Some aspects of British Foreign Policy as it relates to Sri Lanka
Posted on September 23rd, 2011
Rudra Gamini de Zoysa
There are some major considerations to be taken in to account when we try to understand why Britain is so overtly antagonistic towards Sri Lanka ever since the Government of Sri Lanka defeated Tamil terrorism in 2009. I believe that the reasons are largely found in Britain’s foreign policy crafted in Whitehall.
I am basing this article on the facts gathered by Mark Curtis in his explosive book “Unpeople” published by Vintage, 2004, and the various writings of John Pilger. Declassified “top secret” documents are the primary sources of information for both Curtis and Pilger.
Britain’s foreign policy is (and has been for the last century or so) crafted by a small group of government ministers, civil servants, diplomats and other bureaucrat with wide-ranging powers. Most of these people have attended Ivy League schools or universities, come from conservative and “ƒ”¹…”noble’ families such as Winston Churchill, Baroness Symonds, Lord Chalfont and bear such double barrel names as Douglas-Home and Drummond-Willoughby. They all have stiff upper lips, carry neatly rolled up umbrellas and are members of exclusive clubs. They also have the conviction that their white culture is superior and theirs is a superior form of life.
In broad terms these decision makers have established the 5 cornerstones of British foreign policy “”…” deepening support for state terrorism in other countries, enhancing Britain’s ability to interfere militarily in global affairs (even if they have to play a “ƒ”¹…”puppy dog’ role to enable United Sates foreign policy goals), increasing state propaganda operations towards the British public, the principle that Britain is no longer bound by international law and finally the denial of the need to apologise for crimes done in colonial days. Declassified documents (and postings of WikiLeaks) reveal that the decision makers in Whitehall were very honest in the policy documents about their real feelings and goals and disregard for human rights and humanitarian concerns.
British foreign policy goals have always been to preserve their commercial interests and its international standing as a “ƒ”¹…”mover and shaker’. Basically what has changed over time are the strategies used to achieve these goals.
Mark Curtis has noted that:
Through its own intervention, and its support of key allies such as the United States and various repressive regimes, Britain has been, and continues to be, a systematic and serious abuser of human rights. I have calculated that Britain bears significant responsibility for around 10 million deaths since 1945 including Nigerians, Indonesians, Arabians, Ugandans, Chileans, Vietnamese and many others…
The five cornerstones of British foreign policy goals need further clarification.
- Deepening support for state terrorism in other countries. There are ample examples of this principle “”…” Saudi Arabia, Israel, early days of Idi Amin, upport for the Chilean dictator Pinochet, Indonesia and early days of Sadam Hussein.
- Enhancing Britain’s ability to interfere militarily in global affairs. With the downfall of the Empire Britain has become a mangy lion without teeth or claws and Britannia no longer ruled the waves. So, playing a secondary role (or acting as a little lovable pooch) to the United States is the one of the ways Britain can seek international recognition as a “mover and shaker” in international affairs. Britain’s role in Iraq in 2003 and in more recent years when Sadam Hussein was deposed, its role in Afghanistan, Chile, Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, Pakistan, Libya. On many occasions Tony Blair indicated “if we fail to act” (i.e. to interfere militarily in global affairs) then “when we turn to deal with other threats, where will our authority be?” What Blair was essentially saying is, we rulers of the world must show the underlings who’s the boss otherwise our credibility will be challenged. This is a major element in Britain’s attitudes towards Sri Lanka. David Miliband’s visit to Sri Lanka in 2009 with Bernard Kouchner exemplifies this idea. In his mind Miliband actually thought he could teach those upstart brown natives in Sri Lanka a thing or two “”…” surprise, surprise he failed.
- Increasing state propaganda operations towards the British public. Lying to the public is common and routine, the best example of this is the false propaganda spread by Tony Blair’s lies about the weapons of mass destruction (wmd) held by Sadam Hussein and Iraq’s ability to deploy these weapons within 45 minutes of a an order to use them. In 1939 the Ministry of Information was formed and its prime task was “to generate propaganda aimed at the British people”. From this year the BBC “became and instrument of state information policy”. The BBC’s news has consistently supported the British Government’s priorities. A huge thing is made of a situation when a coalition military person is killed. The BBC rarely talks about hundreds of thousand Iraqis lying dead in the desert sands. With the fall of Muammar Gaddafi we are now getting very close to the reasons why Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi (the Lockerbie bomber) was released “”…” one really wonders about the size of the oil deal that was concluded as a precondition for al- Megrahi’s release. Also interesting is the extent of the cosy relationship between British Government (current and ex officials) and the News of the World’s phone tapping gang. Blair is Rupert Murdoch’s son’s god father! Secret files unearthed earlier this month reveal the astonishingly close links that existed between British and American governments and Muammar Gaddafi. The documents show how prisoners were offered to the Libyans for brutal interrogation by the Tripoli regime under the highly controversial “rendition” programme, and also how details of exiled opponents of the Libyan dictator in the UK were passed on to the regime by Britain’s MI6. Tony Blair visited Muammar Gaddafi’s tent in Tripoli in 2004. This visit culminated in Gaddafi’s senior intelligence man, Moussa Koussa, negotiating with Britain’s MI6 officers till earlier this year.
- The principle that Britain is no longer bound by international law. The UN has been viewed as a major threat to the achievement of Britain’s foreign policy goals. As one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council Britain has exploited this position to further its foreign policy goals. Over the past 55 years the essence of Britain’s strategy has been to ensure the failure of the UN to prevent or condemn Britain’s, or its allies’ acts of aggression. Twelve separate UN Security Council resolutions were vetoed by Britain and the US. Some of these were related to Acts of aggression carried out by the South African racist regime on certain states in southern Africa, covert support to Indonesia when in 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor, expelling the entire population of the Chagos (specifically Diego Garcia) so that a small piece of land can be presented to Britain’s ally the United States to be used as a military base, the support of US in 1954 when the latter invaded Guatemala, support of US aggression against Nicaragua in the 1980s, the US invasion of Panama in 1989, Britain’s invasion of Egypt in1956, Britain’s backing of the Nigerian Government against the Biafrans in 1967 and 1970. Mark Curtiss provides a list of governments that Britain has directly overthrown or tried to overthrow: – Iran (1953); British Guiana (1953 and 1963); Egypt (1956); Indonesia (1957 & 1965); Yemen (1962 to 1970); Oman (1970); Libya (1996 and 2011); Yugoslavia (1999); Afghanistan (2001 to date); Sri Lanka (tried in 2009 but failed). A subsidiary list also shows that Britain welcomed the overthrow of governments by the US “”…” Guatemala (1954; Iraq (1963); Vietnam (1963); Chile (1973); Nicaragua (1980s); Panama (1989). All these examples show how deep Britain’s “commitments” to human rights issues and democracy go. The above are excellent examples of international hypocrisy. In defence of his superior values, Blair has taken Britain to war more than any other Prime Minister in recent times.
- The denial of the need to apologise for crimes done in colonial days. In January 2005, Gordon Brown, then Britain’s Treasurer, told the Daily Mail that “The days of Britain having to apologise for the British Empire are over”. During the same year British historians declared that “the British Empire was a force for good” and the Empire was “highly benevolent and moralistic”. It was George Orwell who said “Those who control the present
control the past and those who control the past control the future”.
So what of the present and the future for Sri Lanka? Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is tending towards China and India. The current tendency is good and both geo-political powers must be placated. Our future lies with them not with the morally (and financially) bankrupt West.
The Sri Lanka Government has to be ruthless about the strategies we develop for the benefit of the whole country. That is the key. The leadership training programme for students in Sri Lanka is an excellent initiative. I do not know the prescription for this training programme or its learning outcomes but one book I would recommend is thePanchatantra(the original Sanskrit work, which some scholars believe was composed in the 3rd century BCE, is attributed to Pundit Vishnu Sharma. It is based on old oral traditions, including “animal fables that are as old as we are able to imagine”, including the Buddhist Jataka Stories. It is “certainly the most frequently translated literary product of India”). The pedagogy in the Panchatantraactually teaches people how to think not what to think. The Panchatantra has become celebrated as an excellent means of awakening young minds. In verse 267 the Panchatantra provides an excellent rule that should guide all our foreign policy makers and those in charge of national security:-
“Is it the right time? Is it the right place? Who are our friends?
What’s the cost and what’s the gain? And what am I?
And what are my powers and strength?
Time and time again, one should ponder these”.
Hypocritical as they are one can’t blame the British for developing a foreign policy that works for them. Sri Lanka should do the same – ThePanchatantraprovides the guidelines. We as Sri Lankans should take a daily oath of allegiance to the Sri Lanka National Flag.