May 8, 2018        Reading Time: 3 minutes

Your weekly digest of foreign policy commentary:

Reading Time: 3 min read

Jeffrey Lewis highlights gaps between North Korea’s statements and Washington’s expectations. Image credit – bedobedo / depositphoto



Sri Lanka Under the Nuclear Shadow, South Asian Voices, by Sanath de Silva, University of Colombo

“The emerging South Asian nuclear environment is not a simple bilateral matter, as there are potential dangers … beyond the immediate impact of a mushroom cloud in either India or Pakistan.”

  • Sanath de Silva argues that Sri Lanka faces three challenges as a non-nuclear state in a nuclearised region: not becoming entangled in a conflict between India and Pakistan; managing the transit of radioactive material in Sri Lanka; and avoiding spillovers from any mismanaged nuclear reactors in the region.
  • There are deficiencies in Sri Lanka’s current disaster management and preparedness framework regarding nuclear accidents, and Sri Lanka has not sought an agreement with India on preparing for nuclear emergencies.
  • Sri Lanka should invest in developing more specialist workers who are fully trained in nuclear safety, and in public education about the risks of being a non-nuclear state in a nuclearised region.

LKI Take: As the lead coordinator of the Working Group on Maritime Safety and Security of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Sri Lanka could place issues of nuclear smuggling and nuclear accidents—both of which have a maritime dimension—on the Working Group’s agenda.



Promise vs. Experience: How To Fix The ‘Free & Open Indo-Pacific’, War on the Rocks, by Lindsey Ford, Asia Society Policy Institute

“To ensure … the free and open Indo-Pacific matches its promise, the [Trump] administration will need to develop a more coherent narrative, as well as the operational strategy to back it up.”

  • Lindsey Ford argues that the US has adopted the concept of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ without a clear strategy for implementing it.
  • The US should distance this concept from the emerging quadrilateral security dialogue between the US, Australia, Japan and India (the Quad). This would allow the Quad to set achievable agendas, and still allow ‘non-Quad’ states in Asia to strategically partner with the US in other ways.
  • The US should identify (1) common agendas between Washington and Beijing, to ensure the concept does not imply a strategy to contain China, and (2) rules and principles to support the concept.

LKI Take: It is in the interest of all Indian Ocean states, particularly smaller ones like Sri Lanka, to seek clarification of the rules and principles that would apply to a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific.’



Optimism About Korea Will Kill Us All, Foreign Policy, by Jeffrey Lewis, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies

“Kim is working toward winning a de facto recognition of North Korea as a nuclear power in exchange for his agreement to respect certain limits.”

  • Jeffrey Lewis highlights that Washington appears to have misinterpreted North Korea’s modest declaration to limit nuclear activities as meaning complete denuclearisation in the short term.
  • North Korea has only proposed a moratorium on (1) nuclear testing and (2) launching intermediate and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Rather than being a step to denuclearisation, this could be considered as an initial move towards being recognised as a de facto nuclear power.
  • Washington’s optimism about North Korea’s declaration seems unrealistic; North Korea has previously destroyed nuclear power infrastructure in its territory for ‘PR’ purposes.

LKI Take: Realistic expectations are vital to building trust and a lasting peace; this is also an important lesson for post-conflict Sri Lanka, albeit in a national rather than international context.

*Written by Barana Waidyatilake and Malinda Meegoda, 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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