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.


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"

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"