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Friday, 5 July 2013

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That edge, in diplomacy

One of the foremost expressions of a country’s sovereignty in the realm of ‘internationalism’ would be its ability to successfully conduct foreign relations with other sovereign countries without being subject to the direction of an external entity. The manner in which a government approaches the subject of foreign relations will give indications of how its ‘diplomacy’ is formulated. Post-war Sri Lanka has seen notable emphasis on means and measures being explored to equip and execute effective ‘diplomacies’ to meet the needs of the plans being mapped out by the present government under the direction of the Mahinda Chinthana manifesto. I use the term ‘diplomacies’ since the many facets of foreign relations require different approaches be devised by a government depending on the needs of its national programme.

Defence diplomacy is one such avenue on which relations between countries can be strengthened. The regular training scholarships granted to military personnel to the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy in UK and West point Military Academy in USA are examples just as much as joint military exercises and goodwill visits can also be seen as routine functions of a country’s defence diplomacy in practice. In the recent past conferences and forums held under the auspices of the present Defence Secretary that attracted notable overseas participation to learn from the Sri Lankan Armed Forces on the strategies devised to defeat a militia that practiced jungle based guerrilla warfare can be seen as defence diplomacy developed with more specific objectives contextualised within a specific government plan and policy integrated to the larger policy of foreign relations taken in the broader spectrum.

University programmes

Effective trade diplomacy is perhaps quite a need of the hour to meet the present government plans to address economic needs of the people and to serve as a mechanism to help the government reach its development objectives in partnership with friendly States. When dealing with international bodies like the World Trade Organisation what a government needs in my opinion, in the context of trade at an international level of dealing, are persons who are equipped with expertise that should include current up to date knowledge on the subject and the structural functioning of the organisation within whose forums they are required to ‘play the game’, effective negotiation skills as well as the ‘finesse’ that characterises the quintessential ‘trained diplomat’ whose poise and amiability would contribute favourably in the process of interpersonal communication.


Security Forces personnel

Effective machinery to carry out successful operations in the sphere of diplomacy may come at a rather handsome price. But it is in my opinion an investment that a government must make in its path to a holistic development of a country’s image and capacity, to successfully engage external parties, be they sovereign States or international bodies. In this context of ‘investment’ what I would opine is strategic expenditure to enrich the ‘human capital’ which puts into action Sri Lanka’s foreign relations on a daily basis.

Academically speaking the subject of International Relations does not equate to the subject of Diplomacy. To the best of my knowledge the only Masters in International Relations is offered by the University of Colombo. When it comes to degrees in Diplomacy Sri Lanka is yet to develop one at either basic degree level or at the level of graduate studies.

To the best of my knowledge, one of the very best university programmes in Diplomacy available today is offered by the Fletcher School of the University of Tufts in Boston, USA. Their Master of Arts of International Law and Diplomacy (MALD) is one of the most competitive in the world. Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Ministry will no doubt benefit immensely if for a certain period of time a young candidate or two from the diplomatic corps could be selected successively for several years to be enrolled through a government funded scholarship in programmes of the calibre of the MALD of Fletcher School in order to build up a cadre that would eventually be in a position to develop an internal training unit for future career diplomats. Our larger academic fraternity too would benefit immeasurably with new cutting edge knowledge tools entering university curricula through such qualified persons if given the opportunity to impart their knowledge as visiting lecturers in perhaps graduate studies programmes.

International languages

Another focus area to invest to better our arsenal in the diplomatic corps would be to streamline young members of the Foreign Service into groups for specialisation in some key international languages. Sri Lanka is generally comfortable viewing the world through an Anglophone window. But the importance of diversifying and developing specialist expertise in linguistics to enrich our External Ministry’s human capital forming the Overseas Service cannot be overstated in my opinion.

There is a principally Spanish speaking world to which belongs the Latin American quarter abundant with vast natural resources. There is a Francophone world as much as an Anglophone one.

There are some notable efforts underway to build Afro-Lankan solidarity under the auspices of President Rajapaksa at present. And what may be food for thought is that a significant number of African countries are former French colonies which would form part of the francophone world. As to whether there is yet, linguistically speaking, a ‘sinophone’ world, I do not know, but the need for fluent mandarin speaking Sri Lankan diplomats may become evident in the near future. And, for a diplomat, one of the primary tools needed in his trade is effective speech and language skills.

A country’s ‘public face’ in the context of globalism can be dependent on the machinery available to effectively carry out the tasks of the External Affairs Ministry. Futuristic, investments made today to enrich the human capital that puts into effect our foreign policy at the level of planning and implementation will, in my opinion, yield immense dividends for our country, and surely carry Sri Lanka towards unprecedented heights of development.

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