Skip to main content



Figure 1. Regional Cooperative mechanisms in place for Indian Ocean

Today’s global geo-strategic environment is based on maritime activity; and matters maritime are embedded from economies to governance. Thus, as islanders it is indeed  important for the population to  understand the need of  navy in today’s global context. The above figure 1. illustrates  some of the regional cooperative mechanisms of global scale available in the Indian Ocean region and it is pertinent to note that the Sri Lanka Navy (SL Navy) is directly or indirectly involved as a  partner in  these maritime cooperative mechanisms.

In today’s geo-strategic posture and in diplomacy , the Navy is  continuing to be an integral and valuable component. Naval prowess is in fact a deciding criterion of  diplomacy, and Gunboat Diplomacy is a terminology that originated through this necessity. During the cold-war era it was the naval might that flexed muscle  to carry forward national interest beyond  maritime jurisdictions. A good example was the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis, where Navies were poised to unleash their devastating arsenal, based on what their political masters decided.

Countries pursue their strategic goals based on their national aspirations. These national aspirations in today’s context are economic in priority. It is  economic power that keeps  stability and strength of a country that in-turn keeps their status  in global power-playing. The Chinese Military doctrine (2017) indicates that there is no economic development without security and no security without economic development. Many countries have similar policies promulgated as Policy papers, White Papers or an Outlook document. All these poised to indicate the intentions of the Governments. The Governments evaluate each other through these policies and also from the action taken by respective Navies to decide how policy oriented the Governments are.

When Boxing Day Tsunami hit Indian Ocean region countries in 2004, Indian Naval prowess was exhibited to the global audience. Within the course of hours Naval ships started sailing to distressed areas with essential relief materials. This prompt and swift action highlighted India’s capacity and capability in global scale thus boosted Indian Government’s credibility and acceptance as a relief provider. The Navy had all the necessary equipment’s to meet the Government’s higher strategic objectives. They had hydrographic ships that can undertake the emergency survey demands to make stricken harbours safe for access and operations, they had medical facilities to support urgent lifesaving treatments, ships had integral helicopter facilities to lift essential needs and had communication facilities to coordinate the Command-and-Control measures even on the remote areas. To undertake all these disaster management a Navy needs trained manpower and also ability to work independently without burdening the State to which they came to assist. And all these does not happen overnight; these preparations are an end-result of a long-term process from manpower to equipment’s investments.

Navy’s have their own unique way of keeping relations and ship visits (or port calls) takes high precedence in this aspect. For any Navy; whether regional or extra-regional, Sri Lanka is a favoured port visit for several reasons. They range from the location advantage (almost half-way from Bab El Mandab in the west entry point to Malacca Strait in the east), infrastructure convenience (availability of berthing space, logistic support, safe and convenient harbour access, air connectivity etc.), administrative convenience (such as protocol process, friendly environment etc.), safety and security. Since 2010 we had nearly 600 warships belonging to 28 nations making port calls to Sri Lanka as per SL Navy records. Sri Lanka Navy has accorded customary welcome to all these warships and most importantly all such is recorded in public domain. All these ship visits are recorded in public domain and one reliable source of information is the SL Navy website; for any interested researcher.

Another Naval foreign relations engagement is the Joint Exercises, done in-country or in foreign country. These were being done well over three decades and continue as per the planned schedules among the navies. One of the foremost in-country joint exercise is the CARET (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training) with US Navy and US Marines whilst the most important outside engagement is the RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) done again with navies in the Pacific rim nations. Through these joint exercises the navy builds the foreign relations as such involve higher level exchanges benefitting both parties.

Another foreign relation exercise is the Ship Visits by SL Naval vessels in regional naval engagements. All friendly foreign countries prefer to have the participation of other navies in their exercises and manoeuvres and these are reciprocal in  nature. For example, when Pakistan Naval ships visit Sri Lanka, they expect SL Navy also take part in their engagements in Pakistan, as it is an indicator of their naval cooperation. Thus, when SL Navy does not take part when invited in these regional engagements that always triggers diplomatic inquiries on the reasons for not participating! For these regional naval engagements what matters is the participation and not the size or the strength of the Navy, and all will cherish the company in the host country.

Another major foreign relation exercise the SL Navy conducts is the Galle Dialogue; the International Maritime Security seminar hosted since 2010. This forum has proven itself as the only maritime forum in south Asian region where all neighbourhood navies meet and greet. These engagements in a way shows the island nation’s foreign policy and the stand on foreign relations. In today’s geo-strategic environment in the presence of USA’s Indo-Pacific policy and the Chinese Belt and Road, this prominence has become ever more important.

As briefly explained above, Sri Lanka Navy is there to engage in foreign relations whether in peace or in war. This is the reason why all naval personnel must have a broad outlook of regional and extra-regional affairs. As practitioners, they remain the frontline engagement which may decide the status of the statehood, and several such engagements in the past stand testimony for this. In 1987, Indian State of Tamil Nadu showed that they are sending a flotilla of fishing vessels with essential goods destine for population in Jaffna Peninsula besieged under the ongoing Operation Liberation; the Wadamarchchi Operation. SL Navy was tasked to prevent this flotilla flying ‘’Red Cross’’ flag crossing the IMBL (International Maritime Boundary Line) whilst hectic diplomatic engagements were going on. The remarks by the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu that the flotilla will continue at any cost to Jaffna heated up the possible skirmishes at sea. The Navy responded with all available fleet units forming a barricade at IMBL enforcing a naval blockade that prompted the Tamil Nadu relief flotilla to turn-back with no shot fired!

The Statecraft needs a Navy to exercise the sovereign rights and quiet often these are needed in a flash, therefore navies need to be fully geared up to meet these State interests at all times. Some good examples are available in contemporary history where weaker navies embarrassed the State when such was called upon to perform their classic role. When the naval ships operate far away from their national jurisdiction, the Commanding Officer of the naval ship is expected to make decisions based on ground realities, international law and political directives. Thus, Navies keep learning through each other learning how situations were handled although one might not have faced similar situation yet. These are an integral part of naval cooperative engagements as such are connected with foreign relations.

The SL Navy even operates far away from its maritime jurisdiction in pursuance of the national interest. The fleet of ten (10) Offshore Patrol Vessels operates even in the Arabian Sea (to the west of Maldivian archipelago) hunting drug peddlers. This is yet another foreign relation exercise apart from being part of the maritime security related action. Such operational deployments require much understanding and coordinating in political front too. The success of high-sea drug interdictions since 2017 has brought much recognition to the SL Navy in the region and beyond not only among the navies and law enforcement agencies but also from the global alliances operating in the Indian Ocean as watchdogs, monitoring bodies and even the United Nations. Through these operations, the world measures the commitment of the Sri Lanka Government to ensure the Indian Ocean remain safe and secure for all seafaring nations. Today, Sri Lanka chair the Working Group on Maritime Safety & Security of IORA and soon Sri Lanka going to assume the Chairmanship of IORA thus the Navy stands at forefront in establishing the credibility and partnership of Sri Lanka in the eyes of the IORA member States as well as the maritime powers of the world.

Figure 2. The Sri Lankan Maritime Jurisdiction

In meeting all these national interests, the Navy must stand ready and fit. Navies cannot be made overnight, as it is a long-term investment that equip Navy to be professionally competent, physically fit and psychologically enduring to bore the pressures of the decision making. With Indian Ocean coming to the global attention than never before, the pressure on the Navy will be much more and much dependent; from both internal and external sources. The Navy in one way is an indicator of the maritime affinity of a nation; how much the population know about their navy is linked to how much the people are aware of their oceans, their maritime knowledge and maritime environment. Therefore, the complimentary nature of how the Navy is operating and the exercise of the foreign policies or relations is a subject matter that all the islanders must develop if to use the oceanic sphere for the island’s advantage.


By Rear Admiral YN Jayarathna (Retd)

Rear Admiral YN Jayarathna was the Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Navy and concurrently holding the appointments as the Chief Hydrographer of the Navy and the Joint Chief Hydrographer to the Government of Sri Lanka.

He is an International Hydrographic Organization’s Category A qualified Hydrographer with vast knowledge on oceanographic affairs around the island nation. As the Chief Hydrographer he initiated Marine Spatial Data Infrastructure (MSDI) architecture and was instrumental in setting up the Mean Sea Level (MSI) for Sri Lanka. He holds a Master’s Degree in Defence Studies from University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka and another Masters in Hydrography from University of Goa, India.  

He retired after 35+ years of illustrious and unblemished service in the Sri Lanka Navy on 21st June 2022 on reaching mandatory retirement age of 55 years. During his career He has held the appointments of Director General Operations, Director General Training and Deputy Director General of Sri Lanka Coast Guard managing Tsunami in 2004 and Maritime Disasters. Further he represented the Government in Sethusamudram Expert Committee and was a member in the DEOCOM project which prepared the claim for Outer Continental Margin for Sri Lanka.

He is presently on contract with the UN as an International Consultant for Undersea Cables lectures widely on Maritime Security and Ocean Affairs.


Popular posts from this blog

Communism, Nationalism, Racism to Separatism (The rise and fall of Tito’s Yugoslavia)

Introduction Yugoslavia, the land of the South Slavs was formed after World War I.   Although they spoke a common language (Servo-Croatian), the country comprised of six ethnic groups, with different histories, different beliefs, and distinct identities. During the last century, this nation achieved an incredible rise to power and had a devastating collapse in the span of nine decades. Yugoslavia experienced a variety of governmental structures 1 . The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was established in 1918, only to be substituted in 1943 by the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia. Just three years later, the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia was proclaimed under the influential leadership of Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980) 2 . The country which existed for 85 years and flourished under Tito’s leadership, is now non-existent. It is argued that the continuous adoption of various ideology caused instability and eventually led to the collapse of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. T

Diploma in Diplomacy & World Affairs - A Must for Everyone!

  Growing up in India, the subjects of History and Geography and how they influenced International Relations always fascinated me. Though circumstances made me a banker, my passions always lay with the world of Diplomacy. In January 2019, my husband’s posting brought me to Sri Lanka. Within weeks of arriving, at a diplomatic event at the Indian High Commission, I was suggested to explore the ‘Diploma in Diplomacy and World Affairs’ course at BIDTI. The following day, I walked into the offices at BIDTI to find out more. When I went through the curriculum, I simply couldn’t believe my eyes. A course offered by Oxford University UK which I had dreams of pursuing but was out of my reach was being offered right here in Colombo! This was a dream come true! I still recollect the skepticism I felt when signing up for this Diploma, reminded of the fact neither did I have a background in the subject nor was I a Sri Lankan citizen. All my hesitations were simply met with a welcoming smile by the

Reconciliation through sports diplomacy: An overview of the 1995 Rugby World Cup

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was an anti-apartheid political revolutionary who served as the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black President and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. This article discusses the trials and tribulations of the South African President and how sports diplomacy played a significant part in the country’s efforts at nation-building. Mandela decided to get involved in anti-colonial and African nationalist politics after South Africa’s National Party’s white-only government established a system of racial segregation that privileged the white community in the country. As a result of his political activities, he was arrested and imprisoned on several occasions (Nelson Mandela Foundation, n.d.). Having served 27 years of life in various prisons, Mandela was freed by President F.W de Klerk in 1990 owing to growing domestic and international pressure. Mandela and de Klerk jointly led efforts to