The workshop was conducted by an Australian team comprised of both senior military and civilian officials, led by - Commodore Aaron James Ingram, Captain Guy Blackburn, Mr. Ryan Buchanan, Mr. Ben Carroll and Australian Defence Attaché Captain Jason Sears. The team had previously worked on the Australian Defence White Paper of 2016 and brought it to fruition in the Australian parliament. Their aim was to impart the Australian knowledge and experience to the Sri Lanka defence establishment.
The Secretary of Defence highlighted the role of INSSSL as the premier national security think tank in managing to organize an important and relevant workshop which will benefit the Ministry of Defence in such a short span of time. ‘An effective defence policy would enable Sri Lanka as a country to use the resources and capabilities it has to a more effective degree when protecting our national interests, and to maintain our preventative capabilities against threats that are both external and internal. This would remain a key defence priority for the country based on the experiences we have faced in the last few decades’. In this regard, the Secretary emphasized the emboldening of the Australian-Sri Lankan defence relationship through this workshop.
Acting Australian High Commissioner, Mr. Tim Huggins, also re-iterated the ‘extraordinary 70th year in the bilateral relationship’ between Australia and Sri Lanka and in the most recent visit by H.E. The President Maithripala Sirisena to Australia, both countries signed a Joint Deceleration under the heading of ‘security and defence cooperation’. This workshop thereby expands on the core tenants of this joint declaration - of a shared interests in regional security in the Indian Ocean, a commitment to closer cooperation and to a global rules-based order.
‘We note that President Sirisena, from his very first address in Parliament has made clear the primary importance of national security…The security establishment in Sri Lanka continues to uphold its core responsibilities with great pride. But we sense that eight years on from the conflict, Sri Lanka’s own security interests are evolving and the time is right to consider…a new outlook that might take into account Sri Lanka’s broader regional interests, and policy priorities including freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean’.
The Director General of INSSSL, Mr. Abeyagoonasekera stated that as a nation, Sri Lanka stands to gain a lot from this workshop as it will give us
‘clarity of the journey we wish to navigate’. The workshop will aim at understanding the commonalties that both Sri Lanka and Australia face in the larger Pacific Ocean in the Indian Ocean. ‘Australia is seen as a neutral power in the Pacific and Sri Lanka could be a stabilizer in the Indian Ocean protecting and creating a peaceful surrounding at a time of the rise of China and emerging India happening in Asia’. Thus, ‘the defence white paper could assist to resolve the complexity of the nation’s defence strategy’ and thereby help to abate public apathy. ‘INSSSL through its leadership by His Excellency the President and Secretary of Defence has embarked today on this important mission, to facilitate and assist the defence establishment to transfer the knowledge of the Australian White Paper’.
The Australian Defence Attaché Captain Jason Sears gave the vote of thanks to conclude the inauguration ceremony, wishing the participants to garner as much knowledge from this experience to propel Sri Lanka’s defence policy and trajectory in the future.