The Sunday Leader

Changing Perspectives At The Foreign Ministry

By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

Over the last few weeks, it has become clear that our international relations need improvement. Some elements in the West seem annoyed with us and determined to criticise us. Various reasons are offered for this, though one of the most preposterous that floated around in the past is now dead.
This is that the West was really very fond of us but Dayan Jayatilleka engaged in megaphone diplomacy in Geneva and alienated them.

Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka

How that theory developed is well worth studying, and that may help us in working out what a sensible foreign policy should include. Equally important is the study of how exactly our Mission in Geneva dealt with the threat presented over several sessions of the Human Rights Council. The manner in which Dayan built up a coalition of principle, encompassing almost all countries in Asia, and most of those in the Middle East, Africa and South America, must be an example to all those involved in multilateral relations in the future.
One of the canards spread about Dayan was that he was hostile to the West. Compared to many individuals in the Foreign Ministry at the time, this was true, because he was not subservient to the West. In one sense one can understand, if not approve of, such subservience at a time when Western hegemony seemed assured. But, since that no longer obtains, the West is more nervous than it used to be, and is therefore inclined to engage in more adventurism than it thought essential a few years back.
What many of those who claim to understand foreign relations ignored completely is the fact that in foreign relations, self interest is all. While pretenses of morality are often proffered, these must necessarily be subordinated to national interest. Unfortunately, in the last couple of decades, that national interest also includes indulgence, as far as many Western countries are concerned, to the demands of an extremely sophisticated and well-endowed Tamil diaspora that had adopted the position that the LTTE was the only answer to Tamil problems.
The philosophy Dayan adopted, which is both practical and moral, is to accept that there were Tamil problems, which required resolution. This has been criticised by some, not only on chauvinist grounds (which are obviously destructive of attempts to win hearts and minds abroad, and hence of the country), but also on the less narrow but equally foolish principle that admitting to a fault is conclusively damning. On the contrary, acknowledging errors, particularly the errors that led to there being such a large and bitter Diaspora, is the only way to ensure that the more sensible elements among them will refrain from relentless opposition.
Secondly, Dayan tried to understand the roots of the hostility towards us on the part of several countries. Where it was based on prejudice, he had no qualms about exposing this. But he also realised that in many instances it was based on misconceptions. He therefore ensured regular interactions so that information could be conveyed and queries answered. He also engaged actively with all countries and all regional groupings, whereas many of our traditional diplomats confine themselves to intellectual discourse, where they are able to engage in this, only with what they see as influential countries.
Thirdly, he was prompt and sharp about deliberate distortions. This came home to me when a member of his team in Geneva, long lost to us unfortunately, asked why so many days had passed without Navi Pillay’s recent harsh critique of Sri Lanka being answered. He reminded us of how forcefully we had dealt with Louise Arbour when she exceeded her brief, and it struck me that it was most regrettable that there had not been a prompt response to Ms. Pillay as Dayan would have ensured. It is simply not good enough to claim that we should ignore her, because what Ms. Pillay says is taken seriously, and can be used against us if not promptly rebutted.
The type of delay we see now has occurred in other areas too. When Dayan was in Geneva we replied promptly to queries from UN Special Procedures, and this was registered positively in their Reports. In the last couple of years replies have not been sent at all. For instance I believe Philip Alston’s last misleading report on what his experts found was not countered, except in a press conference. This is a pity, because what is said to the press may satisfy our own predilections, but is no substitute for solid argument. Being incapable of presenting solid arguments is no reason to keep quiet, because it is always possible to call in assistance to deal with unfair attacks.
Another area in which the Foreign Ministry has proved weak is its failure to object formally to improprieties. I saw a sad example of this when the former Canadian High Commissioner interfered outrageously with our internal problems. Despite requests, the Foreign Ministry failed to call in the lady to question her about her conduct. Similarly, they ought now to check on what UN officials were doing in advocating a War Crimes Tribunal at a meeting organised by the American ambassador. But even if they do it, it will be done so late that possible adverse effects will not be easily averted.
In the earlier case, it was clear to me that the Foreign Ministry failed to study the situation, and work out what was going on. This is symptomatic of a dispensation that believes simply responding to crises is adequate, and that does not engage in research and informed discussion to identify trends, use them if possible and combat them if necessary.
It also fails to engage in monitoring of the ground situation in areas for which it is responsible. A few years back for instance, I found the Foreign Ministry had no idea as to the Projects being engaged in by, an NGO with whom they had a Memorandum of Understanding. They started by being cross with me for intervening, but soon granted that they had done no monitoring at all.
One problem in dealing with such issues is the absence of a culture of responsibility in most ministries in the country. Young staff – of whom there are several very bright examples in the Ministry – are inhibited from exercising initiative. In this regard I have long advocated solid training for staff, not only in understanding the world as it is now, but in reading and understanding reports, and reflecting on possible motives and possible results with regard to external input into Sri Lanka.
We cannot blame the Ministry alone for this lack of training, since institutions that should be the cutting edge in such exercises, do not engage in research or sustained analysis. Lakshman Kadirgamar tried to revive the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, but after his death it reverted to being simply a small scale educational institute, while the less said about the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute the better, given that it seems to have done hardly anything useful ever (except for providing premises for the LLRC, which is a welcome initiative but has nothing to do with the LKIIS).
The point is, the Ministry must now realise the need for greater professionalism, greater understanding of the world, and greater skills in argument and analysis and presentation, if we are to achieve our goals as conclusively as Dayan did, way back in 2009 in Geneva. The new Secretary has shown himself active and decisive, which says much for the essential caliber of our officials, when they are not fulfilling what they think is the agenda of more powerful countries. With luck this will be the prelude to the reforms we so sorely need.

16 Comments for “Changing Perspectives At The Foreign Ministry”

  1. Nirmali Hendawitharana

    Both Rajiva and Dayan (products of the Church) are foxes in sheep clothes. They are not promoting the Sinhala Buddhist hegamony. They foolishly and arrogantly criticise the west to our country’s disadvantage and create more enemies for us. I hope these two faces will dissappear from the Sri Lankan political scene, but I know it will not be the case until this impotent President is gone for ever

    • srilankan

      WHY SHOULD THEY??we live in 21st century..don’t mix religion and politics..

      politics is there to serve people of srilanka no matter what their religion is and no matter if they belong to majority or minority..

      people like you with cheap ideologies and mind is the reason why SWRD made a huge mess which led to 63 years of agony,which still continues today..

  2. Simple Sydney

    I thought its the Sinhala Buddhist groups like JHU , NFF who are virulent critics of the west. But why bring religion into this mix and complicate issues further.

  3. Realist

    Why talk of professionalism when the President is omniscient and has taken over all power to appoint officlals. Are they not criticisng the President for making bad appointments? As for Nirmali, yes these gentlemen still have the guts to cirticise and criticise intelligently without being paranoid, while the others are silently bootkicking . May be their religion gives them this strength. Does one have to be a Buddhist to be trusted? Where does Sinhala Buddhist hegemony come in, in a pluralist democracy.

  4. Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Well, “sheep clothes” are better than cheap clothes, I suppose…unless you mean a sheepskin jacket.

  5. Rohan Perera

    Dayan was brilliant in Geneva. He was replaced by a foolish, party lady who thinks that substance could be replaced by giddy behaviour. Rajiva quite correctly, sums this up. The West will never be satisfied with what the Sri Lankan authorities do, even if all their demands were met, the very next day they will find a new set of demands! Dayan had created a good support base for Sri Lanka, unfortunately with his unceremonial exit, thanks to the insecurity of our small minded leaders, our friends in the international community were left in the lurch to search for faux friends in the west. This is the diplomacy conducted by the Diplomatic Queen! Fortunately, curtains have fallen on her act! We can only hope that the powers will wake up and send Dayan to Geneva to stop this nonsense.

    • Rohan Perera Seems another Dayan stooges hired to praising him but knows nothing of Diplomacy. If he thinks FOGHORN diplomacy will help, God save Sri lanka. Rajiva is as usual loking up and spitting on his own face. Being in
      the same govt he is critising the foreign minister and his ministry. Had he any decency or loyalty he should have spoken to the minister direct instead of cheap publicity. Whether the advice of this “PISSA” will be headed is another matter

  6. Seems like Prof. Rajiva is still aspiring for the foreign Ministership which he so desperately lobbied for!
    Rajiva’s comments are deceiving and heaped with dishonesty. Of course an ambassador needs to take on the bias but it need not be by screaming from the pulpit and projecting the country as an outpost of some communist called fidel castro. I for one does not take kindly a sri Lankan ambassador casting my country as a great fan, of all people – castro!. Many of us in the private sector think the damage such verbous so-called diplomacy has done great damage to the country. Many of our principles used to ask at the time ‘couldn’t your government do this quietly so that we do not have serious objections being raised inside our company for doing business with you?’
    NO it was not Dayan’s ‘fine arguments’( to be read as – loud mouth verbosity) that got Sri Lanka the support in the Human rights committee. It just did a hell of a lot of damage to the country not least to the comfort level of foreign partners doing business. Don’t forget the private sector drives this economy and pays the salaries! Yes of the learned Prof and the Ambassador too.
    The reason countries supported Sri Lanka was their plain self-interest. They were mostly the pariahs in the human rights and had not somehow into the council. Had the resolution gone through, these countries themselves were in trouble!! So Prof. Rajiva really would have us believe that Ambassador Dayan(the MAN!!!) convinced a majority of the committee and GOVERNMENTS(!) to betray their own self-interest and support Sri Lanka! Phew! The Prof’s dishonesty is an insult to this readership – period. Of course Dayans verbosity served the local headlines and egos of politicians very well.
    Perhaps Prof. Rajiva chooses to forget that while many, like him, were in the cool climes of London, in air-conditioned offices of the British Council(remember?) and sipping whisky & wine and smoking cigars at liberal party do’s, there were others who were doing some hard work in getting the terrorists banned. There are many of those I believe at the foreign ministry. These were no mean tasks really achieved and there was no loud mouth verbosity.
    And as we all recall, while the ‘learned’ Prof. was the head of the human rights ministry he messed up(big time boy!) by writing some crap to the UN which letter had to be embarrassingly withdrawn by the President. And the Prof. is sitting in judgement now on professionalism with his pseudo intellectualism. He should have practiced then the professionalism which he is pontificating now.

    • The above article has summed up the nutty professor. Another aspect i would like to add is, that while being in the goverment he is critising one of his own ministers and ministries in public instead of resolving the issue with the person concerned. For what reason he seeks cheap publicity
      promoting fog horn diplomacy is strange, considering Dayan was un ceremoniously thrown out of Geneva for straining relations with friendly nations. It is also sad that Rajiva is making baseless alligations against the ministry due to his ignorence of the happenings there. May be because the officials at the ministry are adhering to proper diplomatic practice and not playing to the gallery like him or he is still smarting over not being allowed in there.

  7. Rajakaruna

    Here we go again.. Tweedledum praising Tweedledee..these two Rottweiler diplomats have much to do with Sri lanka’s current plight.. by the way isn’t Prof. Wijesinghe a member of the government..when he talks of professionalism of the foreign ministry what is the message he’s giving here by criticizing an arm of the same administration he’s part of..is that professionalism? if he’s actually interested in professionalism he should use his current office in government to change these things internally.

  8. pj

    Anyone who have had the opportunity of listening to Prof.Rajeeva at the UN Human Rights council more than one time, shall always think that Diplomacy means…”Always lying” !! For, Rajeeva is the Godfather of Joseph Goebbels !!

  9. Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    C’mon folks, why not engage with what Rajiva says, and criticize it if needs be, rather than imputing motivations? As for the speculation of some that Rajiva is “promoting” me for Geneva, doesn’t that assume that I would accept it if offered…? The question simply does not arise, and my friend Prof Wijesinha, an indispensable partner in the battle of Geneva, the results of which the Darusman Report recommendations hope to reverse, knows this full well. Having declined the offer ambassadorship in Tokyo, made in November 2009, I am fairly selective about what I accept. I have absolutely no intention whatsoever of accepting any kind of posting or role in Geneva, even of a caretaker sort as speculated upon in the press. If an appropriate successor (and the name mentioned in the press as having been selected by GoSL falls into this category) were to request my assistance in any manner, I would of course be willing to chip in, if possible.

  10. Samuel

    Rajiv should send this article to the president so that he may be appointed to oversee the Ministry of External Affairs in place of Sajin Vass Gunawardena.

  11. Sunil Jayawardene

    There are two egotistic pseudo intelectuals, Rajiv Wijesinghe and Dayan Jayatilleke who will suck up to any govt in power to get any crumbs given to them such as diplomatic postings, to enrich their pockets and egos. These guys are parasites. They have no self respect and will sell the good name of our country for a pittance.. What have they achieved?to promote Srl i Lanka’s name in Internationak forums? Nothing but scorn. They have antanganized the west.,supported Terrorist regimes and dictators and write a lot of verbiose crap to satsfy their masters. . The days of a great Sr Lankan foreign service
    are gone. Men of great calbre such as Sir Senerat Guneardene,{who was the first Permanent Rep To the UN. and First Sri Lankan chairman of the Human rights Commission} G. P. Malalasekera. , Si calude Corea, Shirley Amarasinghe, and in recent times Dhanapala are examples of brilliant diplomats. The present foreign minister of course Mr Peiris is a real slimy double dealing untrustworty digrace. His father good ole Glany Peiris was such a decent honest diplomat and civil servant. He must be turning in his grave to see his sons antics,

  12. RP

    What is our great obsession with pleasing the West? Why should they feel antagonised for pursuing an independent foreign policy? Does that mean Sri Lanka should have taken good advice of the West and assisted the LTTE leadership make an honourable exit? While they send OBL to the bottom of the sea?

  13. Shiva

    Dayan Jeyatilleka is a Sinhala and an agent of the Rajapakse regime and hence, he should speak or write in support of this alleged war criminal regime.

    The International Community and Western nations are not a bunch of fools and now Jeyalalitha has won the elections in Tamil Nadu who previously demanded for separate state for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Even after the elections, Selvi Jeyalalitha has demanded the Indian government to declare Rajapakse as a War Criminal for the genocide of Tamils and to help taking Rajapakse to stand trail for war crimes at the International Court.

    These are interesting developments, Channel 4 TV broadcasts on evidences of war crimes, progressive Sinhala people who sold the evidence of war crimes and willing to provide evidence of war crimes are towards ending state terror and family rule in Sri Lanka.

    Tamil Nadu people have voted to end the Family corrupt rule in Tamil Nadu and it is time for the Sinhala people to have a silent revolution to bring an end to the alleged war criminal Rajapakse regime that help to bring peace and stability to Sri Lanka.

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