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.


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"

May 30, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "New Delhi's prerogatives are a factor in the smaller South Asian (SSA) countries' decision making that cannot be underestimated, despite China's expanding range of activities in the region."

Forbes: "India, Not China, Is Still the Dominant Power in South Asia"

April 29, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "Despite the limits of China's current presence and the challenges to its expansion, U.S. policymakers should not ignore the possibility that Chinese activities to secure the Maritime Silk Road could increase and destabilize the region."

The National Bureau of Asian Research: "Securing the Maritime Silk Road in South Asia and the Indian Ocean"

April 25, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes that, "Countries whose leaders pursue infrastructure through debt financing have responsibility for those decisions and for sustainable economic policies."

Tribune 242: "Stateside: Careful Picking Friends When Times Are Tough"

April 10, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "As it works more closely with the smaller South Asian countries, the United States will need to take a nuanced approach toward China's expanding role in the region and should not necessarily view Chinese investments and loans as a direct threat to US influence."

United States Institute of Peace: "China's Engagement with Smaller South Asian Countries"

January 1, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, “Sri Lanka, at present, is rebounding from an unprecedented political crisis. The episode, in part, brought into focus the country’s debt crisis. While Colombo has never defaulted on loan, it owes billions of dollars to foreign lenders that are coming soon by 2023.”

Observer Research Foundation: “Hambantota: Critical Node in the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor?”