Nilanthi Samaranayake
Research Program Director


Nilanthi Samaranayake directs the Strategy and Policy Analysis Program. Since joining CNA in 2010, she has led several studies 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.


August 7, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake says that, "as a 'developing country with an appetite for greater infrastructure and connectivity,' Sri Lanka will continue to turn to 'China as well as other countries and multilateral institutions' for loans and other support."

The Diplomat: "Sri Lanka: The Rajapaksas Rise Again"

July 30, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "The Quad Plus Framework in the Indo-Pacific may be imperfect, but it offers a potential pathway to extend this multilateralist approach to U.S. foreign policy in Africa."

Lawfare: "A Strategic Framework to Improve Coronavirus Response in Africa"

July 24, 2020

"Ms. Samaranayake surmised that the 'tipping point' is within sight whereby the US would opt to strike a deal directly with Mauritius."

Le Mauricien: "Disentangling the Chagossian Gordian Knot"

July 20, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake says, "Washington's attention to Sri Lanka appears to be increasingly fueled by geostrategic concerns about China."

Nikkei Asian Review: "China Poised for Diplomatic Windfall in Sri Lanka Elections"

July 13, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake says, “India and Pakistan, for their part, really acted early in terms of imposing restrictions, lockdowns, and suspending air travel and bus travel, but one of the criticisms was that it was implemented quite harshly."

Lawfare: “The Lawfare Podcast: COVID-19 and Its National Security Implications in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa"

July 10, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "U.S. policymakers should consider whether there is a tipping point at which Washington would withdraw support for its closest ally's colonial-era sovereignty claim and choose instead to work with Mauritius."

Defense One: "How a Tiny Indian Ocean Island Could Force a U.S.-U.K. Rift"