Nilanthi Samaranayake
Research Program Director


Nilanthi Samaranayake directs the Strategy and Policy Analysis Program. She has led several studies at CNA on Indian Ocean and South Asia security. Recently Samaranayake has worked on U.S.-India naval cooperation, water resource competition in the Brahmaputra River basin, and Sri Lankan foreign policy. She also has conducted research on the navies of Bangladesh and Pakistan, the Maldives Coast Guard, security threats in the Bay of Bengal, and relations between smaller South Asian countries and China, India and the United States.

Prior to joining CNA, Samaranayake completed a fellowship at the National Bureau of Asian Research, where she investigated Sri Lanka's deepening ties with China. Her findings were published in the journal Asian Security. She also analyzed public opinion for a decade at the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.

Samaranayake holds an M.Sc. in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her B.A. in International Studies from American University.


February 3, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "Increased coordination in the Indo-Pacific is critical given the Eurasian scope of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), including interests in European ports."

The Diplomat: "Future U.S.-France Cooperation: Think Indo-Pacific"

January 17, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake says India and Indonesia had a, "shared opinion on EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone] activity, including on Chinese scientific vessels, freedom of navigation, and a shared interpretation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which would help to bolster cooperation."

South China Morning Post: "Can India and Indonesia Team up to Counter China in the Indo-Pacific?"

January 13, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake, "Presented her research, based on case studies, which analysed the foreign policy responses of smaller South Asian countries (i.e. Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Maldives) towards India's rise in the region."

Brookings: "Foreign Policy & Security Tiffin Talk | Understanding the Calculus of Smaller South Asian Countries as India Rises"

January 13, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "How observers interpret what is taking place in the Indian Ocean depends on their strategic orientation because so much continues to unfold dynamically here in the realms of security, economics, and governance."

Observer Research Foundation: "The Indian Ocean Rorschach Test"

December 10, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "The idea that Sri Lanka can swing toward a pro-India or a pro-China disposition with a change of leadership belies the constraints on smaller South Asian states in a region that is still dominated by India and increasingly contested by China — and where other major powers such as the United States and Japan play critical roles."

East Asia Forum: "Sri Lanka's Foreign Policy in a New Rajapaksa Era"

September 27, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "Canberra's diplomatic, legal, and military approaches to management of the Indian Ocean part of the Indo-Pacific region will continue to be vital for US interests."

The Interpreter: "A U.S. View on Australia's Role in the Indian Ocean"