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.   

  1. 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.
  2.  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.
  3.  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.

  4. 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.

  5.  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.


4 Responses to “Some aspects of British Foreign Policy as it relates to Sri Lanka”

  1. nilwala Says:

    Hopefully, this article will be widely read by Sri Lankans, both at home and abroad.

    It is time at least Sri Lankan schoolchildren were introduced into taking an Oath of Allegiance just as they do in the USA. Noone can object to it as the practice exists in the world’s leading democracy.
    After all, Sri Lanka is a country that gives them all a free education through school, and free education right through University should they qualify, and many just take these ‘entitlements’ for granted.

  2. AnuD Says:

    There was exactly similar article about the US foreign policy too. That too was formulated by bureaucrats and supported by many Think-tank type institutions. That policy is very sinister that is simply for their superiority in the world. Because of that, I think, what ever the US presidents do are part of that policy planned by bureaucrats. In other words, the president is a pawn or prisoner of the system.

    Even in the US system, there is no space for another language as another ethnic groups RIGHT because, if you don’t know english forget about a decent job of climbing in that career ladder. Secondly, every immigrent has to rally around the So called American dream and the american flag.

  3. AnuD Says:

    Asian thinking whether it is related to India or the surrounding countries OR China, Japan or Korea etc., have basic Buddhist thinking. In order to understand their thinking we need to understand their thinking. While western policy formulators think in their system which is Judeo-chrsitian thinking and it is a power pyramid. God is at the top, Inorder to keep him the most superior he controls humans and everything else under him. So does the humans who controls animals and every thing else.

    So, in that world,if countries decides the same way what is wrong.

    According to Christianity, they are the only true faith. So, the people with that thinking think they to be the best and them to have the best.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    A warning article here for Sri Lankans, for which many thanks to Mr de Zoysa. The British act in subtle ways, and it is best Lankans beware and watchful, and also put protective Laws in place.
    Here are two more examples of how the British manage to get what they want.

    (1) The Opium Wars with China :

    by Yi-Jia Chen

    The British opium trade in China started the world’s very first drug war, in the 19th century. Known as the Opium War, many people also refer to it as the Anglo-Chinese War. Opium is a preparation made from the juice of poppy seedpods, and used to produce heroin. The drug was mainly produced in and shipped from the East Indies to China by British merchants. This addictive drug had gotten many Chinese badly hooked by the early 1800s.

    In the 15th century, when opium was first introduced to China, it was used as medicine to treat diseases such as dysentery, cholera, as well as diarrhea. .html. It was not until 1700 that the British introduced China to the process of mixing opium with tobacco so that it could be smoked. During the 18th century, Chinese green tea became very popular, and high in demand among Europeans and Americans. Chinese porcelain, as well as Chinese silk, were also very popular in the Western countries.

    The British merchants’ incentive for importing opium from India to China was to balance out their tea trade with China, and to stop the silver and gold from draining in what could have been a one-sided trade. The British had to use gold and silver because China was a self-sufficient country and the Chinese did not want or need anything from Great Britain or any other foreign countries. n2/civil n2/histscript 6 n2/opium.html. When the British couldn’t find any other products to export to China, they decided to bring in opium mixed with tobacco to promote opium smoking.

    With nearly 2 million pounds of opium being sold in China each year, opium weakened a large amount of the Chinese population. In the 19th century, 10 percent of the Chinese population was smoking opium. This also affected China economically, due to the large amount of resources, especially silver, flowing out of the country to pay for the opium. …etc.

    When the Chinese government discovered the British smuggling opium into China to sell, it was alarmed. However, it was not until 1838 that further efforts to restrict the opium trade were taken. That was when Emperor Daoguang appointed Lin Tse-Hsua, an imperial commissioner, to lead an anti-opium campaign. Lin wrote a letter to Queen Victoria of England arguing that if the opium was so harmful in its effects that Britain had made opium trading and consumption illegal in England, then why was England exporting such harmful products to other countries ( Although the letter to Queen Victoria was very well composed, it was never delivered into the hands of the queen, and the trade continued. …etc.

    Having the Chinese government officials destroy and seize large amounts of opium, in addition to the threats of ending all trades with Great Britain and expelling Englishmen from China, did not help the foreign relations between China and Great Britain. When the Chinese government attempted to turn back English merchant vessels in late 1839, which encouraged the British to consider war as the next possible strategy. Soon thereafter, British merchants made an appeal to their government. Ultimately, Great Britain demanded that China put an end to the anti-opium campaign. But Lin refused to end it. In 1840, British gunboats arrived and attacked China, destroying many coastal cities. This was known as the First Opium War. It was also the very first drug war in the history of the world. China, being unaware of the British attack, was unprepared for the attack and unprepared to deal with the advanced technologies of the British. China was behind when it came to the use of modern weapons.

    China was eventually defeated by Great Britain, and was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, and the British supplementary Treaty of the Bogue in 1843, which indicted Lin and held the Chinese government responsible for the compensation of the amount of opium that was destroyed during the anti-opium campaign. The Treaty of Nanjing concluded the Opium War and further opened up many ports in China, such as Guangzhou, Jinmen, Fuzhou, Ningbo, and Shanghai, to British trade as well as residence. Soon, many other Western nations were beginning to sign similar treaties with China to allow foreign trade and residence. “The Treaty also fixed the customs duties on imports at such a low level that China was prevented from protecting her new industries from competition of cheap imports,”one source commented. n2/civil n2/histscript 6 n2/opium.html.

    Under this Treaty, China also ceded Hong Kong to the British for up to 155 years, until 1997. The Treaty of Nanjing marked the beginning of foreign commercial and residential privileges in China. It was the f irst in a series of “unequal treaties” which gave foreigners special rights in China and set the stage for exploitation of the Chinese economy and resources. The British treaty was soon followed by American and French treaties. n2/civil n2/histscript 6 n2/opium.html. Decades after the First Opium War ended, the Second Opium War started in 1856.

    The trigger to the Second Opium War was the dispute over the former treaties and the boarding of the British ship Arrow. The Second Opium War is also known as the Lorcha Arrow War. Besides England, France, Russia, and the United States were involved in the war that lasted until 1858. The Second Opium War ended with the Treaty of Tianjin. The British forced China to sign this treaty by burning up the imperial summer palace, also known as the Yuan Ming Yuan. Under the Treaty of Tianjin, China had to open up 11 more ports to foreign trade. Additionally, China had to permit foreign legations in Beijing, sanction Christian missionary activity, and legalize the import of opium. The Beijing conventions of 1860, by which China was forced to reaffirm the terms of the Treaty of Tianjin and make additional concessions, concluded the hostilities.

    The Opium Wars resulted in the victimization of China by foreign powers for decades to follow. It was not until 1949 and the victory of Mao Zedong and communism that the unequal treaties signed between the Chinese government and the foreign powers were abolished. It was also after 1949 that China took back all the ports, except for Hong Kong. Hong Kong remained a British territory until 1997.

    (2) When WW I started, America kept out of this war. The Americans had won their Independence from Britain in 1776 and kept out of European affairs. However, when the Brits sent in their then luxury ship the “Lucitania” to New York, the Americans wealthies piled in as passengers and the ship sailed off to Britain on her maiden luxury tour. Nearing Ireland, which was occupied by the Germans, the Germans fired on the “Lucitania” (war was officially declared on Britain by the German Kaiser and the ‘Lucitania’ was a British ship), which strangely exploded and sank within a short time. How this might have actually happened is anyones guess as gunfire from the German guns of that time could not have achieved this feat ! Anyway, this incident had the desired effect for the Brits, and America entered WWI, and followed Europe into WWII. The rest is history. That is how America entered European wars.

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