“The Defence White Paper:assessing necessity and analyzing structures for Sri Lanka’s next strategic priority”

INSSSL researcher highlights need for a Sri Lankan defence white paper

By Udeshika Jayasekara

The absence of a well-developed defence white paper could hinder Sri Lanka's strategic response to a changing security environment, Ms. Lucy Stronach, Australian researcher at the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) observed last week.

Delivering her presentation on the ‘The Defence White Paper: Assessing necessity and analysing structures for Sri Lanka’s next strategic priority’ on July 19 2019, she observed that Sri Lanka still lacks a defence white paper, and implored that authorities develop a strategy that clearly spells out Sri Lanka’s national security objectives, appraisal of security environment and an overall defence policy.

Ms Stronach noted a defence white paper is important for Sri Lanka for several reasons. Firstly, it reflects state proactiveness in responding to a changing security environment. A Defence white should also ideally be formulated with civilians, as this civilian-military partnership enhances the democratic process and transparency. Furthermore, clear budget allocations given in a defence white paper enhances government accountability and legitimacy in spending, and thereby increases the public’s trust in state security forces. Finally, a defence white paper reduces the uncertainty of the security posture of Sri Lanka and helps to forge stronger bilateral and foreign relations.

Ms Stronach noted that Sri Lanka’s security environment has changed dramatically over the last years and months, and new conventional and unconventional security threats have emerged. Thus a white paper should develop targeted and planned responses to a range of security challenges such as organised/transnational crime, terrorism, nuclear armament, cybercrime, great power competition, and climate change.

She stressed that a Sri Lankan defence white paper should present the Government’s position on defence policy, objectives and strategies, with specific mention to the security environment and threats, future defence directions, and military doctrine. Further, “a clear budget and distribution of resources to tangible goods and/or services aligning with financial realities is crucial to keep the government accountable and disciplined”. Civilian oversight and scrutiny of the military structure are also important to ensure transparency and help the public understand and trust the security forces of their country. Pubic insight and civilian expertise in the formulation of a long-term national security strategy is also crucial, according to Ms Stronach, as each party has unique insights and expertise that will help create a well-rounded document.

She also noted that a white paper should have a solid structure, yet it should be flexible enough to accommodate inevitable changes in the security environment. According to Ms Stronach, “All strategies that are made must be evidence-based in nature [rather than influenced for political or personal gain], and decisions should be made as cost-effectively as possible whilst adhering to core government objectives and policy.”

Finally, like other already available defence white papers, the Sri Lankan defence white paper must be made available to the public. Without promoting this document, many of the aforementioned reasons for production become redundant. The strategy needs to be ‘owned by the people’, and if they are, and other states, are unable to access the final product, Sri Lanka will miss out on many benefits.