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Sri Lanka Defense and Foreign Policy

Foreign policy and defense

Under the leftist Rajapaksa government (2005–2015), Sri Lanka gradually approached China and eventually became heavily indebted to Beijing. Cooperation continued under President Sirisena, who, however, initially sought to reduce dependence on China. After the end of the civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka has been on a collision course with the UN and the Western world, demanding that the country go to the bottom with allegations of serious war crimes.

During the Cold War, Sri Lanka was a leading country in the so-called alliance-free movement, although the principle of freedom of alliance has been interpreted in different ways by different governments. Right-wing UNP governments have usually had a more Western-friendly attitude than the more left-leaning SLFP governments, which have won a friendly relationship with China, among others.

  • Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Sri Lanka for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.

After the end of the Cold War, the importance of alliance-free status diminished. Instead, Sri Lanka's main foreign policy issue was to try to persuade the outside world to distance itself from the separatists in the country, the so-called Tamil Liberation Tigers (LTTE).

Tight relationship with the western world

Defense and Foreign Policy of Sri LankaIn the US, Canada and the EU, there were large groups of exile Tamils ​​during the war, and the Lankan government believed that many of them contributed financially to the LTTE guerrillas. The United States labeled the "Tamil Tigers" as a terrorist group in 1997 and the EU followed after 2006. The terrorist stamp was a financial setback for LTTE, as economic assets were frozen and guerrilla leaders were barred from entering the countries in question.

After the war, the suspicions of war crimes have, above all, negatively affected Sri Lanka's traditionally good relations with the United States, as the United States has been driving behind resolutions adopted by the UN Human Rights Council. In the spring of 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling on Sri Lanka to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations of war crimes at the end of the civil war. Since Rajapaksa rejected the UN injunction, the Council repeated its call for new resolutions in 2013 and 2014. When these were also rejected by Sri Lanka, the Council proposed an international investigation. Sri Lanka dismissed the claims as "neo-colonialism".

When the Sirisena government took office in 2015, the US and the rest of the Western world came closer. On a visit to Sri Lanka in May of the same year, US Secretary of State John Kerry praised Sirisena's quest for reconciliation with the Tamils. But despite promises of war crimes investigations, nothing concrete has happened during the time of the Sirisans in power.

Strong ties to India

Sri Lanka has strong historical and cultural ties to India which has a large Tamil population. Among the Indian Tamils ​​who mainly live in the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India, many are committed to the cause of the Tamil people.

Relations between the countries were long strained by India supporting the struggle of the Sri Lankan Tamils. However, after India's failed involvement in the Sri Lankan civil conflict in the late 1980s (see Modern History), the New Delhi government took a more cautious stance. When the LTTE then ordered the assassination of the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, the guerrillas lost their support and the two countries saw a common enemy in the Tamil extremist group.

After the war, India has been heavily involved in rebuilding the Tamil-dominated areas in the north, among other things by financing house construction and lending money for road, bridge and other infrastructure repairs. India is Sri Lanka's largest trading partner and has also invested in the energy sector.

In 2012-2013, the condition was strained by India voting for the UN resolutions mentioned above. India's position was decided by then a Tamil Nadu-based party sitting in the Indian coalition government. India now stands on Sri Lanka's side in the UN Human Rights Council polls.

President Sirisena's first state visit in February 2015 went to India, and diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries have been strengthened during Sirisen's time in power. India maintained a low profile during the political crisis that erupted in Sri Lanka in the fall of 2018, when a power struggle at the highest political level paralyzed large parts of the state leadership (see Current Politics).

Dependent on China

When relations with the West deteriorated during the Rajapaksa government, Sri Lanka turned its eyes on other countries, primarily China but also Russia and Iran.

Relations with China were significantly strengthened during Rajapaksa's time as president. China has invested a lot of money in Sri Lanka, especially in the energy and infrastructure sectors. Among other things, a harbor and an airport have been built in President Rajapaksa's home province of Hambantota.

The Sirisena government first tried to distance itself from China, including interrupting a major Chinese-funded infrastructure project in the port of Colombia. In 2016, however, the project was resumed, which was completed in 2019. At the end of 2017, China was allowed to lease the port of Hambantota for 99 years as part of Beijing's major infrastructure initiative BRI (Belt and Road Initiative, or New Silk Road). In exchange, Sri Lanka got some of its loans to Beijing renegotiated.

When it comes to conflict with the UN, China is a reliable partner. China, as a rule, emphasizes the right of all countries to manage their own affairs without external interference. Consequently, China has voted against the resolutions adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka.

Good relationship with Pakistan

Pakistan, too (like Russia) has stood on Sri Lanka's side in the conflict with the UN. Pakistan assisted the Lankan government with large quantities of weapons during the war and, after the end of the war, has focused on strengthening ties with Colombo. Trade between Pakistan and Sri Lanka is great. The countries have also agreed to cooperate in export, education and research on agriculture.

Defense

Military service is optional. During the Civil War, defense spending was high and in connection with the final offensive many new soldiers were recruited. According to estimates, around 150,000 army soldiers participated in the battles against the LTTE guerrillas in 2009. The Tamil guerrillas are estimated to have had around 10,000 men under arms. After the war there were plans to lose the armed forces, but they have remained relatively large.

The military is not just devoted to defense. In the Northern Province, the military regulates large parts of daily life and throughout the country the military has obtained employment and extra income by engaging in tourism, agriculture and infrastructure projects. Since 2013, the army can be deployed to maintain the general order.

FACTS - DEFENSE

army

200,000 Men (2017)

The air Force

28 000 men (2017)

The fleet

15,000 men (2017)

Military expenditure's share of GDP

2.2 percent (2017)

Military spending's share of the state budget

11.0 percent (2017)


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