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Diplomacy or Diplomercy? Diplomats or Diplomutts?

Jul 31, 2010 11:40:52 PM- transcurrents.com

by Namini Wijedasa

The UNP is to hand over a no-confidence motion this week against poor G.L. Peiris (who is now known in some circles as ‘Nanny Peiris’ for the mentoring role he has taken over a certain presidential progeny).

The party thinks Prof Peiris should be skewered for failing to prevent the appointment of an expert panel by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise him on accountability issues related to the conduct of Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE.

While it is rich that the UNP — which is facing a massive internal and external crisis in confidence at present — is attempting a no-confidence motion on someone else, such a move would open up space for a welcome parliamentary debate on how Sri Lanka today conducts its relations with the outside world.\

For instance, do we practise diplomacy anymore? Or do we merely rampage around the world blackguarding countries that we think “don’t like us” while cultivating only the nations that overtly support every blessed thing the main actors in our government do?

The conflict with the LTTE may be long over but from the look of things Sri Lanka has amassed far too much weaponry and combative spirit to get out of battle mode. The modus operandi now is to be constantly on the defensive or offensive — when in most cases it is often best to be neither.

At the merest hint of criticism (and we won’t go into whether or not such criticism is valid here), Sri Lanka delves into its vast armoury of coarse rhetoric, barbed remarks and antagonistic vocabulary to react in the most contrary way possible. Nothing is sugar-coated and to hell with diplomacy. Whatever sells locally is what is tried abroad. And that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Political appointees

The diplomatic corps is peppered with political appointees. Have these men and women — who draw their “power” directly from offices higher than the ministry of external affairs — read their lessons on diplomacy? Do they even know Sri Lanka’s official positions on various matters like, say, our stand on the Israel-Palestine conflict? If they don’t, do they bother to check back with the ministry before making controversial statements that force the government to then issue barely believable statements to cover up a stinking (and seriously compromising) mess?

Sure we had some successes in the UN Human Rights Council, preventing some EU led moves against the country while voting down one crucial resolution. Nevertheless, one swallow does not make a summer. Besides, the main actors in that drama have all been banished. We all know what happened to Dayan Jayatilleke, Mahinda Samarasinghe is handling the plantation sector and Prof Rajiva Wijesinghe, well, he’s in parliament but that’s about it.

Do members of Sri Lanka’s diplomatic corps work in unison anymore? More importantly, do they do things that work anymore? Consider, for instance, this ridiculous NAM statement that was attempted after the appointment of Ban Ki-moon’s panel. It failed. The NAM members did not sign up and it embarrassed the country.

Or maybe not. Sri Lanka no longer seems to have the capacity to be embarrassed. Take the colossal muddle at our mission in New York. A junior officer accusing her senior officer of sexual harassment while the head of mission is habitually found traipsing around the world even when the country needs him to be in NYC.

It is playing out like a cheap movie. One of Sri Lanka’s most important diplomatic missions — the one that is tasked with “taking on” Ban Ki-moon and other cowboys in New York — is in a tangle. But, really, nobody seems to care. So long as China keeps pumping expensive aid into Sri Lanka, we are fine.

Every so often, political appointees telephone the president’s office direct to convey their various “tales”. The currying of favour has become a norm rather than an exception. Sri Lanka lost the GSP Plus.

Sri Lanka failed to prevent the appointment of Ban Ki-moon’s panel by not appointing the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in time. Sri Lanka encouraged Wimal Weerawansa’s goons to perpetrate a violate protest that hindered UN staff from reporting to work (and thus violated our own obligations towards the UN).

Then Sri Lanka got him to stage a “death fast” outside the UN which, for all his protestations, ended up as the joke of the century. We do all this when there are already in existence much better, diplomatic ways to handle international relations.

Best of the worst lot

To be honest, Prof Peiris is the best out of a worse lot — particularly coming after that horrific, high-spending national disaster that we identify by the name of Rohitha Bogollagama.

Despite Prof Peiris’ constantly changing political principles, he still has brains and possibly the good sense to realise that some things just have to be done differently as far as our conduct of international relations go.

With the war behind us and the LLRC installed, it is possible for a small nation like ours to be friends with everyone. For god’s sake, just couch the insults in diplomatic language like everyone else does and we’ll be at least a fraction of the way there COURTESY:LAKBIMA NEWS