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.


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"

August 15, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake says the "agreement under discussion appears aimed at streamlining clearance procedures for visiting U.S. military personnel."

The Diplomat: "Sri Lankans up in Arms over U.S. Military Pacts"

July 30, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "Laying the groundwork for a commission is a necessary first step in addressing the environmental, humanitarian, and geopolitical threats that will only continue to rise in the Brahmaputra River Basin."

Hindustan Times: "Needed: A Trilateral Pact on the Brahmaputra River"

July 27, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake says, "The current political tension between the president and prime minister suggests that issues like defence relations have the potential to become highly politicized."

South China Morning Post: "U.S. Naval Base Rumours in Sri Lanka Spark Alarm as Washington and Beijing Tussle for Influence in Indo-Pacific"

July 11, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake says, "The Brahmaputra on its own holds high political and geological stakes for three key countries in Asia—China, India, and Bangladesh, none of which have a water-sharing agreement between them for this river's resources."

The National Bureau of Asian Research: "Navigating Opportunities for Cooperation on the Brahmaputra River"

June 2, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake says, "These countries will be looking to Prime Minister Modi to deliver on outstanding bilateral issues, such as finally signing the Teesta River accord with Bangladesh and resolving fishing disputes with Sri Lanka."

Nikkei Asian Review: "Modi Eyes Fiercer Rivalry with China over Neighbors in Second Term"