seems to be extremely fearful of big powers and repeats that “we need the big powers of the modern world for the following reasons.”

The first reason given is the following. “We need their support and understanding to rein in the Tamil Diaspora which it is reported, help the LTTE to the tune of US$ 300 Million” (My emphasis). The assertion itself is not correct. It is not the whole of Tamil Diaspora which supports the LTTE, but only a section of it, and more correctly the LTTE networks. If we were to ask ‘our friends’ to rein on the whole of the Tamil Diaspora as he has suggested, then that would amount to an anti-Tamil chauvinism.

As Godage himself reports, “in recent weeks we have seen the crack down on LTTE leaders and their operations from the US, through Europe to Australia.” Since that is the case, that means Sri Lanka has not antagonized our friends in beating the LTTE abroad. The present situation is similar to what Lakshman Kadirgamar, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, achieved in reining on the LTTE (not the Diaspora) in 2004-2005 or even before. Both the Minister and the Secretary should be credited for that. There is a clear continuity from Kadirgamar to Bogollagama in this foreign policy thrust, exposing the LTTE, whatever the nuances in different times.

The second reason given is economic. He says, “We also need the West for it is in those markets that we sell our tea and garments. The West is not only where the markets exist but also the source of capital and technology besides, of course, the influence they wield in the affairs of the world. We should also not forget from where those ‘high-spending’ tourists come to this country.” He sermonizes as if that there is an anti-western stance in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy in economic and trade spheres. This is far from the truth.

What he perhaps cannot understand is the considerable necessity on Sri Lanka’s part to diversify, as much as possible, her commercial, trade and economic links with other countries (SARRC being a primary focus) and regions (e.g. ASEAN) which in fact is recommended by the international organizations themselves. Of course this is not a reason to antagonize the West. His blunt statements such as, “we must face the fact that this country has become worthless among countries of the international community” or “the influence we wield is near zero” are not professional but political. These statements denigrating the country are not worth of a former diplomat, senior or not, whatever his domestic political preferences are.

Indian Factor

Godage tries to make a mountain out of a molehill in respect of certain issues with India. There is no question that India is the closest to our body as well as our sole and our futures are intertwined both politically and economically that no one could easily deny. This is a reality with or without; before or after, the recent Indo-US security relationship.

I hardly think that President Mahinda Rajapakse needs a sermon from Godage, or anyone else for that matter, about the importance of India to resolve the terrorist or the ethnic problem in our soil. President as the chief architect of foreign policy has taken his utmost efforts to involve India in finding an amicable solution to the ethnic issue from the very inception of his tenure. The facts are well known in this respect. Nevertheless, there is much reluctance on the part of India, which we need to appreciate and understand, in getting involved directly, at least at this stage, due to Indian as well as Indo-Sri Lankan factors. Her active support in ‘reining on the LTTE,’ if you wish, has been extended in various means and matters, and some more are reportedly forthcoming.

However, if someone wants to pick, and nitpick on some sensitive points, that would not seem very diplomatic, particularly for a former diplomat. Godage accuses that “most recently, we have learned through the medium of the press that the Foreign Secretary had, during his visit to Pakistan, India’s bete noire, referred to Indian National Security Advisor Narayanan’s statement that we should obtain our arms requirements only from India” (My emphasis).

In the first place, I don’t see anything wrong in Foreign Secretary referring to the statement by Narayan if it was relevant to the matters under discussion. Anyway, Narayan’s statement is not something that any Sri Lankan could unfortunately agree with. Godage has not stated whether he agrees with Narayan or not, but has characterized Pakistan as “India’s bete noir.”

Then he accuses the Foreign Secretary of “mentioning it to a reporter” who carried it on the “front page in the form of a headline story.” How does he know that the Foreign Secretary gave it to the press or somebody in the Ministry, who perhaps leaks news to Godage, himself/herself gave it to the press? Then he adds something to the effect that “this has only angered the NSA and the Indian establishment.” It appears to me that Godage is bent on making rift not only between Sri Lanka and the West but also (or more particularly) with India.

Personal Animosity

A personal dislike or animosity is quite transparent from Godage’s statements about the Foreign Secretary. Godage says, “this report which has not been denied indicates that our Foreign Secretary, though he has an impressive academic record and a PhD has yet much to learn on the art of diplomacy.” The above is obviously a very personal remark. Dr. Kohona’s academic record or PhD is not at all relevant here unless it is an irritant for someone who apparently has no such qualification. As far as I know, Kohona was a Senior Diplomat in the Australian Foreign Service who later became the Head of the UN Treaty Section on that merit. He is not an amateur diplomat.

The art of diplomacy that Godage talks about is quite transparent from his statements bordering on personal attack, name dropping and trying to create wedge between the Minister and the Secretary. (By the way, creating wedge between people has almost become a past time among many people in politics as well as other professions in Sri Lanka these days.) Godage states that “it does appear that there is no rapport between the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Secretary.” No hard evidence is given. In some other articles, Godage attacks the Foreign Minister, complimenting the President. In the present article, he attacks the Foreign Secretary, complimenting the Minister. He almost writes like a retired politician and not like a retired diplomat.

In the decision making hierarchy in foreign policy making, the President, the Minister and the Secretary are important in that order, also in consultation with other senior diplomats or advisors. When the “Minister himself directs his officials not to make any statements on Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue without prior approval,” as Godage says, it would not or might not mean the Foreign Secretary. The Foreign Secretary and Senior Diplomats should always be ready to give interviews and statements, in my opinion, however without confusing or contradicting the government policy on the issues whether ethnic or otherwise. Otherwise no proactive foreign policy could be pursued. Foreign Secretaries are always on the lime light. A prominent example is David Miliband, the current Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom.

Diplomatic gossip is not limited to attempt at division between the Minister and the Secretary. Same thing is attempted between a Senior Minister and the President. Godage asks, “What is the state of our relations with the West?” According to him, it is pretty bad!

Raising the issue in such a manner itself has a spoiler motive. The evidence given is the following. “A senior Minister has threatened to have the German Ambassador declared Persona Non Grata,” he says. Here he confuses a political statement by a Minister, as a politician, with a diplomatic position of the government or the Foreign Ministry. Perhaps the said Minister must have given a necessary warning. Ministers have every right to do so considering the political way some of the diplomats are behaving in Sri Lanka. Godage himself thinks that the matter warranted calling the Ambassador to the Ministry and at least questioning him. Then why does he grumble? Godage, preaches about the ‘internal procedure,’ as if no one in the Ministry knows about it.

The following is Godage’s strange ‘diplomatic’ mindset. “This public statement, in the first instance, would have angered not only the Ambassador but more importantly his government, which, if the Minister does not know it, is along with France, the engine of the 27 Member European Union. it is reported currently holds the Presidency of the EU and action against the German Ambassador would be construed also as an act against the EU” (My emphasis on amusing words only).

The above is how Godage creates again a mountain out of a molehill, after himself recommending ‘internal procedure’ against the German Ambassador! There is considerable fear psychosis about the West in Godage’s recommended diplomacy. He concludes, “Any action against any EU diplomat will not be without adverse consequences for us.”

Diplomacy of Small Nations

Godage’s article raises several questions in respect of diplomacy of a small and a third world nation. As a small or a poor nation, of course Sri Lanka cannot behave like the US or India in trying to dictate terms even to a smaller country like Maldives. That is political realism or realpolitik. That should not be our approach anyway, small or big.

But in respect of defending the interests of the country and the people, we should be equal to any other nation. This is a right given by the UN Charter. The Charter affirms “in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small” in the Preamble, and Article 2 (1) guarantees that “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members” (My emphasis), not to speak of many other international instruments.

Submissive diplomacy only would generate laugh and dismissal. Small nations have effectively shown dignified diplomacy dealing with ‘big powers’ in pursuing their interests in both political and economic spheres. Belgium is an example from the West, while Singapore has been exemplary in the East. A senior US diplomat told me once that ‘the problem with your diplomats is that they don’t clearly express their minds, and they want us to fulfill them nevertheless.’

Harry Dexter White, who was the chief US negotiator at Bretton Woods once said: “Where modern diplomacy calls for swift and bold action, we engage in long drawn-out cautious negotiations…where we should be dealing with all embracing economic, political and social problems, we discuss minor trade objectives, or small national advantages...”

He further said: “We must substitute, before it is too late, imagination for tradition; generosity for shrewdness; understanding for bargaining; toughness for caution; and wisdom for prejudice” (My emphasis). Of course some of the terms he used were specific to the American context. We may not afford toughness, for example. But replacing ‘imagination for mere tradition’ or pursuing ‘swift and bold action’ is equally valid for us. What is underscored in White’s statement is the difference between ‘old diplomacy’ and ‘new diplomacy.’

The final remark that I wish to make is that Kalyananda Godage should not try to discredit the country or our diplomatic efforts just because he has now retired. His utterances may betray his role when he was serving as a diplomat.

Professor Laksiri Fernando is former Secretary for Asia/Pacific, World University Service, Geneva (1984-1991) and former Executive Director, Diplomacy Training Program, University of New South Wales (1995-97), after Jose Ramos-Horta, the current President of East Timor.

- Asian Tribune -

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