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.


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"