Statement made by Director General Asanga Abeyagoonasekera of the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) at the CICA Seminar on “Military-Political Dimension” at Ministry of Defence, Kazakastan on 16th October 2018.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman:
First let me thank the Ministry of Defence in Kazakastan and the Conferences on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia(CICA) Secretariat for the kind invitation and the hospitality. This seminar is timely and its important we discuss on “Military-Political Dimension” among CICA member countries and all others.
This is my second occasion speaking at CICA after my speech at the CICA Non-governmental Forum in Beijing 28th June 2017. During my speech in 2017, I spoke of the importance of Sri Lanka becoming a full member and today with the great visionary leadership of our President His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena, Sri Lanka is a full member from August 2018. From its observer state in 2012, Sri Lanka is now the 27th Member. It is indeed a great honour for me to deliver the inaugural statement after Sri Lanka becoming a full member of CICA.
My statement will highlight the Military-Political environment, challenges faced and role of CICA to strengthen the Asian Military-Political dimension. I will discuss three areas of confidence building measures (CBMs) Sri Lanka could offer to other members and partners.
This is my first visit to Central Asia and I have navigated from maps and geopolitical literature with my university students at the Geopolitics class in the United States. An entire chapter was left for this ancient and mostly land locked hub of the ancient silk road connecting Asia and Europe. As Robert Kaplan explains, Central Asia constitutes the worlds most fascinating geopolitical experiment and its legal borders make little sense. Rich in hydrocarbons and minerals and metals, Kazakastan will become the worlds largest producer of uranium and second largest chromium, lead and zinc reserves. The map is already crisscrossed by energy pipelines in all directions.
Sri Lanka known as the "pearl of the Indian Ocean” is also geographically well positioned and the Island nation is a “supper connector” sitting at the crisscrossed East-West trade route on the Maritime Silk Road. Many scholars had seen the pivotal role the Island nation could play in the Indian Ocean.
Beginning of 20th century Sir Halford Mackinder rightly identified the Eurasian landmass will be the significant center of military political power play in his heartland theory, in the present day with geopolitical axis of power shifting from the West to the East, rise of Asia is clear and felt by the entire global community.
Centrality of central Asia and centrality of Sri Lanka at the center of the Maritime Silk Road touching the Sea Lines of Communication(SLOC) will be vital for the existing and rising powers in the global order. In this background of geostrategic importance for both nations Kazakastan and Sri Lanka and many other nations, a multinational platform such as CICA will be essential to discuss Military-Political Dimensions in the larger surrounding we live.
Interaction and confidence building measures among the varied and multicultural nations in Asia to enhance cooperation towards promoting peace security and stability in Asia should be at the top of all Asian nations agenda. A destabilized Asia will create ripple affects to our economy, political and security order.
CICA the grand initiative was proposed by H.E. Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan; on 5 October, 1992 at the 47th Session of the United Nations General Assembly for Asian states for enhancing cooperation towards promoting peace, security and stability in Asia. I would like to commend his far sighted vision of seeing the importance back then and initiating this multinational forum which has grown to 27 members as of today.
CICA has developed into an open and inclusive multilateral security institution as well as a venue for substantive consultations and dialogues on regional security challenges, capable of building a broad-based consensus among regional countries. Bearing in mind diverse security concerns of the countries in the region, CICA is well-positioned to meet the shared security demands and advance a common security agenda for all stakeholders in the region.
Nations such as Kazakastan has pursed a multi-vector foreign policy seeking equally good relationship with Russia,China and USA. Sri Lankan foreign policy according to President Sirisena is balanced and Asia centric, balancing mainly the triple sphere of influence India, China and the US.
The complexity of security surrounding the Island nation Sri Lanka with proximity to the Indian subcontinent and the Indian Ocean is clearly visible. While Sri Lanka wish to spearhead a peaceful agenda and bring stability to the region since the Island nation suffered nearly three decade war loosing many lives and property. Sri Lanka’s efforts to bring regional peace is clearly articulated from early days by our visionary Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranayake’s 1971 UN resolution 22:38 declaring Indian Ocean as an “Indian Ocean Zone for Peace”, this was to leave the region away from great power rivalry.
But militarization is seen in the subcontinent with Indo-Pakistan rivalry the two nuclear states in the South Asian region. Just last week India signed to purchase S-400 missile defence system from Russia, same procurement was seen a month ago also by China. Asia we live today is with a complex security architecture as rightly identified by President Nursultan Nazarbayev who saw this emerging security threat from his inception speech of CICA.
Nations like Sri Lanka and Kazakastan who was part of the ancient silk road can bring stability and promote peace to achieve economic prosperity through trade, political-military dialogue.Being part of the modern day OBOR the two nations and the two regions Central and South Asia could resurrect the ancient ties of trade to bring prosperity to our people. Kazakastan has spent $30b during last ten years for transport and logistic sector, by 2020 additional $8.4b will be spent to revive the ancient silk road. Khorgos SEZ was established as a transit conduit between China and Europe.
When looking at Sri Lanka’s support and its role in the OBOR, Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to support from South Asia when President Xi announced this grand initiative. The southern port Hambathota will play a pivotal role in the MSR in the near future. China is one of Kazakastan’s primary trading partners, China and Kazakastan has set a target to reach $20b trade volume. India was the largest trading partner of Sri Lanka for many years and now Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner is China. The China’s influence is clearly visible in both nations.
In this backdrop one of the biggest challenge is lack of a common "Asian awareness" or "Asian identity." While European countries share similar cultural and religious origins, Asia is more of a geographical concept imposed on the nations of the region by Western narrative.
In such a vast land with striking distinctions and immense diversities in terms of geographical condition, ethnic composition, religious belief, and ideology as well as their historical development, the difficulties in evolving a common recognition of Asian entity will be tremendous, let alone the acceptance of a shared community of Asia.
Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) spelled out on 15 January 2013 by CICA Member States who agreed to implement four CBMs for military-political dimension could be referred in the present day. They are the importance of mutual visits by the military authorities and representatives of defense colleges; Mutual invitations among armed forces for participation in national holidays, cultural and sport events;Information exchange on CV's of top military personnel;Exchange of information on the status of their accession to or ratification of multilateral instruments on arms control and disarmament as well as conventions on the outer space.
Sri Lanka as a new member state would support the CBMs considering its capacity to commit and support for peace building in South Asia and Asia.
There are three areas in Military-Political dimension Sri Lanka could contribute.
First, Sri Lanka with its experience on fighting a three decade war with terrorist. Our Military is known as one of only military forces that defeated and completely eradicated terrorism. We are having the expertise in this sphere and we could share our experience with CICA members. Sharing experience and to learn important lessons on countering terrorism could be done at two levels. Firstly by academic think tank level, since CICA has think tank level sharing of expertise already in place, the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka(INSSSL) the national security think tank could play a role for sharing at academic level on the area of counterterrorism and other security related challenges with similar think tanks in other member states. INSSSL also wish to invite a CICA representative from the secretariat in this regard to Colombo for its annual conference “INSSSL Shangri-la colloquium 2018” on the 16th December 2018 as an initial step. The next stage will be military to military exercises which could be designed among member states and Sri Lanka.
Second area is on threats posed by transnational organized crimes, maritime security, drug trafficking, human smuggling and terrorist financing, money laundering. CICA members can work together to secure and guard against the threats to territorial integrity of each other’s borders and Sri Lanka could assist in this regard.
Third dimension is Cyber crime. Domestic unrest and cyber-crime is threatening national security of many nations. Youth has been targeted and they have become the pawns of this misplaced agendas. It was weeks ago I highlighted the importance of nations should give its highest attention to cybersecurity at the National IT conference held in Colombo. Protecting the critical infrastructure and considering cybersecurity as a top national security threat is pivotal. Importance of building a “Unified mechanism to improve Cyber Security” should be considered. This I have highlighted on the 2017 CICA non-governmental forum in Beijing, where I discussed the importance of CERTs to work together to design and achieve a unified mechanism to counter cyber crime. A unified understanding of Cyber Crimes has to lead to a unified concept of criminalizing Cyber Crimes in order to deter such crimes as well as to normalize the concept of a safe cyber domain. Consequently a common cyber security policy can very well become a turning point, where all new strategies will become integrated and comprehensive, approaching cyber security in a holistic manner, encompassing economic, social, educational, legal, law enforcement, technical, diplomatic, military and intelligence related aspects.
With this let me conclude wishing all success to CICA for its future endeavors to achieve the CBMs and strengthen the Military-Political dimension of Asia. I am certain Sri Lanka as the new member of CICA will play an important role in the years to come.