A Collaborative Venture in the age of information wars; Japan and Sri Lanka by Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Director General INSSSL was invited by the National Institute for Defence Studies(NIDS) for a discussion. Mr.Abeyagoonasekera presented a paper on A Collaborative Venture in the age of “information wars”: Japan and Sri Lanka. Following is the full text of the paper:
First let me thank National Institute for Defence studies for the kind invitation. It is a great pleasure to visit your prestigious institute. During the last two days we had an excellent program by the World Economic Forum in Tokyo. There was 600 participants from 70 countries who was part of this and the Japanese hospitality and the learning journey arranged was very useful specially to explore success in Artificial Intelligence.
I would like to begin from the famous speech made in San Francisco by the former president, then Minister of Finance, J. R. Jayawardane in 1951 “We extend to Japan a hand of friendship, and trust that with the closing of this chapter in the history of man, the last page of which we write today, and with the beginning of the new one, the first page of which we dictate tomorrow, her people and ours may march together to enjoy the full dignity of human life in peace and prosperity.”
From President Jayawardene to our present President H.E Maithripala Sirisena and H.E. Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan’ssuccessful strong bilateral ties in May 2016, Sri Lanka and Japan have not only enabled the two countries to experience a friendship that lasted of over six decades; but also materializes how the two countries have steadfastly and resolutely stood by each other, both in good times and at testing times, in mutual assistance and cooperation. During the G7 Summit PM Abe has offered its support to Sri Lanka for economic development, maritime security, national reconciliation and peace building.
Being two countries that exhibit many facets of similarity; Japan and Sri Lanka are both island nations in Asia with unique cultural roots. However, in the post world war order, Japan’s developmental success as an East Asian miracle has created a watermark for aspiring South Asian nations to follow a path of development that was unique from the West; simultaneously setting an example for nations such as Sri Lanka to emerge sustainable in the developmental journey. In the years that followed 1952, Sri Lanka has been a beneficiary of the friendly arm Japan has extended to its Asian peers in terms of developmental aid and assistance. I have witnessed this firsthand, when I was the Chairman of the Ceylon Fisheries Harbour Corporation during post Asian Tsunami reconstruction aid given to Sri Lanka to rebuild its fishery harbors at a very difficult time. Japan accounts for 40 per cent of Sri Lanka’s bilateral aid packages.
In this regard, Japan has undertaken an important role in times of tension, not only for Sri Lanka, but also for other countries in the South Asian region. This benevolence of the Japanese nation envisages dreams of new opportunities, granting further assistance and collaboration, to the developing countries of South Asia. In his visit to Japan in October 2015, our Prime Minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe proposed a framework for collaboration in five fields, which specifically included Security.
In the present information age, predominated by drivers of globalization and its inherent information flows, the regional security dimensions of South Asia are capitulated in the age of, what can be termed as an, “information war.” With the evolution of security threats from interstate war to intra-state insurgencies, transnational terrorism and climate security issues, information, in the current context, plays a pivotal role in ensuring regional security as well as accountability and transparency of domestic institutions; which are also the imminent political goals of the current Sri Lankan National government.
In this regard, Soft power emerges as an essential constituency in combating the evolving security threats in the era of the “information war.” As the Prime minister noted in 2015, collaboration and connectivity are the key elements in this venture. Accordingly, collaboration in terms of utilizing the Japanese expertise in science and technology was outlined to be paramount, especially in terms of collaboration between existing institutions especially to strengthen education, human security and to counter climate change.
However, soft power and its collaborative imperative is not the panacea to the novel security issues that trend at the break of dawn. The lessons from the Japanese success story iterates a strong narrative of an ardent political culture and cogent democratic institutions, that are equally vital at the face of the security issues brought forth by variegated information flows. This is because a weak political culture is often followed by weak institutions which are obsolete against the evolving security dynamics. The Fragile States Index of 2016, compiled and published by the “Fund For Peace” non-profit think tank, and the “Foreign Affairs” magazine highlighted the weak Security Apparatuses of states in South Asia, including Sri Lanka, which can lead to state fragility, a threat to regional as well as sustainable security. In this regard, HE President Sirisena, accentuated his commitment to transparency, accountability and the rule of law, and his determination to wipe out corruption, in his statement on ‘Stability and Prosperity in Asia’ at the Outreach Sessions of the G7 Summit in May 2016 in Japan, which draws a new light on the future of our institutions and political culture.
Thus, in this collaborative venture, think tanks emerge essential, both to ensure soft power diplomacy and to sustain a strong political culture and institutions. Firstly, think tanks can ensure the successful discharge of track II diplomacy and build regional as well as international partnerships at state and non-state levels, which can be utilized to share knowledge and expertise. Secondly, collaborative think tanks can improve regional security by producing scholarly thematic papers and discussion which could serve as advisory bodies and utilize the ideational processes that supplement governments. In essence, it is important to reminiscence that, in the age of the “information war”, any pockets of will to collaborate are valuable; for the dispersion of information can create strong security infrastructure that is resilient to novel security issues of the post-cold war international system. Since South Asia is a region terrorized by transnational security threats in the post-IS age the connectivity and collaboration of research institutions is indispensible.
The Institute of national Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) was founded in July 2016, on this note, where HE President Sirisena noted the vitality of a premiere national Defense think tank in understanding the security environment of the region. The INSSSL’s ability to inaugurate joint research and policy discussions in the evolving security debate of South Asia renders it an important actor in pursuing a collaborative venture between the two nations and also serving as a link between the region and Japan in security research and analysis.
As Atifete Jahjaga (2012), the former Kosovo president, stated “Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.” In this light, undoubtedly, collaboration is the best solution to the emerging security threats in the era of information wars and the prowess of Japan as a nation, is none other than a resource to a developing region such as South Asia in restructuring its security architecture to be more resilient and synergetic to the evolving security threats. Thank you!