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.


October 28, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake says, "Maldives is in a worse situation economically than Sri Lanka; it has a smaller economy, and a larger portion of its foreign debt is to China than Sri Lanka's is."

Foreign Policy: "Pompeo Courts the Maldives in Latest Bid to Check China's Influence"

October 6, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "Encouraging the U.K. to back off its claim may make the legal and diplomatic environment easier for the U.S. as it attempts to draw a clear contrast between the U.S. economic and political model and the alternative offered by China and Russia."

Lawfare: "The Chagos Archipelago Dispute: Law, Diplomacy and Military Basing"

September 27, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake says, "The fact that India is now supportive of [the U.S.-Maldives security agreement] is a distinct change due to its increased threat perceptions of China."

Nikkei Asian Review: "India on Board With U.S.-Maldives Alliance to Counter China"

September 17, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake says, "For the next 15 years, there's a risk of the U.S. being left behind in the court of international opinion and law, especially as Mauritius has been on a winning streak."

CSIS: "How the Gulf, India, and Japan Think About Africa" [18:05]

September 10, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake says, "India has been signing these agreements with a handful of countries to aid access when Indian forces visit overseas bases and can receive logistics support."

Forbes: "India and Japan Just Signed a Defense Logistics Pact – and China Won't Be Happy"

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"