Posted on March 2nd, 2021


 SWRD Bandaranaike made an impact on the international scene and brought honor and recognition to his country, said VLB Mendis.  His untimely death two years after assuming office, deprived the country of an astute leader who could have played a major role  in  international  affairs said Bandu de Silva.

Bandaranaike first made an impact in India. SWRD led the Sri Lanka delegation to the Asian Regional Conference held in New Delhi in 1947. SWRD’S   proposal for a setting up Asian Secretariat was accepted. His contribution received publicity.  The calls for Asian Federation were endorsed by Solomon Bandaranaike of Ceylon and Aung San of Burma,  said one report.

 Vernon Mendis said, Even before he became Prime Minister SWRD gave a foretaste of his inborn statesmanship by his impressive role at the Asian Relations Conference held by Nehru in New Delhi in 1947, where SWRD presented his vision of Asia as a brotherhood of independent states.

SWRD   also attended the conference on Indonesia held in New Delhi in 1949, presided over by Nehru, after the Dutch assault on Indonesia.  DS Senanayake was not interested in Indonesia’s independence from the Dutch. Nehru had to remind him to send a representative to the New Delhi Conference and he sent SWRD. The conference which consisted over 400 delegates and observers could not extend more than moral support to Indonesia’s struggle against the Dutch in its independence movement, said Bandu de Silva. But Bandaranaike would have found the experience useful.


In 1954  C.C. Desai ,High Commissioner for India had  persuaded Sir John Kotelawala to convene an Asian Prime Ministers Conference in Colombo , attended by  Prime Ministers of Ceylon, India, Pakistan, Burma, and Indonesia. This was the first meeting of the Colombo Powers”. Colombo Powers only lasted for three years but it did gain temporary recognition as a significant bloc in politics.

In 1956, Colombo Powers held a meeting in Delhi, to discuss the Suez Crisis, the invasion by Israel and Russian troops entering Hungary. It was attended by the Prime Ministers of Ceylon, India, Burma and Indonesia.  Pakistan was unable to be present.

The Colombo Powers issued a joint communiqué.  The Colombo powers said that invasion of Egypt by Britain, France and Israel was not justified. There should be an immediate withdrawal from Egyptian territory. Similarly, USSR should immediately withdraw from Hungary. There should be a ceasefire and the people of Hungary should be left free to decide their destiny.

Bandaranaike represented Colombo Powers at the UN General Assembly of 1956.  I was the only Prime Minister in this part of Asia, who could visit the west and attend the United Nations Organization at that time, he told Parliament.  At the UN I was able to explain our views and take the matter further than the brief condensed form in which they appeared in the joint communiqué.

In 1959 SWRD has held a meeting of the Colombo Powers which was attended by India, Pakistan and Indonesia. There he noted that the loans and assistance given by foreign countries may become a problem for the receiving countries. There is no further information on the Colombo Powers.


Bandaranaike   wanted to promote foreign relations which helped Sri Lanka interests, its security and economic progress. But his policy was not confined only to this. He also advocated for Sri Lanka, active engagement in preventive diplomacy, between the power blocs.

Bandaranaike‘s foreign policy had many facets. He supported non-alignment with military blocs, adherence to Panchaseela and Bandung principles, firm opposition to any form of colonialism or the domination of small powers by big powers and positive support of national liberation movements. He proposed friendship with all nations while reserving the right to be critical of them and oppose them should the need arise.

Bandaranaike    advocated ‘dynamic neutralism’,  where neutral countries reserved the right to criticize if they felt a country did not act correctly. Dynamic neutrality also meant that neutral countries would strongly oppose attempts by big powers to bully a small country.

 In his address to the U.N. he said that neutral nations do not simply sit on the fence. We are not uncommitted nations, “We are committed to the hilt: we are committed to preserve decency in dealings between nations; we are committed to the cause of justice and of freedom as much as anyone is. That, briefly, is our position in Asia,” he said.

Bandaranaike also supported Asian solidarity. Bandaranaike had suggested  in Delhi  an economic conference of the Bandung powers leading to a regional development plan for Asia. I put forward the idea, which was accepted by the other Prime Ministers at Delhi, to start as a beginning of our co-operation a Joint Economic Consultative Committee in Colombo, said Bandaranaike to Parliament. The conference seems to have taken place. HSS Nissanka in his book refers to an Afro Asian economic conference in Colombo in May 1959.


Ceylon applied for membership to United Nations in 1948. Russia vetoed the application,  saying that Sri Lanka still had a defense agreement with UK. In 1954, Nehru offered to   get Ceylon into the UN, but Sir John was not interested. Sri Lanka eventually obtained membership of the United Nations on 14 December 1955. In 1955, UN had decided to admit 16 members including Ceylon to the UN, in a single list which contained in equal proportion, countries which supported USA and those which supported Russia.

Ceylon seemed unprepared for the honor. US newspapers ran a photograph on that day, with the caption, Outside the United Nations General Assembly building in New York, the Ceylon national flag is hoisted for the first time while a Ceylonese official stands beside it and a hurriedly gathered team led by Annersley de Silva, Ceylon Trade Commissioner in New York, took their seats in the General Assembly building behind the name board marked ‘Ceylon” on 14 December, 1955”

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike taking over as Prime Minister in April 1956 took immediate measures to open Sri Lanka’s UN office in New York. R. S. S. Gunawardena  who was Ceylon’s Ambassador in USA was appointed concurrently as the first Permanent Representative to United Nations, Mr. Bandaranaike was faced with several problems in managing Sri Lanka’s mission in New York City, due to lack of officers in foreign service ,said Nissanka.

My guess is that this photo shows, right to left, RSS Gunawardene, SWRD Bandaranaike, and Gunasena de Zoysa.  I cannot identify the fourth.

SWRD attended the UN General Assembly session in November 1956. He was the first Prime Minister of Ceylon to do so and the first Sri Lankan Head of Government to address the UN. In his first speech in UN, SWRD uttered the usual pleasantries and then plunged straight into the burning political issues of the time. He began by drawing attention to the fact that certain countries, notably China and Japan was not yet in the UN. He hoped that this would change soon.

He then went on to discuss Suez. The Suez crisis had dangerous implications he said.  He wanted the US-French forces withdrawn immediately from Suez, and the Canal cleared, preferably under the auspices of the UN,   as soon as possible. 75% of the trade of Sri Lanka passes through the Suez. He took the same position regarding the USSR intervention in Hungary.

 Bandaranaike   then went on to speak of newly independent nations. Many states in Asia have re-emerged into freedom after three to four hundred years of colonial rule. They now face the difficult problem of converting colonial states into a free states, in the midst of changing world conditions.  

He concluded by saying My country is a small one, a weak one and a poor one, but I venture to think that today, particularly in an organization such as this, the service that a country can render – that a member can render – is not to be measured alone by the size of that country, its population, its power or its strength.” Sri Lanka will support the work of the UN, to the best of its ability.

H.M.Gunasekera said he had a recording of Voice of America interview with Bandaranaike during his visit to US. At the start the interviewer was very sarcastic, determined to degrade this visitor who took a pro-communist stand, observed Gunasekera. The quality of SWRD replies were such that the interviewer’s tone changed noticeably.

On his return to Sri Lanka Bandaranaike voiced his concerns about the UN. Bandaranaike   wanted to see certain changes in the UN. Year after year-the question of the revision of the Charter has been brought up, he said. Various questions are involved in the revision of the Charter. The power of the veto, as it is provided in the Security Council, is one of the largest snags.  

 I am of the opinion, and I have conveyed it to our Representative, he said in Parliament that certain resolutions should be passed

if necessary, an amendment to the Charter itself, but leaving out the more controversial matters with regard to veto power, and so on, of the Security Council.

[We cannot have   a repeat of the 1956 happenings,] said Bandaranaike, military forces going in, fears of another world war. The UN must have some machinery ready for their Observation Groups to move quickly into action to prevent countries from going into other countries, as has happened    in regard to the Suez Canal and in Lebanon and Jordan.  Also, the time has come when some permanent Police Force of the United Nations must be set up. 

The visit to the UN in 1956 was the only overseas trip Bandaranaike made as Prime Minister.  He made a Statement in the House of Representatives in December 1956 on his visit. I thought that as soon as possible after my return the House would like to hear from me a fairly full and detailed statement regarding the trip that I made to attend the U. N. O., about the various important personalities with whom I had an opportunity of discussing matters.

Bandaranaike said that when he was in the US for the UN sessions, he had also met the US President. I had a full discussion with President Eisenhower, I was able to discuss with the President fully, satisfactorily and leisurely all the points I wished to discuss with him, Bandaranaike said. Then Bandaranaike went to Canada   to explain the stand of the Colombo powers.  He invited John Diefenbaker to visit Ceylon.

 On his return trip Bandaranaike visited India and Pakistan. SWRD has given a speech in India on his way back from the UN. He had spoken without any notes as usual and the diplomats had said that this speech was the best they had ever heard in that hall, said B.P.Pieris in his book ‘Memoirs of a Cabinet secretary’ .

On my way back I called at Pakistan, Bandaranaike told Parliament. We were very well received by the Government of Pakistan. We were guests of the President himself. I had talks with the Ministers as well as members of the Government. They were very friendly. Of course, there were certain points on which our views disagreed with theirs. I was left with the impression that Pakistan they would be quite willing to join Joint Economic Consultative Committee to be held in Colombo.  

It will thus be seen, that perhaps these peregrinations of mine were not without their value and use. I feel a great deal of understanding and friendliness has been created which will no doubt accrue to our mutual benefit.

Bandaranaike gained the support of China and Japan, through his first and only speech at the UN. In his speech in UN General Assembly, SWRD drew attention, very early on, to the fact that certain countries, notably China and Japan was not yet in the UN. He hoped that this would change soon.  He resisted pressure from USA and other western countries not to do say this, observed Nissanka.  The support given by Sri Lanka at the UN has been gratefully remembered by China and Japan, said Nissanka.

Bandaranaike made it clear back in Sri Lanka that this was not mere rhetoric. He firmly stated in Parliament, in reply to a query, that he supported the entry of China to the UN. The point has been raised whether the People’s Republic of China should be a member of the United Nations.

Of course, she should be a member. We have been pressing that all along, Bandaranaike said. Those familiar with the history of the admission of China to the UN will know that we have always been pressing that outside and in the General Assembly as well as in the Committees of the Security Council. I think we are moving towards it and we can hope, before long, that it will be an accomplished fact.

1956 was an eventual year in the world affairs. There was the Suez Crisis, the invasion of Egypt by Israel, the invasion of Hungary by Russia, the entry of United States troops to Lebanon and British troops to Jordan. All these were referred to the UN and Sri Lanka voted on UN’s resolutions.

HSS Nissanka has laboriously tabulated the voting behavior of Sri Lanka at the UN. A study of the voting pattern of Sri Lanka showed, said Nissanka that Sri Lanka had voted on the merit of each issue, as decided by Bandaranaike and not on pressure by the power blocs.

All voting decisions were determined by Bandaranaike. He had once given instruction to his representative at 3 am. Bandaranaike has courageously exercised his independent judgment resisting the pressure that would have been exercised, using the issue of trade and aid, said Nissanka.

Afro-Asian countries formed a caucus and consulted each other before taking decisions at the United Nations. Sri Lanka joined them. Sri Lanka’s voting correlations with Afro – Asian countries were very high, compared to its correlation with U.S.A. the U.S.S.R. and the UK, said Nissanka.

Where USA and Russia took opposite sides, Sri Lanka sometime voted with USA sometime with Russia, depending on the issue. In some case Sri Lanka did not vote with India either.

Bandaranaike   got away from the UK orbit too. Her voting correlation with British was lower than that with USA, USSR.  Sri Lanka opposed the stand taken by Britain in Suez crisis. There were eleven resolutions over Suez and in 6 of these Sri Lanka voted against U.K.  

Sri Lanka was stern with the UN when necessary. Sri Lanka complained that it was not given sufficient time to consider the resolutions on Hungary. The vote was taken in a few hours. They had not been given even 24 hours to study the problem and instruct their representative in UN.. Could the UN not have given sufficient time for member to study the matter, Sri Lanka asked Sri Lanka abstained from voting as they had not studied the matter. In the case of the second resolution on Hungary, Sri Lanka   agreed with one half and disagreed with the other, but since the vote was on the whole resolution, we abstained again.  


Sri Lanka had clearly impressed in the UN, thanks to Bandaranaike’s speech and the independence shown by Sri Lanka in its voting in the UN. Sri Lanka’s voting behavior at UN during the regime of Bandaranaike gave her a certain amount of world recognition and prestige during the short period of four years, said Nissanka. Such mature political behavior brought prestige to Sri Lanka at UN.

The Sri Lanka representative at the UN was elected as an office bearer on a number of committees of the UN and her special agencies. UN appointed an advisory committee to guide the UN Emergency Force. Sri Lanka was nominated to this body by Iran and was unanimously approved.

In 1959, Sri Lanka applied for membership of UN Security Council, the most powerful body in the UN. Sri Lanka was elected unanimously, without any opposition, as one of the non permanent members of the Security Council. The presidency of the Council is held by each of the members in turn for one month, and Sir Claude Corea, Sri Lanka‘s representative at the UN,  became the President of the United Nations Security Council in May 1960. (continued)

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