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INSSSL Holds Security Salon on “Oceanography as a Strategic Tool”


 The Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) organised a ‘Security Salon’ on the 29th of March 2018 at the Minstry of Defence. The discussion was chaired by the Additional Secretary for Civil Security and Development, Mr. N.G. Panditharathna. Dr. Chulanee Attanayake, Research Director of INSSSL introduced and invited the eminent speaker, Commodore Y N Jayarathna, Deputy Director General of the Sri Lanka Coast Guard to deliver his lecture on “Oceanography as a Strategic Tool: How Marine Science Integrate Geo-Politics”.

The lecture was primarily grounded on the application of oceanographic data in implementing military strategic. The speaker began his lecture with a brief description of “Oceanography “which comprises of five branches, namely, physical, geological biological, chemical and hydrography. This was followed by a synopsis of the historical use of hydrography as an early strategy for overseas exploration during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Hydrography, he explained was used by many prominent explorers in that era including Christopher Columbus, Vasco Da Gama, and Bartholomew Diaz to name a few. It was used mainly for the purpose of sketching sea charts which proved to be an invaluable asset for many countries invested in exploration in that period. Further, this was used by Portuguese and Spanish Colonists to identify strategic locations to construct outposts and settlements as well as to demarcate colonial lines between countries. The latter stages of the 19th Century saw a shift in the strategy from territory to acquiring ocean based resources. An important example was the Challenger Expedition that took place between 1872 and 1876 which is believed to have set the foundation of modern oceanography.

More recently, oceanography has been used identify and predict weather patterns using various systems to gather and analyse data. In the Bay of Bengal region, Tropical Revolving Cyclones (TRC) are predicted by using oceanographic systems including Air-Sea Interactions in the Northern Indian Ocean (ASIRI) and Research Moored Array for African-Asian-Australian Monsoon Analysis and Prediction (RAMA). Moreover, oceanography was used in the survey conducted by Dr. Fridtjof Nansen on the sub-divisions of the Sri Lankan shelf during the late 1970’s. This survey was used to gather data on coastline lengths, shelf width as well as to identify the biomass of demersal and semi-demersal fish.

In his effort to explain the evolution of ocean science as strategy, the speaker put forth several interesting case studies to the audience. One such case study he offered was the Battle of Normandy that took place in June 1944 where the Allied invasion was briefly delayed due to a harsh weather forecast. Another was the delay of an amphibious invasion at Inchon during the Korean war in September 1950 due to unfavourable tides.

It is important to note that Oceanography is used of late by many countries to determine their respective maritime strategies. It is used to ascertain war fighting readiness, partnership building between countries and the ability to carry out humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

In a matrix developed by the speaker on Oceanography and National Security, he was of the view that Sri Lanka has minute knowledge and awareness on the subject with minor avenues of investment to improve the current scientific status which he believes is an undesirable position given that Sri Lanka is an island nation. In his recommendations, Commodore Jayarathne stressed on the necessity of state patronage and the need for streamlining marine science research. Moreover, he pointed out the importance of prioritising the improvement of our understanding of national interest and national security in the context of marine science as it of increasing relevance to current security environment in the region.

The lecture was followed by a stimulating discussion between the speaker and participants. The salon was attended by representatives of the tri-forces, Ministry of Fisheries, Ocean University as well as academics and Diplomatic Community. The discussion which was interactive and engaging brought into the table varying points of discussion including the pending Article 76 UNCLOS application, installment of oceanography radar at the Ruhuna University in collaboration and Adam’s bridge. The discussion stressed the importance of understanding the behavior and phenomena of the ocean, lingered on the importance of this knowledge on Sri Lanka as a strategic utility. It was further discussed that the actual knowledge of Sri Lanka on its oceanic and marine resources is inadequate and this prevents effective governance of the Exclusive Economic Zone.

Addressing a question on generating necessary oceanographic knowledge for education and research, Commodore Jayarathna questioned the effectiveness of various measures taken by the country over the years to facilitate ‘ocean centered thinking’. While recognizing the importance of ocean centric education to the strategically importance island, he further stressed on the need for new revision and a top-down approach in addressing the lacuna in education. While Sri Lanka has the capacity and the necessary technical expertise to advance its oceanographic education, there is lack of interest and ignorance among generation ‘Y’ which reduces the efficiency.

The salon was concluded with the underlying note accentuating the need for state patronage and revision of education policies to include the importance of oceanic studies in Sri Lanka, its strategic value and the need to expand our expertise, technical and professional.