Sri Lanka can’t remain aloof

Major General (Rtd.) Dipankar Banerjee speaker at a public lecture hosted by the Institute of National Security Studies recently said Sri Lanka was the only country to attain victory over violent terrorism and the most developed country in South Asia in terms of human development indices and many other factors in measuring security. However, he noted that in the present era, there are new challenges that are emerging.

Given the speaker’s immense experience in the subject of defence and security, he focused on the very important topic of “National Security: Changing Times, Shifting Paradigms.” Director General of INSSSL, Asanga Abeyagoonasekera introduced the speaker as a retired officer of the Indian Army with over 27 years of involvement with strategic planning at the national level. He was a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi from 1987-1990 and later its Deputy Director from 1992-96. Subsequently he was the founder and Co-Director of the autonomous think tank, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi from 1996 to 1999. From May 1999 to 2002 he was the Executive Director of the Colombo based South Asian think tank, Regional Centre for Strategic Studies. He next spent a year as a Jennings Randolph Fellow at the US Institute of Peace, Washington, DC before reverting as the Director and Head of the IPCS. During this period the IPCS emerged as a leading think tank on strategic and disarmament issues in all of Asia.

Rajiv –JR Accord

The speaker’s association with Sri Lanka, he said goes back 20 years to 1997 which was the 10th anniversary of the Rajiv Gandhi-J.R. Jayewardene Accord.

The primary focus of his lecture was how to deal with these challenges. South Asia and Sri Lanka in particular, being located in an area of growing geo-strategic contestations was shown as a crucial factor when conflicts especially in Asia are moving away from land-based conflicts to oceanic conflicts and attention and development will be entered around oceans in Asia. The situation will be in conditions of global and regional ethno-religious strife. Here, he drew a parallel with Samuel P. Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” as that factor can be seen playing out in much of Asia with different ideologies between governments that have created conflict with each other.

It is to be considered that these are times of international socio-economic turbulence and possible global protectionism which is manifest in the “Trump-era” as he calls it. He pointed out that these phenomena might also be seen in greater parts of Europe in times to come.

The crucial meeting this week between President Trump and his counterpart Xi Jinping, he said, will shape the nature of the world order in the immediate future.

It is noteworthy that these occurrences take place in times of greater global interdependence. Therefore, Sri Lanka, although with its island status and being secured by the seas around it, cannot remain removed from the larger global dimensions of conflict in a rapidly changing global environment.

New concepts of security

In this backdrop emerges what he calls the “new concepts of security”. The current world order which was based essentially on the Westphalian Treaty in the 17th century has now evolved where countries have decided to lay out the parameters of national sovereignty and how states interact with each other. Therefore, the conflicts more recently have been of a different nature. He further stated that there is now a distinct shift from territorial security to economic security of individuals and citizens of a nation, moving from physical security to ideals of human security.

The goal of nations today is not just to secure its territory but to promote the economic wellbeing further economic interests of the state, therefore security is becoming more comprehensive, cooperative with emphasis on the human factor which is a distinct shift which has evolved from nation states to regional organizations and a shared sovereignty.

As regards “Sri Lanka and challenges to its national security”, Gen. Banerjee pointed out that the primary challenge would be to ensure peace and security within a nation. Thus, ensuring development and prosperity; trade and economic growth; high quality education; acquiring modern day skills and improved standards of living are present-day challenges facing Sri Lanka and any other nation state. In this context, he noted that the importance of considering the emerging global challenges such as great power contestations, inward-looking isolationist policies of the west, the rise of Asian giants, Islamic radicalization which could well lead to a clash of civilizations which could fundamentally alter the security of nation states and finally, environmental issues.

Global security landscape

As such, the current global security landscape is one which has evolved from traditional military challenges to that of hybrid threats. The speaker further highlighted a group of “emerging strategic challenges”. Today, he says, wars are being fought in six dimensions as compared to three dimensions of land, sea, air in conventional warfare. The new and considerably more severe spheres being dimensions of space with satellites that play a vital role not just in communication but in the deployment and direction of weapons, cyber warfare capabilities which can inflict physical violence to interfere with important systems which govern and control systems, the unchartered territory deep under the ocean was also shown as a sphere of the possibility for future warfare. Robotics, computers, artificial intelligence and mass casualty weapons such as bio and chemical are also possible future security challenges to a nation state. These, he pointed out would require different leadership strategies in governance as the aim of current warfare is to undermine socio-economic resilience of a hostile nation.

Several senior members of the tri-forces, academia and media were among those present at this very informative discussion. (CT)

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