A Dangerous Game?

| by Tisaranee Gunasekara
“Life is gradually getting myopic…”
Joseph Brodsky (Allenby Road)
( November 6, 2014, Colombo. Sri Lanka Guardian) Why would Lankan military need
a war gaming centre?
Why did Sri Lanka refuse to sign the resolution condemning nuclear weapons-use, for
the second consecutive year?

The war with the LTTE is over. Sri Lanka has no land border, nor any external
enemies. Given these fortuitous circumstances, war games should have been the last
thing on Colombo’s agenda.
But a state of the art Joint War Gaming Centre was recently opened by Gotabhaya
Rajapaksa at Sapugaskanda. According to the Defence Ministry website, this War
Gaming Centre “was a long felt need for the apex military training establishment in the
country…. (It has) six syndicate rooms, two state of the art auditoriums, two model
rooms and an office complex for directing staff”. The participants in the current
politico-military simulation course include Lankan military officers, an SLAF officer

and “16 international officers from Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives,
Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Rwanda, Senegal and Vietnam” .
Is this just an expensive toy to keep the massive military happily occupied? Or is this
another indication of the dangerous course Sri Lanka is on, under Rajapaksa rule?
As the Friday Forum pointed out in its recent statement, Colombo’s refusal to sign the
annual resolution against nuclear weapons (presented to the First Committee of the
UN General Assembly) marks a radical departure from traditional Lankan positions.
The resolution is not against the peaceful use of nuclear energy but against nuclear
weapons. Why would Sri Lanka not support such a resolution?
The Rajapaksa project is a transformative one. It is premised on a new worldview, a
new commonsense which is anti-democratic and anti-pluralist. Just as the Rajapaksas
build alliances internally with like-minded forces and entities, they are doing so
regionally and internationally as well. The appointment of Rajapaksa kith and kin to
every embassy and high commission is attention-grabbing, but it is not the real story.
The real story is how Lankan foreign policy is being transformed to dovetail with
Rajapaksa interests.
The Rajapaksa foreign policy is an adjunct of the Rajapaksa agenda of familial rule and
dynastic succession. Its main aim is to create an international support structure not for
Sri Lanka but for the Rajapaksa regime, using the country’s strategic position as a
bargaining counter. And to gain their objectives Rajapaksas are willing to use the sort
of methods and run the kind of risks which less unscrupulous/more rational
administrations would be unwilling even to contemplate.
For instance, in January/February 2013, Australian media revealed that “A SENIOR
Sri Lankan government official is suspected by Australian authorities of being
personally “complicit” in the people-smuggling trade … Australia’s intelligence
agencies have identified the official, who has a high profile and is known to be close to
President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The agencies believe he is responsible for authorising
numerous boats in the past 10 months, fuelling the surge of asylum-seekers from Sri
Lanka…” This tactic seemed to have worked. The new right-wing government of Tony
Abbot adopted a policy of unconditional support for the Rajapaksas, obviously in
return for a pledge to actually clamp down on ‘boat people’.
Building an international safety-net for familial rule is one key objective of Rajapaksa
foreign policy. The other key objective is to gain international recognition, to become
somebodies on the global stage. Rajapaksa megalomania does not stop on the shores of
Sri Lanka; the Siblings crave to become regional and international players as well. That

is why the regime offers to host as many international political and sports events as
possible, even if doing so bring little or no benefit to Sri Lanka as a country.
It is not for nothing that a favourite official accolade for Mahinda Rajapaksa is ‘The
Leader who conquered the World’.
Sri Lanka’s spurious ‘entry’ to the ‘club of satellite owning nations’ is a manifestation
of this megalomania. So is the abiding Rajapaksa desire to have its own peaceful
nuclear programme. During the Ahmadinejad years, Iran reportedly offered Sri Lanka
uranium-enrichment technology to set up a peaceful nuclear programme. This offer
seems to have fallen by the wayside with the ascension of the more moderate President
Rouhani. India made an offer of help, under the previous Congress administration, but
the Siblings were uninterested. Perhaps they felt that Delhi cannot be trusted, or will
have too many conditions.
The Rajapaksas are believers in unlimited power; might is their god. Their need to go
nuclear is at least partly motivated by their desire to acquire regional and international
muscle. Given this outlook, they may prefer to go nuclear with the help of a likeminded friend, someone with a similar disregard for democratic freedoms and human
rights, such as Pakistan or China. With such a friend, the Rajapaksas will not have to
bother overmuch about parliamentary oversight, media investigations or laws.
Nuclear power and impunity – what an unbeatable combination!
China’s Pearl?
A new row is brewing between India and Sri Lanka over the second docking of a
Chinese attack-submarine in Colombo.
The first docking happened in September, when the Indian president was visiting
Vietnam. “In a recent report, Wall Street Journal described the Chinese submarine
fleet as Beijing’s most significant military challenge in the region. And for them to
surface at Lankan ports brings alive some of New Delhi’s worst fears of China’s
expanding presence in India’s neighbourhood.”
India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval reportedly warned Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
“that any presence of a Chinese submarine in Sri Lanka would be unacceptable to
India” .
Just a month later, the Rajapaksas permitted a second Chinese submarine,
Changzheng 2 and accompanying warship Chang Xing Dao, to dock in Colombo.
One does not need Sibylline-capacities to surmise that the Modi administration must

be outraged and insulted. Delhi will feel the need to do something, so that it does not
seem utterly powerless: “The government is now left with no option but to look upon
Lanka’s defiance as ‘inimical’ to India’s interest” . China’s dismissal of Indian concern
with the argument that the visit was a normal one may have made matters worse for
Sri Lanka.
China has said that it is not building any military bases in Sri Lanka. Perhaps it does
not have to. Beijing’s modus operandi might be otherwise - lending money to
build/expand ports in return for controlling stakes. For instance China has been
granted operating rights to four berths in Hambantota, outside tender procedure .
Thus the ports will remain civilian installations, used by China as military service
stations and for other military purposes.
The new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, set up under Chinese aegis, will
cement this relationship still further. The bank will ensure “easy access to
unconditional credit but at a higher interest rate” . A more effective way to obtain
Rajapaksa compliance cannot be imagined.
The Rajapaksas regard the world beyond Sri Lanka with growing trepidation, feeling
menaced by Western insistence on human rights. They might believe that the safety of
their rule lies in acquiring capacities and friends which can keep Western pressure at
bay. A more militarised foreign policy might help Rajapaksa rule, but for Sri Lanka it
can be the road to unnecessary enmities and avoidable conflicts.
1. http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?

2. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/blow-to-asylumbattle-as-intelligence-links-sri-lankan-official-to-smugglers/story-fn9hm1gu1226566319961#mm-premium
3. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Sri-Lanka-snubs-India-opens-portto-Chinese-submarine-again/articleshow/45008757.cms
4. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Chinas-submarine-in-Sri-Lankainimical-to-Indias-interests-govt-infuriated/articleshow/45025487.cms
5. ibid
6. http://ibnlive.in.com/news/china-defends-its-submarines-making-port-callsin-sri-lanka/510437-3.html
7. http://www.sundaytimes.lk/141019/news/china-gets-controlling-stake-athambantota-port-123262.html
8. http://www.sundaytimes.lk/141102/news/aiib-to-rival-wb-adb-loans-with-no-

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