Sri Lanka has opted for Non-Alignment as a guiding force of the country’s foreign policy since the inception of the Movement in 1961. Sri Lanka, then Ceylon in 1961 was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and has since remained as an active and influential member of the NAM, vigorously involved in all its summits.
In 1961, Sri Lanka’s newly elected Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike attended the inaugural Summit, stepping on to the world stage as the world’s first woman Prime Minister. Bandaranaike was truly committed to the principles of NAM that strived for a peaceful international order characterised by an absence of warfare. At the Belgrade summit of NAM in 1961, she stated the vision of Non-Aligned Movement in the following remarks: “Our endeavour should be to influence world opinion to such an extent that governments, however powerful, cannot regard warfare as an alternative to negotiation”. On 23rd January 1964, Bandaranaike in a speech given to the Senate further outlined the goals of the Non-Alignment, and clarified that Sri Lanka’s imbibition of NAM principles did not amount to passive neutralisation in global affairs. Bandaranaike stated: “Underlying the policy of non-alignment is the belief that independent nations, although small and militarily weak, have a positive role to play in the world today. This attitude is completely different from that of washing our hands of these matters, which was perhaps the idea behind the classical theory of neutralism. That was non-involvement — remaining in splendid isolation. There is, Hon. Senators would agree, a world of difference between this and non-alignment”.
One of Sri Lanka’s greatest successes in foreign policy was the hosting of the Fifth Summit of Non-Aligned Movement in 1976 in Colombo. Sri Lanka was the host of the 5th NAM Summit in Colombo in 1976. Until today it remains the biggest international conference ever held in Sri Lanka. It was then a landmark summit which highlighted that “ the growing role and importance of Non-alignment made it imperative that its members exercise unceasing vigilance to preserve intact the essential character of Non- alignment, maintain unswerving fidelity to its principles and policies and show full respect of its decisions as the best safeguard against any threat to the integrity and solidarity of the Movement”. Thirty three political resolutions and thirty two economic resolutions were passed at the 1976 Colombo NAM Summit.
The Colombo resolution declared: The Colombo Resolution declared: “The institution of a new international financial order is of the highest political importance . The solution to the economic problems of the developing countries demand the establishment of a universal and equitable new monetary system; only a complete restructuring of international economic relations, thanks to the institution of a new world economic order will put the developing countries in a position to attain an acceptable level of development”. Bandaranaike steered along a path of economic development with emphasis on collective economic self-reliance, aimed at reducing the gap between the developed and developing countries. The demand for a ‘New International Economic Order’ was made, asserting the aspirations of the developing world and in support of an expansion of trade. This continues to hold relevance till today and the blueprint of the NIEO has the potentials to remove imbalances in the contemporary global economic order.
Mrs Bandaranaike, as head of the Sri Lankan delegation and chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement, addressed the UNGA in 1976 highlighting the role of the Movement, its principles which embodied the Bandung Declaration and the relevance of NAM. She called for a better world order, the universality of the United Nations and equality among nations.
Sri Lanka has stood tall and defending NAM core values. At the recently concluded 17th NAM Summit at Margarita Island, Venezuela, a special envoy of President Maithripala Sirisena remarked the NAM principles upon which the country has premised its foreign policy, and stated that “In order to achieve sustainable development, there must be global peace and security that can only be achieved through adhering to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and the principles of international law. Resorting to multilateralism and peaceful settlement of disputes among nations is of the utmost importance”