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.


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"

June 30, 2020

According to Nilanthi Samaranayake, "Smaller South Asian countries generally view China as a 'fallback option' to finance their infrastructure projects and not necessarily as a partner of first choice."

Livemint: "Mapped: How China Has Raised Its Clout in India's Neighbourhood"

June 13, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "As the COVID-19 crisis continues to wreak havoc on public health and the global economy, the US should maintain its commitment to South Asia as part of its broader Indo-Pacific strategy."

Observer Research Foundation: "Smaller South Asia: Competition for Influence Amid COVID-19 Response"

May 21, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake says, "Maldives has consistently relied on external assistance to compensate for its insufficient domestic capacity to respond to the pandemic."

Carnegie India: "Maldives: A New Threat to an At-Risk Archipelago"

April 15, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "As Covid-19 overwhelms healthcare systems and paralyzes economies across Western Europe and the United States, concern is growing about the potentially devastating impact of the virus in the developing world."

The National Bureau of Asian Research: "Covid-19 and Competition for Influence in South Asia"