How — and why — international relations theory must adjust to small player and minor power dynamics in today’s world.

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Thucydides

Thucydides does not take sides between the Athenians and the Spartans in his account of the Peloponnesian War. The most famous passage from that book is, of course, his version of the so-called Melian Dialogue, where a group of islanders who had otherwise remained neutral during the war debate whether they should submit to the will of the more powerful Athenians, or whether they should try warding them off. The Dialogue is about why Athens acts as it does, and what the Melians should do in response to it.

When the Melians rationalise their opposition to the impending Athenian invasion…


The Many Faces of the Kandyan Kingdom (1591–1765) by Gananath Obeyesekere. Perera-Hussein, 2020, 200 pp., Rs. 1,200

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In 1602, the year of the Dutch East India Company’s founding, Joris van Spilbergen reached the shores of Sri Lanka after setting sail from the seaport of Veere in Holland a year earlier. Tasked with opening up trade negotiations with the King of Kandy, Vimaladharmasuriya, Spilbergen bore with him a letter from the Prince of Orange acknowledging their willingness to counter the Portuguese. Not for one moment underestimating Portuguese presence in the island, though, they disembarked at Batticaloa, which fell under the jurisdiction of the Kandyan Court. They anchored off the coast on May 31.

From there, having proved that…


A brief history of international relations

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More than a mere difference of rhetoric sets the US National Defense Strategy of 2008 apart from the updated 2018 version. The Republicans were in control and power at the time of publication of both documents, though the second Bush administration would give way to the Obama presidency a few months following the publication of the first. They came against the backdrop of shifting geopolitical concerns: the 2008 brief in the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, the 2018 brief in the aftermath of the ascendancy of China.

It’s not a little significant that the second document devotes less attention than…


A political history of post-1977 Sri Lanka

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Viewed in retrospect, the yahapalanaya regime now seems almost a bad memory best forgotten. This is not to underrate its achievements, for the UNP-SLFP Unity Government did achieve certain things, like the Right to Information Act. It soon found out, however, that it couldn’t shield itself from its own reforms; that’s how 2015 led to 2019.

Despite its laudable commitment to democratic rule, the yahapalanists reckoned without the popularity of the man they ousted at the ballot box. …


A temple, another temple, yet another temple, and a people

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Mural from Delgamuwa Viharaya

With input from Roshan Jayarathna

From Panadura to Ratnapura the bus takes three hours to complete the ride. It goes through Horana, Ingiriya, Idangoda, Kiriella, and Kahangama before reaching its destination. The bus stop at Ratnapura is largely empty after six in the evening, and after eight there’s no one. It was raining last December. I was getting late. The clock struck 4.30 when I reached Kiriella. Another hour or so, and there wouldn’t be anyone to take me. I had come to visit Raddella, 25 minutes away. I would be staying for Christmas: I wanted an escape from the…


Why historical contextualisation matters in economic theory

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Academics and students tend to subscribe to certain dominant ideological paradigms, the assumptions which underlie them, and the conclusions those assumptions lead them to. Given that universities, particularly local universities, have turned into knowledge factories preferring unconditional acceptance to critical thinking, false paradigms and analogies get perpetuated easily. They get embedded in school curricula, public forums, and of course the public sphere: as much in the lecture hall as in parliament.

Most of these paradigms delve into what the best way forward for the country should be, economically and politically, or what it should not be. For instance, the Vehicle…


What does Biden-Harris mean for Sri Lanka, and the world?

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The US has been grappling with the problem of how to advance its interests in the world, and throughout much of the 20th century the question boiled down to the debate between the realists and the idealists. Since the late 1970s, and particularly since the collapse of Communism, it seemed that the latter had won: liberal interventionism, which emphasised cooperation, had triumphed over hard realism, which emphasised competition. …


A look back at our history, and a response to nationalists

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Former Northern Province Chief Minister and now MP C. V. Wigneswaran

Former Chief Minister Wigneswaran made two remarks at the commencement of the 16th parliament. First he contended that Tamil is the oldest surviving language, presumably in the world. Then he contended that the Tamil people are this country’s original inhabitants.

Since I don’t know much Tamil, I am not sure whether something got lost in the translation provided by the news outlets which broadcast the parliamentary session. …


The first in a series of essays outlining the foreign policy of post-independence Sri Lanka

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D. S. Senanayake and part of his Cabinet with Jawaharlal Nehru

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The foreign policy followed by Sri Lanka in its first few years of independence was determined by two factors: its proximity to India and its colonial past. The one influenced the other. The nature of Sri Lanka’s colonial bourgeoisie, who became the legatees of power once the British “left”, and their ideological orientation, had a say as well.

The conflux of these factors has led several commentators, Marxist or otherwise, to argue that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was structured along pro-Western lines. …


Assessing one of the most profound intellectual-philosophical movements to spring up in Sri Lanka

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Gunadasa Amarasekara

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The Jathika Chintanaya which emerged in the 1980s continues to exert a considerable influence on mainstream politics and popular opinion in Sri Lanka today. Their contribution to historiography is one of several, but I strongly believe it was their most significant. At their forefront were Gunadasa Amarasekara, the greatest writer to emerge from post-1956 Sri Lanka still with us, and Nalin de Silva, who as Amarasekara pointed out gave the movement “a solid philosophical foundation.”

The movement certainly did not emerge in or from a vacuum: it was shaped, nurtured, and fostered by the post-1977 social, political, cultural, and…

Uditha Devapriya

Sri Lankan. History fanatic. Movie addict. Book lover.

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