25 February 2014

The allure of one-upmanship

Last Thursday, Minister of Information Keheliya Rambukwella claimed that ‘friendly nations’ will move a counter-resolution to the one the US is to table at the UNHRC which, among other things, it is reported, would call for an international probe on alleged war crimes.  Now if there are friendly nations whose friendship is so strong as to and who are powerful enough to take on the USA and its allies in Europe on behalf of Sri Lanka, then this country is fortunate indeed.  On the other hand, one cannot but expect such nations to be sober in the expression of friendship.

First of all, they would take into consideration the fact that a country doesn’t exactly need to send warships to the Indian Ocean to show friendship and thereby readiness to counter-punch if necessary.  Secondly, the US is a declining power and the upping of belligerence on the part of Washington would be recognized for what it is: the angst of a nation that has lost its way and is losing its sway.  Thirdly, the US can bark but it cannot bite; a nibble or two is possible but Washington appears to be operating on the premise that a threat is more effective than its execution. 

Simply put there’s only so much that the kinds of moves the USA is making against Sri Lanka can do, especially if the friends we are talking about are China and Russia, subject to the caveat that ‘friendship’ is diplo-speak for ‘agreement on furthering interests’ and that a price has to be paid in tangible and apparent form without pussy-footing and shy-making.  In other words Sri Lanka cannot play ‘placate’ with all and sundry; she must play pick and choose, and be cognizant of the fact that in the past she has chosen poorly. 

Just the other day India’s ‘Economic Times’ announced that China has offered to finance a large portion of India’s infrastructure development via loans.  India is a big market and China knows this.  The flip side is that India knows that China calls the shots; we are yet to read of India offering China ‘investment that amounts of the latter’s infrastructure spending through 2017’. 

A counter-punch in Geneva, when such matters are considered with due recognition of power realities and complexities, would only massage some egos without even a guarantee of success.  The year 2009 was a different century, almost, and while the victory of the pro-Sri Lanka resolution yielded tons of ‘Feel-Good’, it did little else.  One may argue that the Government did not build upon it, but then again it seems (especially after that ‘victory’) that nothing the Government does add up to ‘enough’. 

If Sri Lanka does not understand that the UN is skewed in favor of the US and that there’s a lot of truth in the claim that it is but a creature of that country, never mind one-off ‘victories’ courtesy fortuitous configurations of membership and mood (context that does not exist at this moment), Sri Lanka would not just lose but would have to pay for losing.  No, there won’t be any knock-out punches thrown but endless pinching by a bully is hardly something to cheer either, especially since no God Father Nation can have the time and kindness of heart to swat the bully’s hand each time it reaches out.

Geneva being met ‘head on’ is about being honest, communicating effectively, saying ‘this is what we have done and can do, period’.  It is about erring on the side of sobriety, which means recognizing the fact that the US initiative is likely to win and yet canvassing support to defeat it.  It means, also, that what should be done locally is not what the US and its cheering squad in Colombo made of NGO personalities and (quack) academics wants Sri Lanka to do (open doors to subterfuge) but doing what it takes to keep the people on the side of the Government (which, whether we like it or not is and is likely to remain the principal bulwark against moves to destabilize and invite anarchy). 

And that’s about democracy.  It is about development that is people-focused not in rhetoric but practice.  It is ultimately about the humility to admit error and redress wrongs.  It is therefore about mechanism to insulate citizens against brash, belligerent, deceitful and thieving politicians. Now that would make for more effective one-upmanship in Geneva and elsewhere.