15 April 2012

The crisis in diplomacy

Diplomacy is supposed to be a profession, an activity or skill of managing international relations, usually by a country’s representatives abroad.  ‘Manage’ is a tricky word, though, pregnant with diplo-speak if you will.  It is essentially about securing advantage, and safeguarding and furthering interests without rupturing relations.
Some countries, if they have guns and bucks, have the inside edge in these matters and can get away with anything, murder included.  Some machinations by some have to be treated with grin-and-bear by some others.  That’s what international political economy is about.  Some arm-twist, some wince and say ‘thank you’. 
So when Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State sends an Avurudu message about democracy and human rights, it is not about either but about having bucks and guns to say the most outrageous things.  It’s the same principle that was evident in the ‘diplomatic’ moves of the Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka with respect to the ‘abduction’ of Premakumar Gunaratnam alias Kumar Mahattaya alias Ratnayake Mudiyanselage Dayalal alias Noel Mudalige.

Now the Government’s version of the incident and its shy-making regarding abductions hardly hold water and most certainly make embarrassing reading regarding the law and order situation.  While one can be sympathetic about the difficulties of governing a country that is under threat from within and without, it must be mentioned that no one, least of all politicians, expects running a country to be easy.  Politicians benefit. Enormously.  If managing difficulties is a price to pay then it must be paid.  One would say it’s a ‘small price’, all things considered, except that securing the benefits directly and negatively impacts governability, not to mention that it severely compromises law and order. 
In short, while the government finds itself divested of several headaches, the explanations have generated more questions than answers.  Fortunately for the government, Gunaratnam’s apparent penchant for cloak-dagger politics has not resulted in any public sympathy for the man or his party.  The script, if there was one, has been played to perfection; a thorn has been removed and a potentially disruptive political gathering has had its coming-out party pooped.  Complicity in the ‘un-thorning’ seems apparent and that can only boost the enemies of the Government, here and abroad, especially in the context of the kind of ‘diplomacy’ that took place in Geneva last month. 

What is more interesting, however, is the moves by the Australian High Commission, moves that are best understood if boot was on the other foot.  Imagine an Australian leaving the country under suspicious circumstances including need to evade arrest, violating  all immigration regulations, obtaining citizenship in Sri Lanka, then re-entering Australia, overstaying his visa, and launching a political party along with others who are associated with a political party that has an insurrectionary history.  Imagine the Sri Lankan High Commission being privy to his operations and knowing that he used various aliases.  Need we say more about how flat or otherwise global politics is?   

It is in the context of these realities that Sri Lanka cannot afford anything less that utmost professionalism from her diplomatic corps.  We can’t have bickering.  We can’t have braggadocio.  We can’t play the blaming game about a game which was scripted in ways that we just could not win.  We can’t have ambassadors who are more interested in self-aggrandizing.  We can’t have people batting for India or the USA or some other country.  We can’t continue to have political appointees running our missions abroad.  There must be strict guidelines about what is ok and what’s not.   Above all, there must be a cogent policy.   That policy must be informed by national interest, first and foremost, and be crafted in securing the best possible outcomes in a power-skewed world where we don’t call the shots. 

The bottom line, however, is that if the national house is not in order, then international moves can only be expected to flounder.  The ‘National House’ has a king post called Constitution and is made of law, order, institutional safeguards that ensure accountability and transparency and so on.  That ‘base’ is shaky and has been so for decades.  The Government can no longer postpone repairs.  The people cannot afford that work to be outsourced. 
Reactions:

7 comments:

Kamal rajapakse said...

We have not heard even a murmur during the last few years from the government about President wanting to bring constitutional reforms. National house is crumbling in front of his eyes and the government have failed miserably to preserve law and order.It is high time that the President consider seriously restoring the independence of the judiciary and appoint police,elections and public service commissions to restore the integrity of these services.

Upasiri de Silva said...

What Malinda has stated hear about Law & Order and the abduction of Noel Mudalige is very correct. But The American and Australian Diplomats never try to use their guns or the money to get the attention of the Sri Lankan government, because they use the most professional diplomacy to convince the government , but as Mahinda and Gotabaya is trying to cheat the masses they cannot understand the diplomacy the foreign Ambassadors use. This clearly shows how we are lagging behind the develop countries when we handle a situation of this nature to gain respect from those countries. This incident clearly indicate that Sri Lankan government lost the credibility in resolving a International problem. I thank Malinda for writing on this issue at the proper time.

Anonymous said...

“While one can be sympathetic about the difficulties of governing a country that is under threat from within and without……. Cited from the original article, one can also be skeptical about the weakened diplomacy of the GoSL as this tactic also can serve the purpose only within a given time period. A decent government cannot survive merely on sympathy of people during its tenure.
When the GoSL killed over 10,000 youths in Sri Lanka during the JVP insurrection in 1971, this killing was justified by the majority of people mainly because these youths rebelled against a democratically elected government and due to the ideology they adopted in their struggle. One can hardly believe that, the majority Buddhists in SL would support at least passively a moment which relied on violence backed by radical Marxism. Even without justifying the act of the government, this so-called sympathy for the government could be understood. What is wrong may be that if any administration exploits this mass sympathy to distract major problems and to remain in power further.
It is a fact that this government gave the leadership to win the war against the LTTE terrorism but the question arises whether the government has the moral right to harass people by citing this victory as an explanation for their immunity to go ahead with their oppression. There was sympathy from people when the Westerners tried to hamper our efforts to fight terrorism but now the war is over and the government cannot use this tactic further to fool people to exercise the power on sympathetic grounds.

Walter Rajaratne said...

Malinda,

All of us including you know that getting a diplomatic post is winning a lotto that solves all your personal problems, financially and socially. A few I met here speaks volumes to the above, that solved all their problems to live a dignified life, higher education of children, globetrotting that was only a dream if not for the poor taxpayers money etc. In a country where the president is spending billions for his glitzy lifestyle and fittingly followed by his ministerial colleagues and all the rest behind them is all too well known. In such a context where would you expect the sovereignty and the security of the nation stand a chance.

Do we have a moral right to criticize the NGO robber barons.

Mimi said...

I should think that we do have a right to criticize the NGO robber barons because they have been at this game for far too long without any scruples whatsoever. Used to work for one and left in disgust. Have you noticed that just when they were beginning to get a beating and their trysts and fox trots were beginning to get exposed, all kinds of events are being instigated to cast Sri Lanka's HR in a poor light? Most Sri Lankans don't see that losing Geneva was a blessing in disguise. But it doesn't remove the necessity to be on alert at all times.

D L O Mendis said...

May I comment on two of the above comments 1. Do we have a moral right to criticize the NGO robber barons?
And 2. I should think that we do have a right to criticize the NGO robber barons because they have been at this game for far too long without any scruples whatsoever.

My comments are: Please refer John Perkins 2004 book 'Confessions of an Economic Hit Man'. NGO robber barons ROB us for their personal and corporate GAIN. So, not only criticizing them, we should fight them, starting by exposing them. An example is the following: there is a project called A River for Jaffna that was mooted in the 1950's and was partly implemented before the LTTE took over the Vanni etc. Even when they were in control of the Vanni, President Rajapakse ordered the restoration of Thondamannar and Ariyalai barrages and this was done in 2008. After the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, surprise, surprise, a new project appeared -- 'Jaffna water supply and sanitation project' at a cost of Rs 18 billion of which Rs 15 billion was to be borrowed from the ADB and a French bank, and Rs 2.5 billion was to be paid by our government. The 'River for Jaffna' was not even mentioned in this typical robber baron proposal. When concerned persons like myself started agitating about this in email discussions, another surprise was a scurrilous message from the Sri Lanka Ambassador in Vietnam, Dr Ivan Amarasinghe, which can be sent to interested persons. I am in a dilemma about how to save our country from this robbery, since the Ambassador is known to me and is a political appointee.

Dinu said...

I am totally with D.L.O.