Nilanthi Samaranayake
Research Program Director


Nilanthi Samaranayake directs CNA's Strategy and Policy Analysis Program. She leads a team of analysts who conduct multidisciplinary research and analysis for civilian and military leaders on maritime strategy, nuclear policy, alliance management, Arctic strategy and policy, and non-traditional security.

Before joining CNA, she worked for a decade at the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC, where she analyzed public opinion. Since joining CNA in 2010, she has been an analyst, leading several studies on Indian Ocean strategy, including the US-India naval relationship. She provides analytic support to civilian and military leaders on US alliances and strategic partnerships, contested sovereignty and US basing rights, the development of regional and trans-regional strategies, non-traditional security issues, and small states in an era of great power competition.

She writes and speaks widely on national security issues, and her analysis has appeared in Foreign Policy, Defense One, Lawfare, War on the Rocks, and other outlets. She has appeared in media such as Al Jazeera, the New York Times, and Nikkei Asian Review. Her publications include Raging Waters: China, India, Bangladesh, and Brahmaputra River Politics (Marine Corps University Press, 2018) and "China's Engagement with Smaller South Asian Countries" (US Institute of Peace, 2019). She earned an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science.


December 11, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake says, "There was a small protest movement against India's construction of a military facility in the two Agalega Islands, but it has not had the same level of success found by the opposition in Seychelles."

Nikkei Asia: "Seychelles in Crosshairs of India's Maritime Security Axis"

December 4, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "The pandemic has added significant economic stress to Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal, in addition to the clear societal costs."

South Asian Voices: "Reviewing Chinese Engagement in South Asia"

December 1, 2020

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "Whereas China has un-questionably challenged established rules and norms in the Pacific, it has, for the most part, been a lawful actor in the Indian Ocean."

Air University: "The Indian Ocean's Key Role in the Indo-Pacific Rules-Based International Order"

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"