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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings - Adrian Wijemanne > The Fallacies on which the "War for Peace" is Based

Tamil National Forum

Selected Writings - Dr. Adrian Wijemanne

The Fallacies on which the "War for Peace" is Based

1 June 1998

It is a very common thing that wars are waged on fallacious assumptions. Hitler assumed Germany was strong enough to impose its will on its neighbours. He assumed that neither Britain nor the USA would fight to maintain the European state system.

Thirty years later the USA persuaded itself that its security was threatened if North and South Vietnam were united under a communist regime. Ten years thereafter the then Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan convinced that its national security needed a client communist government in that country. All these assumptions have proved to be fallacious.

The war in Sri Lanka is no different, as this article will attempt to show.

The first fallacious assumption is that the island of Sri Lanka is too small to accommodate two states. This is a fallacy.

It is a fallacy that is almost universally believed in Sinhala society and it is the basis for the Sinhala people�s conviction that they have no alternative to waging war to preserve the single all-island state left behind by the British when colonial rule ended.

It is very important therefore to examine the assumption dispassionately.

The Landmass. The island of Sri Lanka is 25.3 thousand sq. miles in extent and as such bigger than 71 of the 191 member states of the United Nations. If it is divided into two states, one comprising the 7 Sinhala-majority provinces and the other the now-combined north-east province, the extents of the two new states will be 18 thousand sq. miles for the former (i.e.Sri Lanka) and 7.3 thousand sq.miles for the latter (i.e.Thamil Eelam).

The 18 thousand sq. mile new state of Sri Lanka will be larger than 62 member states of the U.N., including 18 in Europe among which are Europe�s three richest states - Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. It will be bigger than 4 of the richest members of the European Union - Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands and Denmark.

The smaller of the two new states, Thamil Eelam, will itself be bigger than 37 member states of the U.N. It will be nearly 30-times larger than the Republic of Singapore which is on the way to becoming the world�s richest country on a per capita basis in the early decades of the 21st century.

There is not a grain of truth in the assumption that the island is too small to accommodate two states each of which would be economically viable and would have a reasonable prospect of high prosperity. To believe otherwise is an egregious fallacy.

Military Matters Then there are a series of fallacies concerning military matters. They may be attributed to a lack of experience of modern warfare as well as to little or no observation of wars now, or recently, in progress in other countries, wars which are identical to the war in Sri Lanka.

The commonest fallacy is that since the Sinhala side is overwhelmingly superior to the LTTE in every known measure of size, power and resources it must inevitably win the war soon or, at worst, in the very near future. The number of Sinhala people who doubt this assumption could, possibly, be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Yet the world�s experience is the very opposite of this assumption where guerilla wars of national secession are concerned.

Invariably the state has succumbed to its far smaller nationalist, guerilla, challenger -

In 1922 the U.K. to the Irish nationalists; In 1971 Pakistan to the combined efforts of the mukti bahini guerillas and the Indian Army which intervened to support them in the last stages of the long drawn out conflict; In 1994 Cyprus to the Turkish secessionists aided by Turkish military intervention in the last stages of another long drawn out conflict; in 1992 Ethiopia to the Eritreans after a 30 year war; In 1996 The Philippines to the Bangsamoro nationalists after a 28 year long conflict; In 1996 The Russian Federation to the Chechens. In the Middle East, Israel, after 45 years of resistance to the idea, has now agreed to a two-state solution as the very basis of its future security; In Bosnia-Herzegovina the Dayton Accord recognizes a virtually independent Bosnian Serb Republika Srpska as a constituent element of the loose, almost notional, federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In Sri Lanka the balance of military power between the state and the LTTE is more in the latter�s favour than in all the cases mentioned above. The assumption that Sri Lanka, a relative newcomer to military activity and the poorest, save Ethiopia, of all the states mentioned above can do what Britain, Pakistan, The Russian Federation, The Philippines and Israel could not do is a fallacy of near-Himalayan proportions.

A second near-universal fallacy on the Sinhala side is that the LTTE will be progressively weakened by the military reverses it suffers at the hands of the state�s forces. The President and all the Sinhala military commanders constantly mention this certainty.

It is an assumption based on total incomprehension of the inner dynamics of an armed, nationalist, guerilla movement fighting on its home ground. Every state challenged by such an adversary has failed to understand what it means to fight a nationalist foe.

The Pentagon made this mistake on a grand scale in Vietnam; so did the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan and more recently The Russian Federation in Chechnya.

The empirical record is clear - the greater the defeats inflicted on the nationalist guerilla challenger , the stronger it rebounds. Sri Lanka is very much a part of this empirical record. Despite the numerous reverses the LTTE has suffered at the hands of the state�s forces it is stronger now than ever before. So when the President says the LTTE can be militarily weakened and General Ratwatte says the war "is 96% over" they are in egregious error and reveal how grossly ignorant they are of the world�s reality. It is on such a grave fallacy that military policy is based.

A third fallacy is that the current 10 to 1 ratio of troops to guerillas is greatly to the advantage of the state. Once again the world�s empirical reality is diametrically the opposite of this assumption.

The norm for this particular type of warfare is far higher ratios of troops to guerillas due to the uniquely different nature of this type of war. Just at present in Northern Ireland the British government fields 100 troops to 1 IRA guerilla but without success. In Chechnya the Russians starting at 40 to 1 soon tripled that ratio as they drove up the North Caucasus slope to Vedeno etc. In Kashmir the Indian government fields 660,000 troops against (at most) 5,500 Kashmiri separatist guerillas , a ratio of 120 to 1.

Sri Lanka�s 10 to 1 ratio, against an adversary with a strong naval arm, is abysmally inadequate and is the basic underlying cause of recent spectacular reverses suffered by the state�s forces. Worse still even a small increase of the ratio is completely beyond the bounds of practical possibility. To believe that a 10 to 1 ratio is adequate in a war of this type against an adversary such as the LTTE is a colossal fallacy.

The Finances Another widespread belief is that even though the state�s forces may not be at optimum levels in numbers , the LTTE is weaker still. An extension of this line of thinking is that if the state is strapped for funds for the war, the LTTE, which has not the resources of a state nor as large a supportive population must be even worse straits .

These are facile assumptions which disregard the fundamental difference between a state and a guerilla organisation. The state has a myriad of responsibilities to the society upon which it is based and the war is only one of those responsibilities. The LTTE bears no such burdens and, so, can divert all its resources to the war.

Then the LTTE�s numbers are far smaller than those of the state�s forces so their needs are correspondingly less and more easily met.

The state�s forces are paid - the LTTE�s are not. The state fights a conventional war with motorized troops, ferried into battle, at the end of long supply lines.

The LTTE�s troops are already on the spot , supported by local auxiliaries and fed and accommodated by the local population. Consequently they are deployed at a small fraction of the state�s costs.

The state imports expensive weaponry and needed fuel and supplies paying in hard currency ; the LTTE gets most its weapons by seizure from the state�s forcesand uses its foreign exchange resources for its naval forces and surface-to-air missiles.

Financially the LTTE has fewer problems than the state

The fallacious assumption that the LTTE has not the resources for the long haul is a classic instance of the wish prevailing over any serious thought.

Political Facors The fallacies in the military domain, egregious as they are, are dwarfed by even more mind-boggling fallacies in the civil arena where no plea of a lack of experience can be advanced.

The first, and least excusable of these, is that a constitutional change devolving powers to regions will satisfy the nationalist aspirations of the Tamil people for self determination.

The Tamil, like all people, claim to possess rights as a people. They are not rights derived from a grant from someone else nor do they need anyone�s consent for their possession of these rights.

The Sinhala people hold exactly the same views about their rights and they are not questioned by anybody as there is no basis for such questioning.

If they assert that the Tamil people, unlike themselves, do not have the right to self-determination it is for them to explain how they come to that conclusion . It is not enough to say that the Tamil people�s right to self-determination is inconvenient to them as it inevitably divides the island into two states for that would mean that the rights of the Tamil people depend upon the consent and approval of the Sinhala people.

Do the Sinhala people accord to others a similar decision making power over their own rights? Of course, they do not, and will not. Nor can they be expected to.

It is a dangerous fallacy for the Sinhala people to believe that they can arrogate to themselves decision making powers over the rights of the Tamil nation. Such an idea is utterly repugnant to the norms and values governing international life today. It is an attitude of mind of which the Sinhala people should be heartily ashamed and one which they should abandon as soon as possible.

Peace requires the recognition by the Sinhala people and the Sri Lankan government of the rights of the Tamil nation, including the right to self-determination in the exercise of which right it is up to them to decide whether they will live in the same state as the Sinhala people or in a separate state of their own.

Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka is one of the great realities of international life today.

No denial of its existence will erase it. Nor can it be extinguished by military force. Indeed, military efforts to eradicate it will fan the flames of Tamil nationalism as has been proved already.

The emerging agenda of international relations in the 21st century has high on its list the need for rational, peaceful, constructive, enduring accommodations with nationalism.

Nationalism cannot be swept under the carpet. It does not go away if, ostrich-like, people bury their heads in the sand and deny its existence. Least of all can it be extinguished by military force. This is the belief on which the "War for Peace" misadventure is based, a belief that is a pathetic and disastrous fallacy.



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