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
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
It is very important therefore to examine the assumption
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.