April 17, 2018        Reading Time: 2 minutes

Your weekly digest of foreign policy commentary*

Reading Time: 2 min read

Umair Jamal explains why foreign policy is absent from Pakistan’s electoral agendas. Image credit – muha04 / depositphotos



Does Sri Lanka’s ‘Look East’ Strategy to Court ASEAN Make Sense?, The Diplomat, by Lasanda Kurukulasuriya, Journalist

“Sri Lanka should “engage more closely with ASEAN … for the intrinsic benefits of strengthening those bilateral relationships, and not as part of any counterbalancing strategy [against China].”

  • Lasanda Kurukulasuriya observes that Sri Lanka has an implicit Look East policy, as indicated by economic developments like Sri Lanka’s recent free trade agreement (FTA) with Singapore.
  • Sri Lanka’s Look East approach also stems from regional geopolitics, which has led to Southeast Asian states like Indonesia expecting Sri Lanka to contribute to maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • The author argues that India’s Act East policy with ASEAN at least partly aims to counterbalance China. However, Sri Lanka’s Look East policy should focus on strengthening bilateral ties with ASEAN members, rather than counterbalancing China.

LKI Take: Sri Lanka has an explicit policy to develop as a ‘centre of the Indian Ocean.’ It also has an implicit ‘Look East’ policy, evident from its FTA with Singapore and potential FTAs with Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. The government could clarify how these two policies fit together.



Why Foreign Policy is Not an Election Issue in Pakistan, South Asia Voices, by Umair Jamal, Forman Christian College 

“Pakistan’s political parties would do well to abandon their focus on narrow electoral goals and generate greater public awareness about the stakes of foreign policy decisions.”

  • Umair Jamal argues that foreign policy is absent from Pakistan’s electoral agendas, partly because the military is a controlling influence on foreign and security policy.
  • This is undesirable because the military has made decisions that have destabilised Pakistan’s internal security, affecting the daily lives of the electorate.
  • Pakistan’s growing middle class and educated youth may demand greater foreign policy accountability and transparency in the future; and indeed, political parties should encourage public awareness of the stakes of foreign policy decisions.

LKI Take: Although there is no existing threat to civilian control of the military in Sri Lanka, the country should continuously improve civilian oversight of its military establishment, especially in view of political pressures created by a large military.



US Missile Strikes Expose the Untenable Status Quo in International Law, Chatham House, by Ben Saul, University of Sydney

“International law loses legitimacy if it is repeatedly powerless to stop atrocities.”

  • Ben Saul examines the lawfulness of US strikes in Syria and highlights that international law does not allow any unilateral use of force, except in self-defence.
  • US airstrikes have been described as ‘illegal but legitimate.’ Such an intervention is subjective, and therefore, subject to abuse; it erodes the prohibition on the use of force and weakens the accepted concept of collective action.
  • To maintain the credibility of international law, it may be necessary to permit unilateral intervention in a narrowly defined threat category like chemical and biological weapons. It is also vital to pursue Security Council reform.

LKI Take: Aside from traditional Western allies, there has been little explicit support for the US strikes. It is in the interest of smaller states like Sri Lanka to support multilateral efforts for resolving the Syrian crisis within rules-based frameworks.

*Written by Malinda Meegoda, and Upamali Dharmasena, and edited by Anishka De Zylva. The opinions expressed in these Weekly Insights are the authors’ own and not the institutional views of LKI, and do not necessarily reflect the position of any other institution or individual with which the authors are affiliated.

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