Full Text of the Secretary of Defence’ Keynote Address at
“Galle Dialogue – 2012”:

I consider it a pleasure and a privilege to address you at the opening session of this year’s “Galle Dialogue”, the annual Maritime Conference organised by the Ministry of Defence of Sri Lanka. I take this opportunity to welcome all our distinguished foreign guests to Sri Lanka, and thank them for their presence here. As you are no doubt aware, or have no doubt seen, Sri Lanka is a beautiful, peaceful and stable island with friendly people and a rich heritage. I have every confidence that you will find your time here very enjoyable as well as productive.

The first Galle Dialogue was held in 2010, under the theme “Charting the Course for Sustainable Maritime Cooperation”. At that Dialogue, participants from 10 nations discussed means to increase operational cooperation between countries with an interest in upholding the security of the Indian Ocean region. Last year’s Galle Dialogue was held on the theme of “Challenges and Strategic Cooperation for Indian Ocean Maritime Concerns”. Delegates from 19 countries discussed specific threats and concerns regarding maritime security in this ocean region, and discussed the courses of action that needed to be taken to address them.

The theme for this year’s Galle Dialogue is “Strategic Maritime Cooperation and Partnership to face the future with Confidence”. This is a broad theme that reflects the need for nations to look beyond immediate security threats and operational considerations to forge cooperation and partnership at the strategic level. Strategic cooperation and partnership is essential to achieving lasting security, stability and success in the Indian Ocean region. I am pleased to note that delegates from 27 countries are participating at this year’s Dialogue, including several senior representatives from key countries and representatives from several notable think tanks. I hope that the presentations that will be made and the discussions they will have with each other during the course of the next two days would be instrumental in increasing international cooperation and partnership in this region to the benefit of all.

The Indian Ocean region borders more than thirty nations. It contains the world’s largest population segment; a segment that is growing quite rapidly. It is the third largest ocean in the world; one that is rich in resources, with significant reserves of oil, natural gas, minerals and diverse biological resources. Nearly half of the world’s containerised cargo crosses the Indian Ocean every year. Despite adverse global economic conditions, the volume of this cargo shows no sign of declining. If anything, the volume of sea trade across this region has only increased over time. Much of the shipping that takes place in the Indian Ocean is for the purpose of extra-regional trade. The energy security of many nations also depends on ships that transport fuel through this ocean for their power requirements. As a result of these factors, it is not only countries in the region but also much of the rest of the world that has a very keen interest in the safety and security of the Indian Ocean.

Unfortunately, it has to be acknowledged that the Indian Ocean faces a number of threats. Its sheer scale renders it vulnerable to many issues including piracy, terrorism, human smuggling, drug trafficking, Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing, and illegal waste disposal. These are all serious threats to the security, stability and sustainability of the Indian Ocean region. Each of them impact the countries in the Indian Ocean littoral as well as other nations that rely on these seas to varying degrees for trade, energy security and global security.

One of the most disturbing trends in recent years has been the spread of piracy originating from Somalia. The sophistication as well as the operational range of the pirates is constantly increasing, and they now pose a significant threat to vessels that travel far beyond the Gulf of Aden. The outward growth of piracy poses a serious problem to the uninterrupted flow of international trade, and is an issue that requires international intervention. The work being done by several Naval forces active in the region in this regard is laudable.

Sri Lanka, too, is playing a small but significant role in combating piracy. Sri Lankan private sector companies working through the Ministry of Defence have provided on board security to a large number of commercial shipping lines and fishing trawlers that operate in this region. The performance of these companies has received positive recognition in the recent past, and more and more commercial shipping lines are registering with them for the services that they can provide to their vessels.

A second grave issue that affects nations in the Indian Ocean littoral is the threat of terrorism. Time and again, terrorists have demonstrated their ability to exploit unprotected coastlines to cause havoc within nations. During the three decades of terrorism suffered by Sri Lanka, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE, smuggled a vast arsenal of formidable weaponry into Sri Lanka through the sea. This arsenal included heavy weapons such as high calibre artillery, surface to air missiles, anti aircraft guns and other significant assets such as armoured vehicles and light aircraft. These items were illegally procured through the LTTE’s many front organisations and operatives, shipped internationally, and stored in large floating warehouses off Sri Lankan shores. Smaller vessels were dispatched to ferry these items from those floating warehouses to the coastline. This modus operandi can easily be replicated by any terrorist group or non-state actors who have designs on a nation’s sovereignty and security. The 2008 Mumbai attacks are an unfortunate example of this possibility. Similar logistical and operational strategies can also be used by international terrorists who seek to harm wider regional or global interests.

The trafficking of persons internationally is another grave issue that affects nations through the sea. Every year, thousands of illegal immigrants are transported through international waters to other countries. This has had a major impact on the domestic policies and even the electoral politics of many nations. The nexus between human smuggling and terrorism is particularly worrying. After the military defeat of the LTTE in 2009, its international shipping network began engaging in this illegal enterprise in earnest. Charging thousands of dollars per person, LTTE vessels transported thousands of illegal immigrants through international waters to western nations and to Australia. Not only did this allow economic migrants to seek asylum in these countries under false pretences, but even more disturbingly, it allowed trained terrorists to escape justice and pose a threat to the domestic security of the countries they travelled to.

In this context, I am pleased to report that the Sri Lanka and Australia have been working together in the recent past to stop the illegal trafficking of persons to Australia from Sri Lanka. Bilateral dialogue has taken place at a very high level, and operational cooperation through the sharing of information between the respective Navies, Coast Guards and law enforcement agencies has done a great deal to curb this trend. So far this year, the authorities have managed to prevent the illegal immigration of 2,990 people by apprehending the vessels they were travelling in. As the operational cooperation between the responsible parties increases, I am confident that the threat posed by the trafficking of persons will be further curtailed.

Drug trafficking is another very serious criminal activity that poses a threat to the Indian Ocean region. Drug cartels use fishing boats, specially modified vessels and even exploit containerised cargo to transport drugs from their areas of origin in the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle to their dealers in countries across the globe. The money generated from the drugs trade has also been linked to international terrorism. For example, it is a known fact that the LTTE used money raised from drug smuggling to fund its acquisition of weaponry to wage war in Sri Lanka. The wider impact of the drugs trade requires nations to take a holistic and multi-pronged approach to the issue of drug smuggling, which not only affects a nation's health and domestic security, but can also have serious ramifications on the sovereignty of countries far away.

In addition to the issues discussed earlier, which have an impact on international and national security of nations, there are two further issues that pose a serious danger to the health of the oceans themselves. Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing has had a tremendous impact on the sustainability of oceanic fish stocks as a result of overexploitation and wasteful fishing methods. The use of illegal fishing gear and practices such as bottom trawling can have major environmental impacts. It is essential for the sustainability of the oceans that more stringent action is taken internationally to curb these practices.

In addition to its environmental impacts, pirate fishing across territorial waters can pose a risk to the livelihoods of fishermen, and causes tension in fishing communities and amongst coastal populations. For example, the large number of fishing boats that come to Sri Lankan waters from South India for fishing is an issue that the Indian Government and the Sri Lankan Government have had to contend with in recent years. The two Governments have taken a number of steps to solve this problem, but more needs to be done to stop the encroachment of these fishing craft to Sri Lankan waters.

This is a particularly acute problem because it has a grave impact on the economic prospects of Tamil fishermen in the North and East of Sri Lanka, who are now rebuilding their livelihoods after decades of suppresson under the LTTE. The fact that these fishermen have to compete with such large numbers of fishing craft that illegally enter our waters has caused great tension and frustration in the newly liberated North and East.

The illegal disposal of hazardous substances as waste into the oceans is another serious environmental issue. Marine pollution caused by the dumping of industrial and other waste into the sea from shore as well as the discharge of waste from oceangoing vessels has serious ramifications on the environment as well as the wellbeing of coastal populations. Economic activity such as tourism in coastal regions is also adversely affected as a result of these practices.

It is clear that individual nations acting in isolation will not be able to effect lasting practical solutions for any of these major issues. With the increasing sophistication of non-state actors in today’s globalised world, the ability that national Navies and Coast Guards have to tackle the problems they cause on their own is limited. The sheer scale of the problems faced is another limiting factor that militates against solutions by individuals nations. Without the sharing of intelligence and vital information, and proper communication and coordination of naval operations, individual states will not be able to address these properly. Given the importance and particular sensitivities of the Indian Ocean region, this will have disturbing consequences for the security, stability and sustainability of the region, and perhaps even the world.

In this context, I am pleased to note that Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives have recently been working on a trilateral agreement for cooperation in carrying out surveillance, anti piracy operations and in curbing illegal activities including maritime pollution. One of the key aspects of information sharing is Maritime Domain Awareness. Through this, data on white shipping will be shared to increase awareness about commercial ships operating in the region. Meetings have already been held at the Ministerial level and at the technical level, and we hope that the Memorandum of Understanding with regard to the trilateral cooperation between our nations will be signed in the near future. I am confident that multilateral agreements of this nature will be greatly instrumental in curbing many of the issues that the naval powers in the region face.

On a similar note, it would be very encouraging if the large navies in operation in the Indian Ocean could increase their cooperation with the smaller naval powers. Even though the smaller navies do not have the resources or naval assets to significantly impact the security of this ocean region on their own, by working together with the large naval powers, they will be able to make a difference. In particular, the sharing of information will lead to greater security overall, which is greatly desirable from the point of view of all nations in the Indian Ocean littoral.

Unfortunately, it has to be admitted that there is a degree of mistrust between the major powers in the Indian Ocean region that presently limits the degree to which effective and long lasting multilateral cooperation can be achieved. India is the largest naval power in the region, and has a vital role to play with regard to the future of the Indian Ocean. The United States of America also has an extremely significant naval presence in this strategic region.

At the same time, it is apparent that the influence of China in the region is also expanding rapidly. China’s military modernisation, its increasing naval presence in blue waters and its expanding economic influence in countries in this region has been viewed with wariness by India and the United States of America. The increasing presence of the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean, as well as its increasing involvement in counter piracy operations in this region, has also been viewed with some concern by the same powers.

However, China has an industry intensive economy that requires oil imports amounting to more than 200 million tonnes every year. Most of these oil imports are sourced from the Middle East, and then transported through the Indian Ocean to China. It is obvious that the safety and stability of the Indian Ocean is critical for China’s energy security, and its increasing interest and increasing naval presence in this region is quite understandable.

The assistance China has given to many countries for the development of deep water ports in this region has been an even more contentious issue. Chinese investments or investment commitments for ports at Gwadar, Pakistan; Marao, Maldives; Hambantota, Sri Lanka; Chittagong, Bangladesh; and Sittwe, Burma has been termed the “String of Pearls” and a great deal of speculation has surrounded these projects. From the Chinese perspective, as its economy expands through its rapid development, it is only natural that its sphere of economic influence will expand. China has long been an exponent of economic cooperation, and it has been a generous and steadfast friend to many countries in this region, including Sri Lanka. However, the presence of Chinese funded ports in critical positions throughout this ocean region, can be perceived by India as an attempt to encircle it from the south. It is very easy to understand this sensitivity.

From Sri Lanka’s perspective, I wish to clarify that the Chinese investment in the Hambantota port is a purely economic one. On average, more than three hundred ships cross the Indian Ocean approximately ten nautical miles south of Sri Lanka every day. The economic potential this presented was identified long ago, and there has been considerable debate about the best strategy to commercially exploit this potential for many decades. Several previous Governments commissioned feasibility reports on establishing a deep water port in the south of Sri Lanka. However, due to various reasons, including disagreements between the foreign consultants and their local counterparts regarding the most suitable location, these early attempts to establish a deep water port did not succeed.

When His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected President of Sri Lanka, he was keen to get this project off the ground. Because of the then on-going war, and because the country lacked the economic strength to undertake such a project on its own, economic assistance was sought internationally for the construction of this port. As one of Sri Lanka’s key development partners over the last few years, China was an obvious nation to approach. After many requests and representations at the highest level, this assistance was granted. The Chinese interest in the Hambantota port is purely commercial. It should also be noted that most of the largest companies setting up operations at the Hambantota Port are actually Indian companies. Placing the Hambantota Port within the paradigm of the String of Pearls theory is not correct.

It is important to stress that Sri Lanka is a small nation that is nevertheless very strategically placed at a critical location within the Indian Ocean. This has focused the attention of many powers on this country. However, Sri Lanka has always pursued a non-aligned foreign policy, and our only interest is in our economic development. After having suffered for three decades of terrorism, the Sri Lankan people yearn for a better tomorrow. Because our past opportunities for growth were suppressed due to the war, the country does not have the capacity to fund the projects that are necessary to unlock its economic potential. It is only natural that we extend our hands to our friends in other countries. We welcome assistance from anybody who is willing to give it without harsh conditions being attached. This should not be misunderstood as a form of alignment with any one country or another. In fact, there are many development projects going on in Sri Lanka that are funded by India, China, Japan, and many other countries. We value and appreciate all the support and assistance that is rendered to us.

It is in this context, as well as in the wider context of the security, stability and sustainability of the Indian Ocean region, that Sri Lanka has a particular interest in promoting multilateral cooperation between the major powers present in this region. A peaceful and stable Indian Ocean will be to the benefit of all. It is important to note that since the last Galle Dialogue, the world has seen much change take place in the regions around the Indian Ocean and in the Middle East in particular. There have significant changes in countries like Egypt and Libya; a serious escalation in the on-going problems in Syria; and greater tension between Israel and Palestine. Even Afghanistan and Iraq cannot still be said to be fully stable after the changes they have experienced over the past decade. With so much change and uncertainty in the regions so close to us, it is especially important that stability in the Indian Ocean region is fostered. The long-standing democracies in this region require support instead of misguided and counterproductive criticism from some in the international community.

In concluding, I once again wish all the participants at the Galle Dialogue a productive and enjoyable time in Sri Lanka. I hope that the many presentations and discussions that will take place over today and tomorrow will be instrumental in fostering improved multilateral cooperation between the nations with an interest in this region. Greater cooperation and partnership between the naval powers in this region will benefit not only the nations in the Indian Ocean littoral but the entire world, and enable all of us to face the future with confidence.
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