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Selected Writings - Dr. Adrian Wijemanne

 Amity, not Unity
[Address at US based Ilankai Tamil Sangam ]

8 November 1997

It may seem inexplicable that at a time like this, when our two nations are locked in war, with no quarter asked and none given, that the focus of this address should be on amity.

What amity can there be as the tide of blood rises veritably to our knees, when 800,000 refugees mostly of the Tamil nation languish in makeshift camps with barely enough food to keep body and soul together? Can our nations ever forgive and forget the horrors of war? Can the wounds and bitterness ever heal?

These are gnawing questions that vex every thinking man, woman and even child on each side of a war. Among people caught in this most desperate of human predicaments there are a few, all too few, men and women whose minds are attuned not only to the inescapable agonizing cries of the moment but also to the great drama of human history in which war recurs as a standing reproach to the failure of humanity. To them war is a well-known and common breakdown of human relationships but they know equally well that in the long run humanity triumphs and peace is secured and that peace is the greatest triumph of the human condition.

The easiest and most confident prediction that an historian can make is that - that peace is inevitable. There never has been, there is not now, nor will there ever be an unending and permanent war. The urgent question then arises "When will it all end, when will this terrible trauma be over?" It is when an historian is confronted with that simple question that his/her answer is least comforting. When cast in a predictive role the historian has to be sensitive to the record and to the great variety of factors at work. Both of these will soon be explained but they do not exempt the historian from the onus of prediction. It is a challenge that I will not duck; after setting out all the relevant factors I will predict - I will stick my neck out.

Wars of National Secession concluded in the 20th Century

We must turn now to the record. The record that is relevant to our case is the record of wars of national secession waged against an established state. This is a large class of historical events but some limits have to be imposed in order to deal with them in the short duration of this address. Since we are now at the end of this century the first limitation will be to restrict our examination to wars of this kind, which have occurred and been concluded in this century. The second limitation, to sharpen the element of relevance to our case, is that only guerrilla wars of national secession fought on the guerrillas home ground will be considered. Thirdly, wars of colonial independence from imperial rule are excluded in order further to refine the degree of relevance. There are 6 cases falling within these criteria. They are:-

The War Year of Conclusion
The Irish War of Independence 1922
The Bangladeshi War of Independence 1971
The Turkish Cypriot War of Independence 1974
The Eritrean War of Independence 1992
The Bangsamoro War of Independence 1996
The Chechen War of Independence 1996

Common Features

In all 6 of these wars, and in the peace that followed each, there are common factors which are of great relevance to the Sri Lankan case. They are as follows: -

First, there was a huge disparity in every known measure of military, economic and financial power between the state under attack and its guerrilla challenger. The guerrillas were consistently outnumbered, outgunned and defeated in set piece battles but after every such defeat they emerged revivified and stronger than before. The classical analogy of the Phoenix rising from the ashes was re-enacted in every case over and over again.

Secondly, all these wars, with the exception of the last, dragged on for a very long time. The Irish War of Independence lasted, sporadically, for 300 years; the Eritrean and Bangsamoro conflicts for 30 and 28 years respectively. In all of them the longer the war lasted the stronger the guerrilla challenger to the state became, not the weaker. This is a paradox which in every case proved to be beyond the comprehension of the state under challenge.

Finally, in all of them the war ended with the emergence of a new state corresponding basically to the demands of the nationalist challenger. In the first case, the Irish, the new state (now The Republic of Ireland) comprised 26 of the 32 counties on the island of Ireland, the remaining 6 continuing within the UK as the province of Northern Ireland. In the Bangsamoro War of Independence a plebiscite (referendum) in 1998 will decide whether the 14 provinces and 9 cities that constitute the new Autonomous Region will continue within The Republic of The Philippines or become wholly independent. The principle that independence via a plebiscite is available at any time in the future is thus established.

Just as much as the conventional armed forces of the state failed to overwhelm and extirpate the guerrilla challenger, so also were the secessionist guerrilla forces unable to defeat and expel the state’s forces from the territory in dispute. Neither part "won" or "lost" these wars - they are wars of attrition which were ended in different ways and it is to them that we must now turn.

Different Routes to Peace

In the Irish and Chechen Wars of Independence the war ended with the unilateral withdrawal of the state’s forces when the state realized that victory in the conventional sense was unattainable and continuance meant high costs without any return. It was a pragmatic decision dictated by the national interest.

In the cases of the Bangladeshi and Turkish Cypriot Wars of Independence the end came as a result of foreign military intervention by India and Turkey respectively. While the international community did not approve of these interventions the rationale behind them was recognized and neither sanctions nor lesser penalties were applied to the intervening states.

In the Eritrean War of Independence the end came when the Ethiopian State collapsed as a result of the unsustainable financial burden of the war.

The last case, the Bangsamoro War of Independence, was the only one in which the war ended through the mediation of an outside party, the Organization of Islamic Conference. The Conference is composed of Islamic states in North Africa, the Middle East and South and South-East Asia who had assisted the Moro National Liberation Front led by Nur Misuari throughout the long years of the conflict. So it was not an impartial, disinterested mediator. Nevertheless the government of The Republic of The Philippines accepted the Conference’s mediatory efforts, which, incidentally, lasted 20 years before their successful conclusion, because of its known influence over the guerrilla leadership.

So there have been four different routes to the same final goal of the emergence of a new state -

  • unilateral withdrawal by the state;
  • foreign military intervention
  • the collapse of the state
  • mediation by a third party with influence over the guerrilla leadership.

Later in this address I will consider which of these routes, or any other, is likely to usher in the end of the war in Sri Lanka.

A Durable Peace

At this stage it is useful to consider the durability of the peace that was secured by the ending of these wars.

The Irish War of Independence ended in 1922 and so is the first such peace. It has held unbroken now for 75 years despite great strains and stresses between the two states. During the Second World War the Republic of Ireland was neutral and harbored an embassy of Nazi Germany in Dublin. When Hitler committed suicide it was one of the few countries that sent an official message of condolence. Despite all this the peace has held along a long land boundary between the two states. More recently the Irish government has supported the peace efforts of the British government in Northern Ireland and is now a party at the Northern Ireland Peace Conference.

The case of Bangladesh is unique in that it does not share a land boundary with its former state, Pakistan. Both countries now cooperate as equal partners in the South Asian Association of Regional Co-operation (SAARC).

On the island of Cyprus the situation is different. There is a tense standoff between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot states with an UN peacekeeping force patrolling the boundary between them. It is international vigilance and action that keeps the peace which has, by and large, been maintained for the last 23 years. The resulting prosperity on both sides of the border has to be seen to be believed.

The peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia, soon to be 5 years old, has held inviolate. The provision of the peace, which gave landlocked Ethiopia access to the Red Sea through the Eritrean port of Massawa, has worked without a hitch. With every year that passes the peace gets more firmly established. Indeed, this great African success could serve as a model for the ending of the 14 year-old war in The Sudan which is exactly the same type of nationalist secessionist guerrilla war as those we have been considering.

In the Bangsamoro War of Independence the first year of peace has just ended with both sides to the agreement complying with their obligations. An independent extremist Islamic group keeps up sporadic guerrilla warfare and is opposed jointly by the two parties to the peace agreement. The heavy emphasis on the economic development of the Autonomous Region augurs well for the continuance of peace.

Finally, in the Chechen War of Independence the peace is barely 11 months old and the relationship inter se between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Chechen - Ingushetia, to give it its full name, still remains to be negotiated. The Chechen Republic is still not a fully-fledged member of the international community. The eventual attainment of that status is dependent on the promise of a durable peace between the two countries.

To sum up, when peace has been attained in wars of this particular type, by the emergence of a new state corresponding to the nationalist challenger’s determination, it has endured unbroken and paved the way for prosperity. It is interesting to note that in1996, for the first time in history, the gross domestic product per capita per annum of the Irish Republic overtook that of the UK.

Factors Influencing Duration of Wars of this Type

So far we have considered the factors common to all of these wars, the different routes to peace in each of them and the encouraging durability of the peace that ended them. There are, however, significant differences between them, which too have a bearing on the conflict in Sri Lanka and especially on its duration.

In the Irish War of Independence the state protagonist was the United Kingdom. During the 300 year duration of this war the U.K. experienced Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions, laid the foundations for a capitalist economy, became the world’s leading industrial power, acquired the largest maritime empire on earth and fought and won at enormous cost the First World War. This stunning performance made it the world’s most formidable state and it is that which accounts for the extremely long duration - 300 years - of the Irish War of Independence. Never has the disparity in power between two antagonists in a war been greater - not even in Vietnam in the sixties and seventies. So the economic strength and resilience of the state under challenge directly influences the duration of the conflict.

Paradoxically, the next longest conflict, 30years, was where the state, Ethiopia, was the weakest of all the 6 states under consideration. Even now, with a g.n.p. per capita around US$ 200 - per annum, it is one of the world’s poorest states. The explanation for its durability is that it was propped up by each of the super powers in turn - the USA and the Soviet Union - in their bid for influence and control in Africa. Direct outside support in arms, training, advisors, planners and funds has a significant influence on the duration of these conflicts. In this case the unexpected dissolution of the Soviet Union led to the collapse of its client state, Ethiopia.

In the case of the Bangladeshi War of Independence the simmering unrest of the mukhti bahini, hankering for total independence from Pakistan lasted for 10 years. In 1971 when direct military repression by the West Pakistani army commenced - with their troops flown from Karachchi to Dhaka via Colombo incidentally - an huge efflux of Bangladeshi refugees into the neighboring Bengali populated Indian state of West Bengal took place. Over 10 million people moved across the river boundary and left India with no choice but to intervene militarily in its own self interest. That ended the war in a matter of days. It was exactly the same sequence in Cyprus with Turkey intervening militarily there. So the aroused self-interest of a neighboring state could determine the duration of such wars.

In last year’s two cases, The Philippines and Russia, the end came after widely varying durations - 28 years and 4 years respectively - from a combination of economic weakness and a pragmatic recognition of self interest. These two factors have a symbiotic relationship - they feed on each other and become a powerful impetus in bringing such wars to an end.

To sum up, the duration of these wars is determined by -

  • the great economic strength of the state under attack, or
  • by powerful direct support to the state under attack by a superpower or other strong neighbor, or
  • by the aroused self interest of a strong neighbor, or
  • by a compelling combination of economic weakness and self interest.

Economic strength is measured by the imperfect yardstick of g.n.p. per capita per annum expressed in US dollars. Ethiopia’s extremely low standing in this league table has been mentioned already. In Russia and The Philippines where economic weakness played a significant part in bringing about the end of the war the relevant figures are US $2,965 for Russia and US$ 1,265 for the Philippines. For Sri Lanka it is US$ 760.

Russia is already an industrialized country though no longer of the first rank. The Philippines, on the other hand, is a newly - industrializing country with long-standing US capital investment and, more recently, considerable Japanese and Taiwanese participation. Sri Lanka is a latecomer to industrialization aiming to participate in the global market place. The competitive stresses of that environment both for securing investment capital and for marketing industrial products are so great that they require a first rate, smoothly-running, cost-controlled modern infrastructure. The costs of establishing such an infrastructure from a low current endowment would require billions of rupees. The efficient maintenance and extension of such an infrastructure requires a high-wage-earning citizenry. In Sri Lanka both these elements exist only in vestigial form.

Cost of an Anti-Guerrilla War by Conventional Forces

Modern warfare waged by a conventional army, even using outdated armaments as in Sri Lanka, is the single most expensive activity in which a state can engage. Even the sole superpower, the USA, shrinks from such engagement without allies to share the cost.

The Gulf War provided a clear demonstration of this. Ethiopia, far the poorest of the 6 states mentioned here had to be supported by powerful friends and when that support dried up collapsed like a house of cards. Sri Lanka has no direct foreign support for the war. The annual aid package of the Paris Club, made up of grants and loans, suffices only to service the foreign debt and limit the rate of its growth. Funds for military expenditure have to come from domestic resources. If these resources had to bear the obligation of servicing the foreign debt there would very likely be a failure to service that debt, coupled with retrenchment in military outlays, culminating, perhaps, in the precipitate collapse of civil government. The foreign aid contribution each year merely postpones the evil day of such a reckoning.

The Sri Lankan discourse on the subject of war and peace seems sublimely unaware of the costs of modern war. No one seems to know that this particular type of war - one waged by a conventional army against a determined, well-organized and now battle-hardened guerrilla adversary fighting on his home ground - is one of the most expensive types of war in modern times. No one seems to be aware that it requires very high ratios of troops to guerrillas - ratios in excess of 100 troops to 1 guerrilla - for barely adequate performance, not victory. In the large area and rough, ill-roaded, forested terrain in which the current phase of the war is mired, the present 10 to 1 ratio of troop to guerrillas is abnormally inadequate

Furthermore, even for this startlingly low ratio the annual financial provision of 60 billion rupees (45 billion in the budget, topped up by supplementary estimates during the year) is hopelessly in adequate as shown in my separate paper entitled "The Realities of the Military situation in Sri Lanka in comparison with that in Northern Ireland" copies of which are available on request. The costs of conventional warfare in the far cheaper cost-context of Sri Lanka are reliably estimated at one-sixth of those in Northern Ireland. On this basis, in the terrain of the Northeast Province a 10 to 1 ratio of troops to guerrillas would require not 60 billion rupees per year but 230 billion rupees. This is vastly beyond the financial resources of both the Sri Lanka government and Sinhala society. From the President on down everybody on the Sinhala side of the conflict believes that the annual provision of 60 billion rupees is a huge and adequate amount. Nobody has the remotest suspicion that that amount is derisory and absurdly inadequate for the task. Near-virginal ignorance of the costs of modern warfare does not in any way reduce those costs.

The gravity of the dilemma facing the Sri Lanka government is best illustrated by its own pronouncements on the war. The gung-ho sabre-rattling of General Ratwatte is followed, almost in the next breath, by assertions that a purely military solution is unattainable. Then comes the regular, and increasingly unconvincing, surmise by the President that the LTTE can be so weakened militarily that it will be forced to compromise. This is nothing more than a display of a high order of ignorance for we have seen already that in all other theaters of such conflict the guerrilla challenger becomes stronger with the passage of time and rebounds from every military defeat stronger than before. The very best example of this phenomenon is the Sri Lankan case itself where, after 14 years of unrelenting war first with the Sri Lanka army, then with the IPKF and now again with the Sri Lanka army, the LTTE is stronger today than it ever was. Even the meanest intellect in Sri Lanka knows this; undoubtedly the President does too but she clings to the forlorn hope that somehow the universal experience will be reversed and the LTTE will become weaker rather than stronger as time passes. This is a tragic delusion in no way second to the near-universal ignorance of the costs of modern war referred to in the previous paragraph.

The 'Package' and its Futility

These misapprehensions are compounded by the most egregious one of all - the attempt to secure an end of the war by a constitutional change, the so-called "Package". The rationale is that a greater, and more sincerely implemented, devolution of power than that which exists now in theory will lead the Tamil people to abandon their national aspirations and end their support to the LTTE. This is identical to the rationale that was urged in support of the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord’s provincial councils scheme in 1987. Quite often the President’s current utterances on the subject are just like an echo of President J. R. Jayawardene’s in the same vein 10 years ago! In this interval 10 years of bitter and inconclusive warfare have taken place, warfare which has utterly transformed the prospects for peace and affected the nature of the peace that is to come. The President seems to be totally oblivious of this. Soon after her election, she made a leap back in time of 37 years, right back to 1957, in hoping that the principles of the Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam Pact of that year could serve as a basis of future peace. Such breath-taking misconceptions of realistic possibilities for the future are still the hallmark of her current thinking. In some respects the present "Package" is an advance on the 13th amendment’s provincial council scheme; in other respects it aims to set the clock back to pre-1987 arrangements. If J.R. Jayawardene’s attempt was foredoomed to failure, President Kumaratunga’s feeble, Janus-headed initiative is dead in the water already.

Possible Routes to Peace

We have before us now the common experience of all wars of this particular type that have ended in this century. We have also the clearest possible indications that all the parallel courses relied on by the Sri Lanka government in combination with each other are of no avail. The question then is "What next?" Peace is essential for the Sinhala people who are now committed to industrialization to serve a competitive global market. From that commitment there is no drawing back. The economic imperative of peace is compelling from their point of view. They can have peace only as other nations have secured peace for themselves after such wars - by the emergence of a new state corresponding to the nationalist secessionist guerrillas’ determination. How this inexorable logic of the passage from war to peace will be realized depends on a few crucial factors.

Foremost among them now is the resurgence of aggressive Sinhala nationalism of which the unofficial Sinhala Commission is the overt symbol. There can be little doubt that there are elements within the armed forces which resonate to the Commission’s pronouncements. If a consultative referendum is called on the acceptability of the Package and the referendum is manipulated, as the last referendum in 1982 was, to give a verdict favorable to the government’s proposals, the government will stand in jeopardy of a military coup. If the referendum produces a negative result for the government it will reduce the government to a "lame duck" government from which no initiative for peace can be expected for the rest of its term which ends in the year 2000.

Second is a countervailing and more hopeful trend. In both Sinhala language broadsheets and tabloids skepticism is rife as to the soundness of the government’s strategy. There are voices expressing the view that initiatives for peace must come from outside the government. Contrary to the received wisdom Sinhala society, like other societies, is pragmatic. It has shown, over and over again, its willingness to accept ignominious reversals of key social and economic policies which were touted as being for its benefit when they were seen to be unworkable and unattainable. It has accepted without demur, albeit without enthusiasm. The greatest societal upheaval in its recorded history - the permanent implantation in its heartland of a million Tamil persons on the plantations in the Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces. This presents far greater problems (and also opportunities) for Sinhala society than the existence of two states on the island.

In paragraph 7 we saw the four routes by one or other of which peace was achieved in other cases. In Sri Lanka will any of them work?

The first route - unilateral withdrawal by the state as in the UK and Russia - was used in very special circumstances. In the UK a centuries-long, wearying, 300-year long struggle. Sri Lanka is nowhere near that yet! In Russia the withdrawal from Chechnya was directly influenced by the traumatic experience of the 10-year long unsuccessful engagement in Afghanistan. Sri Lanka has no parallel.

Sri Lanka’s presidential constitution does make possible a strong presidential initiative like de Gaulle’s withdrawal from Algeria in the teeth of both civil and military opposition. But President Kumaratunga is the very antithesis of President de Gaulle, weak, devoid of a vision of a rational accommodation with Tamil nationalism and far more comfortable with the past than with the future. The instrument is at hand but the user is absent.

The next route is foreign military intervention which in this case means Indian intervention. There are two aspects of this - intervention by the Indian central government and intervention overt or covert by Tamilnadu. The prospect of a strong, single-party central government in New Delhi seems ever more remote. When someday the BJP comes into power, a coalition of Muslim-backed and secular parties is likely to hamstring it. Furthermore India’s hegemonic tendencies in the region are looked upon by the international community with concern. The only circumstance in which military intervention by the Indian central government might get international acquiescence is if there is a military government in Sri Lanka hell-bent on a genocidal "final solution" to the war.

Tamilnadu’s relationship to the war is different. Covert support from Tamil nationalist elements will grow steadily over time with or without the acquiescence of the state government. It is just the kind of intervention that a war of attrition by the LTTE needs. It will have the long-term consequence of demonstrating to the Sri Lankan government the impossibility of outright military victory and so help to bring the conflict to an end by some means other than foreign military intervention.

The third route is the collapse of the state as in Ethiopia. The Sri Lankan economy is far stronger than Ethiopia’s. Its g.n.p. per capita per annum is about five times that of Ethiopia. Even if the industrialization effort falters, the agricultural and primary export products base gives a certain resilience to the economy. With the passage of time the costs of the military venture will increase but that increase will be limited to a level which averts a precipitate financial collapse.

The fourth and final scenario - the Philippine model - seems now the most likely outcome. This requires external mediation and a willingness to abandon the classical model of a state in international jurisprudence. In the Philippine Agreement the integrity of the existing country is preserved by a fig-leaf of verbiage while in fact an independent state emerges in the contested area. The nationalist challenger, the Moro National Liberation Front, continues in possession of its territory; it has an overriding majority in the transitional council of the Autonomous Region; its leader, Nur Misuari is the Chairman of the council; any laws passed by the Philippine Congress will apply in the Autonomous Region only if the transitional council of the Autonomous Region adopts those laws. There is no disarmament by the guerrilla challenger whose troops though technically absorbed in the Philippine armed and police forces, remain in the region with their Philippine government commanders acting in consultation with the Chairman of the council of the Autonomous Region. A plebiscite in 1998 will decide the issue of outright independence or continuance under the present arrangements.

It is a pattern that will not fit Sri Lanka exactly and will need substantial modification. Its central importance, however, lies in an unprecedented flexibility in the conception of the nature of the state and the willingness to experiment with an arrangement under which the state no longer has the sole monopoly of military power in the state but accommodates a second military power within it located in a self-contained area. This makes possible the temporary, transitional preservation of the semblance of the state’s original form. Unquestionably it lays the foundation for eventual total separation.

Now to the question when such an outcome can be expected to end the war. The present government in Colombo is too self-deluded and weak in parliamentary support for such a breakthrough. It has invested too much political and psychological capital in the military adventure to abandon it within the next three years. By the end of its life in 2000, the point of diminishing returns will have been reached militarily. A general election is a time for a new beginning and a straightforward contest between chauvinism and capitalism whose material advantages can be delivered only in a context of peace. In my judgment it is at that time that a serious advance can be made towards peace on a realistic basis, taking into account the ineluctable prescience of the Tamil nation on the island dependent for its security on its own arms. In the interval between now and then the thinking of the Sinhala people and their leaders of all political complexions needs to be clarified and defused of all the myths and cobwebs which now encumber it.

The Underlying Reality: The inevitability of a societal as apposed to a Political Leadership

So far this discussion has clouded over, unhappily, the basic realities that underlie the relationship of our two nations on the island. These are societal realities that pre-date by centuries the current political imbroglio. The first of these realities is that whatever may be said or done, the unalterable and manifestly visible fact is that the island is the home of both nations in compact, well-defined areas. This has lasted through centuries, it exists today, and will continue.

The second societal reality is that people need peace both within their own society and with those outside i.e. with their neighbours. Peace is the norm and it is as basic as breathing to stay alive. It is as nearly coterminous as it is possible to get to the right to life itself. In the long centuries when the primitiveness of movement and communication kept the two peoples apart the peaceful relations between them were only infrequently disturbed and soon restored. Peace was the norm then. As science shrinks distance and dramatically accelerates the speed of communication forcing us ever closer together an acceptable and viable modus vivendi is more necessary than ever before. I call it AMITY and have given it pride of place in the title of this address. Amity is a societal condition and not a political one. As two societies that is what we can achieve together and no more.

The political relationship, operating throughout a long history, underwent a forced rigidity under colonial rule. It has lent itself more recently to pseudo-imperial posturing by the Sinhala people and their leaders which should feature best in the theater of the absurd if not for its tragic consequences. Unity is a political concept ill-suited to our two nations and now deeply repugnant to the Tamil people. Our two nations need a civilized, humane societal relationship not an imposed, hegemonic political relationship - in just three simple words AMITY, NOT UNITY.

The Proven Societal Model

I will conclude this address by making a claim to legitimacy in propounding the need for AMITY, NOT UNITY.

I take great pride in asserting whenever relevant that I am a national of The Netherlands. That country, together with its immediate neighbours Belgium and Luxembourg devised the first societal union in the early fifties. The Benelux Union explicitly eschews political unity. Each of these countries is a monarchy, equipped with a legislature, an executive, a judiciary, armed forces, a currency, a central bank and all the other paraphernalia of the independent sovereign state. Being compressed together into the same land area as the island of Sri Lanka give or take a few hundred square miles, they invented a social union which enables a national of any of these countries to live in either of the others, to travel to or from them, to work and trade and invest in them, to participate without let or hindrance in their social and cultural life - all without need of approval by any governmental authority; - that is the Benelux Union. It inspired the creation of a larger Union, the European Union, which functions admirably as a social union but is beset with severe strains and stresses as it strives for economic and political unity. The Benelux Union has no such aspirations and is a shining example of the virtue of confining oneself to the possible and the necessary.

I look forward to the inevitable separation of our nations into two states as the beginning of a long future of amity and humanity. In another context I have expressed the hope that such an amicable, purely societal relationship will, in time, evolve a Union similar to the Benelux Union and I have been presumptuous enough to give it a name - The Union of SRILAM.




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