( March 25, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Now is the time to come to the aid of the country is the rallying call today in this internationally besieged island. We too are all for it but being cynics we do so with reservations. Our inspiration is that arch rationalist and cynic, Bertrand Russell who had reservations on unlimited patriotism. ‘I will not die for my country because my country may be wrong,’ he declared. Such thoughts resulted in this British aristocrat, philosopher and mathematician being jailed twice during World War 1 for his opposition to the war. We are not as heroic as Russell and certainly have no desire to emulate him and go behind bars but will certainly go along with his doubts about a country’s infallibility on decisions made on war.
| by Gamini Weerakoon
The New Cold War
Our doubts are not about the military victory of three years ago but the ongoing Cold War which has raged since then between the mighty Western powers and Sri Lanka. ‘Our life for our country right or wrong’, seems to be the prevalent mood among people south of Vavuniya and if you are not with the masses you are a traitor is the verdict. There are many people shouting from the roof tops about shedding their last drop of blood but all that could be in vain. In this Cold War between the mighty West and Sri Lanka, have decisions taken by the country – rather the Rajapaksa government that is in power – been always correct? The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the Western powers led by America which lasted for over half century was not a military conflict but a war of words – propaganda and diplomacy. The fact that Sri Lanka is in the dock is an indication of the way in which this Cold War went. The remaining LTTE rump together with the West triumphed. We are much saddened by the outcome at Geneva on Thursday. But in this moment of sorrow the task should not be to bash scapegoats but to find out the reasons for losing our Cold War.
Searching For A Scapegoat
A determined effort is being made in certain quarters to make the Minister of Foreign Affairs Prof. G. L. Peiris a scapegoat for foreign policy failures. The intellectual capacity of Prof. Pieris is well known but he seems to be supervised and lorded over by some who are not even qualified to be his students. It is well known that every minister is the creation of the ‘El Presidente’, working to his dictates and the professor is no exception. Why is the professor being singled out now? Is outstanding intelligence and academic distinction a disqualification in the present political set up where such qualities are sadly lacking? Propaganda is too vast a subject to be taken on in this column but let uss consider the issues of foreign affairs and diplomacy. During this Rajapaksa regime, the Presidential Secretariat virtually took over running the foreign affairs of this country with the Foreign Ministry being converted to the abode of the baggage boys and girls even though they are members of the foreign service.
Foreign Service servicing riff-raff
Members of the foreign service, the career diplomats, are supposed to be those well versed in the arts of diplomacy. In the world over those chosen for the service have special talents, the basic objective being to win friends and influence people. There are those who enter from other ranks but these persons too are those with outstanding qualities. Sri Lanka had been blessed with some such outside the foreign service such as Shirley Amerasinghe and Neville Kanakaratne. Shirley Amerasinghe was the first Chairman of the Law of the Sea Conference and when the then UNP government did not nominate him for a second term, the United Nations on its own re-nominated Amerasinghe! Neville Kanakaratne was another outsider, a lawyer who shone for Sri Lanka. We have personally observed him at work in New Delhi when most countries were sending their intellectually best equipped diplomats to the Indian capital. This diminutive Sri Lankan sparkled New Delhi by his sheer eloquence and was the toast of the town. He, at that time, became the most wanted public speaker in New Delhi according to most diplomats. Sri Lankans resident in New Delhi told us that they were indeed proud to have him as their High Commissioner. Such was the quality of our diplomats. But over the years friends, relations, cronies and undesirables crept into the service. It was a gradual process and with a separate Foreign Ministry being created – earlier it was called the Ministry of External Affairs under the Prime Minister, the head of state – the accumulation of riff-raff accelerated.
A valiant effort was made by Lakshman Kadirgamar to resuscitate the service. Indeed Sri Lanka’s best performance came during his tenure of office under President Chandrika Kumaratunga who apparently gave him a free hand. The proscription of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation by Western nations came at his time and it was he who brought to the notice of the world the deployment of children in war. Even the standards of the recruits improved vastly but with the sad demise of Kadirgamar that golden chapter came to a close. The Rajapaksa regime has taken the foreign service to its lowest depths. The list of appointments of heads of missions reveals it all. First cousins, other cousins, cronies of all varieties who certainly did not have the foggiest idea of diplomacy are now ensconced in our chanceries around the world. Ambassadors in the most important capitals such as Washington, New York, London, Berlin, Paris, Tokyo and Canberra are all political appointments. One or two of these political appointments can be justified but the rest are plain riff-raff. What they are doing is perhaps revealed in the debacle that took place in Geneva.
The Rajapaksas must also be credited with opening a new chapter: Militarisation of the foreign service. This is in keeping with the militarisation of the Colombo Municipal Council services such as scavenging. A perusal on the Internet of the list of Heads of Sri Lankan missions revealed that at least five important missions are headed by Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals! These gentlemen have no doubt served the country well in the battlefield and may be honourable men but in the context of the times such appointments are counter productive to the objectives of Sri Lankan diplomacy. Today, it is well known that these ‘war heroes’ are targeted by the Tamil diaspora quite often backed by leading politicians in those countries including ruling party politicians. The ire directed against them is very much contrary to the basic objective of sending out diplomats: To make friends and influence people. A typical example is General Shavendra Silva who is now in New York as the Deputy Head of Mission at the UN. He is being subject to the ferocity not only of LTTE sympathisers but diplomats supposedly holding liberal views. He has been prevented from addressing a forum for which he was elected by an Asian regional group by the Chairperson of the forum! Certainly it is unfair by Gen. Silva but does his presence at the UN contribute to the interests of Sri Lanka? Gen. Silva we are told is quite a pleasing personality and deserves state honours but is the government contributing to his advancement or embarrassing him? Is the objective of appointing military officers as diplomats to capitals of leading Western countries an attempt by Sri Lanka to convey the message to these nations that we do not give a damn to their humanitarian hypocrisy? If so it is a wrong and misleading message that is being sent. Those in the Presidential Secretariat guiding or misguiding foreign policy should recall the homily: A diplomat is a person who can tell a person to go to hell and make him believe that it is a wonderful place to go to.