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US Senate Report on Sri Lanka: U.S. Cannot Afford to Lose Sri Lanka due to its Strategic Importance - Page 2

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US Senate Report on Sri Lanka: U.S. Cannot Afford to Lose Sri Lanka due to its Strategic Importance
Page 2
Strategic Interests In Sri Lanka
Recommendations On Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan Government should:
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“Indeed, Sri Lanka’s geopolitical position has evolved considerably. As Western countries became increasingly critical of the Sri Lankan Government’s handling of the war and human rights record, the Rajapaksa leadership cultivated ties with such countries as Burma, China, Iran, and Libya. The Chinese have invested billions of dollars in Sri Lanka through military loans, infrastructure loans, and port development, with none of the strings attached by Western nations. While the United States shares with the Indians and the Chinese a common interest in securing maritime trade routes through the Indian Ocean, the U.S. Government has invested relatively little in the economy or the security sector in Sri Lanka, instead focusing more on IDPs and civil society. As a result, Sri Lanka has grown politically and economically isolated from the West.

“This strategic drift will have consequences for U.S. interests in the region. Along with our legitimate humanitarian and political concerns, U.S. policymakers have tended to underestimate Sri Lanka’s geostrategic importance for American interests. Sri Lanka is located at the nexus of crucial maritime trading routes in the Indian Ocean connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia. The United States, India, and China all share an interest in deterring terrorist activity and curbing piracy that could disrupt maritime trade. Security considerations extend beyond sealanes to the stability of India, the world’s largest democracy. Communal tensions in Sri Lanka have the potential to undermine stability in India, particularly in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, home to 60 million Tamils. All of these concerns should be part of our bilateral relationship.

“The United States cannot afford to ‘‘lose’’ Sri Lanka. This does not mean changing the relationship overnight or ignoring the real concerns about Sri Lanka’s political and humanitarian record. It does mean, however, considering a new approach that increases U.S. leverage vis-à-vis Sri Lanka by expanding the number of tools at our disposal. A more multifaceted U.S. strategy would capitalize on the economic, trade, and security aspects of the relationship. This approach in turn could catalyze much-needed political reforms that will ultimately help secure longer term U.S. strategic interests in the Indian Ocean. U.S. strategy should also invest in Sinhalese parts of the country, instead of just focusing aid on the Tamil-dominated North and East.

“The Obama administration is currently weighing a new strategy for relations with Sri Lanka. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has closely followed events on the ground this year, including a hearing in February and a staff trip to Sri Lanka in November. In an effort to stimulate a larger debate on U.S. policy toward Sri Lanka, the committee staff prepared this bipartisan report examining recent developments and proposing recommendations for U.S. policy towards Sri Lanka. The recommendations include a broader and more robust U.S. approach to Sri Lanka that appreciates new political and economic realities in Sri Lanka and U.S. geostrategic interests; continuation of de-mining efforts in the North; and promotion of people-to-people reconciliation programs throughout the country.

“Indeed, the end of Sri Lanka’s long-running separatist war opens up enormous opportunities to move the country forward on multiple fronts: political reform, economic renewal, and international re-engagement. For the country to make the transition from a postwar to a post-conflict environment, Sri Lankan leaders must be prepared to take difficult steps to bring the country together and resolve underlying political and socio-economic tensions that led to the conflict. While there have been some success stories such as reducing the number of child soldiers and rebuilding the East, it is not clear that the current leadership understands exactly how to shift from a mindset of conflict and suspicion to a peacetime approach. Moreover, the Government’s paranoia about criticism and the way some government officials equate criticism with support for the LTTE complicates efforts to move forward. Strikingly, the whole Rajapaksa Government strategy seems to be still driven by security concerns.


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