Sri Lanka Table of Contents

The two most important factors in Sri Lanka's foreign relations since 1948 have been a commitment in principle to nonalignment and the necessity of preserving satisfactory relations with India without sacrificing independence. India had almost fifty times Sri Lanka's land area and population and forty times its gross national product in the late 1980s. Its point of view could not be ignored, but neither the country's political leaders nor the person in the street (especially if he or she were Sinhalese) wanted the island to become an appendage to India's regional power ambitions. The July 29, 1987, Indo-Sri Lankan Accord and the involvement of a large number of Indian troops in the northeast, however, seemed to many if not most Sri Lankans to be an unacceptable compromise of national independence.

Sri Lanka's first prime minister, Don Stephen Senanayake, had committed the country to a "middle path" of nonalignment to avoid entanglement in superpower rivalries. But nonalignment has had its modulations in the decades since independence. UNP governments were generally friendlier to the West than those formed by the left-leaning SLFP. Sirimavo Bandaranaike deeply distrusted Washington's intentions and cultivated close and friendly relations with China in the early 1960s, a time when that country was vocally committed to the worldwide export of "wars of national liberation." Jayewardene gave Sri Lanka's foreign policy a decidedly Western orientation after he came to power in July 1977. This change was motivated largely by the desire to secure aid and investment in order to promote his government's economic liberalization program. At the same time, Sri Lanka shared with Western nations apprehensions concerning India's apparent determination to make the Indian Ocean region an Indian sphere of influence and its preservation of close ties with Moscow.

Although the 1972 constitution declared the nation a republic and ended its dominion status within the Commonwealth of Nations, Sri Lanka, like India, remained a Commonwealth member in the later 1980s. The country also belonged, like other South Asian states, to the seven-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a group formed in the early 1980s to deliberate on regional problems. SAARC provided a context in which South Asian states other than India could discuss the Sri Lankan ethnic issue. But few observers regarded SAARC's role in any resolution of the crisis as anything more than peripheral. Some observers interpreted Sri Lanka's unsuccessful bid in 1982 to gain membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as an attempt to put a little comfortable distance between itself and India. The application was rejected, ostensibly on geographic grounds.

Relations with the United States

More about the Government of Sri Lanka.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress