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Dec 18, 2023


The U.S. Institute for Security Governance (ISG) made its inaugural visit to Sri Lanka in February 2020, just before the onset of the global pandemic. During this visit, ISG (part of Defense Security Cooperation University) identified the potential for an Institutional Capacity Building (ICB) project in collaboration with the newly established Sri Lankan National Defense College.  

This project, which ISG was able to support virtually during the COVID-19 period, provided ISG and Sri Lankan counterparts with an opportunity to build trust and rapport, despite pandemic limitations on in-person interaction. ISG also gained a greater appreciation for Sri Lankan defense priorities and strategic decision-making culture – organizational insights that would position ISG to be a more thoughtful and effective partner when travel restrictions were lifted in late 2021. 

Post-Covid pandemic, as ISG resumed its advisory efforts in country, the Sri Lanka Navy and Air Force expressed interest in receiving support on pressing institutional challenges. These requests aligned well with U.S. priorities of the Sri Lanka Maritime Security Significant Security Cooperation Initiative (SSCI). With mutual alignment of maritime objectives, ISG was authorized to support Sri Lanka Navy and Air Force requests for enhancing maritime doctrine and providing human resource advising. Of salience were Sri Lankan requests for help with the development of non-commissioned officer (NCO) recruiting, personnel management, and retention policies.   

ISG’s expanded support to the Navy and Air Force showcases the profound impact that a well-designed and patiently implemented initial ICB project can have for prospects of future cooperation. With a solid start and foundation, more substantial partnerships can be built due to the trust and collaboration fostered by those early efforts.  

This measured approach to ICB has continued to reveal more opportunities for ISG to be of assistance to the Government of Sri Lanka.  It also illuminated ways that ISG could further enhance the U.S.-Sri Lanka bilateral defense relationship. In early 2023, the Sri Lanka Ministry of Defense reached out to U.S. Embassy Colombo requesting ISG’s support for two critical defense sector governance needs. They requested assistance in developing a new defense strategy that could help the government advocate for a more streamlined, technologically advanced military with a heightened maritime focus. Secondly, they requested ISG’s expertise in analyzing military force modernization and force optimization options – formidable tasks given limited capacity within the Ministry of Defense staff.  

A notable aspect of ISG’s advisory support on defense sector governance is that Sri Lanka’s executive project sponsor for this ISG activity is a female senior executive civil servant, equivalent in rank to a U.S. Assistant/Undersecretary of Defense. This not only underscores the importance of the project but also demonstrates the leading role that women are already playing in managing the Sri Lankan defense and military sector.  

ISG’s sustained advising efforts since 2020 have played a pivotal role in fortifying the partnership between the United States and Sri Lanka. The latest work on defense governance issues also highlights how ISG can contribute to a top priority for U.S. interagency policy goals in Sri Lanka. Through these collaborative initiatives, the Sri Lankan government is benefiting from U.S. assistance and expertise, while also developing critical strategies and a new vision for their sovereign security interests and needs in the years ahead.