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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings - Ana Pararajasingham > The Strategy of 'Containment'

Selected Writings
Ana Pararajasingham, Australia

The Strategy of 'Containment'
[see also
Video Presentation:  Tamil Eela Thani Arasu... and
Response by Ana Pararajasingham in Comments Page]

14 October 2006

The reasons for international involvement in the conflict in Sri Lanka  with Norway playing the role of the facilitator and the EU, US and Japan taking on a direct role as �co chairs� to the peace process include the following: 

�The role of the Americans is dictated by their new strategy based on their changed interests in Asia. During 2004-05 America reduced its military presence in Japan and South Korea. To compensate for this they will now increase their influence in the Indian Ocean. China has increased its presence in these same oceans, as has India. The background for them all is the wish for control of the sea routes from the west, through the Malacca Strait into the South China Sea. In this picture Sri Lanka with its geographic location takes a central place. The east coast of the island with the harbour city of Trincomalee and the Batticaloa lagoon offers extremely important sea-strategic possibilities both for the Indian Navy and the USA 5th fleet. This also forms the background for the improved military cooperation between USA and India, and adds to the more warmer political climate that has developed between these powers�

comment by tamilnation.org The 'warmer political climate' may have to considered in the context of the remarks by PINR on Project Seabird: "..This plan - with origins from the mid-1980s - is to be assessed in light of two geopolitical triangles juxtaposing on the Indian Ocean's background: U.S. -India-China relations and China-Pakistan-India relations. In this complicated geopolitical configuration, New Delhi is not simply a partner of China or the United States: India is emerging as a major power that follows its own grand strategy in order to enhance its power and interests... The geopolitics of the Arabian Sea and the Western Indian Ocean largely explain India's determination in such an $8.13 billion enterprise. The China-Pakistan-India triangle is more than ever the Arabian Sea's decisive geo strategic setting..."

  • To maintain the status quo by preventing the emergence of a new independent state in South Asia. In the words of S Sathananthan, Tamil Political Scientist,

"the west and the United States in particular know that each new state is the vehicle through which one more nation acquires a place on the world stage. They fear that each such nation could then make and enforce its demands, for a more equitable distribution of resources and wealth in the international arena and through the United Nations in particular. It is, therefore, in the self-interest of the �wealthier nations� to prevent stateless nations from establishing their own states. The aim is to put a ceiling on the number of nations represented by their states and thereby limit the demands for justice in the international arena." [i]

comment by tamilnation.org The self-interest of the �wealthier nations� did not prevent the emergence of Croatia, East Timor (and for that matter, Ukraine, Lativia, Estonia etc) as independent states - on the contrary, 'self interest' encouraged the formation of these states. Our understanding will not be furthered by asserting a generalised statist disdain for non state actors.  Indeed that approach may well divert our attention from the real issues involved.

The strategy employed to realise these goals is best described as the 'strategy of containment' and has been referred to as such by several well informed commentators and observers.

This strategy is based on the notion that by preventing a complete breakdown of the cease-fire and by delivering 'normalcy' to the Tamil population affected by the war, the Tamil people could be weaned away from pursuing their right of self determination. Hence, the introduction of the concepts of 'internal self determination' and support for joint mechanisms to deliver humanitarian aid. This strategy required the Sinhala political establishment to cooperate by agreeing to restore normalcy. Although, Ranil Wikramasinghe, the co signatory to the CFA appeared willing to go along with this strategy, he was unable to deliver on the promise of restoring normalcy. Despite this he was able to retain international support by blaming it on the then President Kumaratunge, whose own antipathy to the CFA was transparent. The LTTE on the other hand sought to expose the reluctance of the Sinhala political establishment to even agree on restoring normalcy as grounds to gain international legitimacy for self-determination as stipulated in the UN Charter.

 [This was, however, a right that the international community had hitherto primarily reserved for the former Western (salt water) colonies and selectively thereafter to be exercised only in situations that suited its own interests] 

comment by tamilnation.org  The political reality is that the international law of self determination followed upon the success of struggles for freedom from colonial rule - and not the other way around. International law itself is largely dependent on state practice. After all, for many centuries, international law had denied the right of a colonial people to freedom. Eventually, colonial rulers weakened by two world wars (significantly enough, wars between themselves), were no longer able to impose their rule and the political principle of self determination began to gain reluctant  recognition in international law. The truth is that even Mahatma Gandhi did not found India's struggle for freedom on the 'international law principle' of the (sea water) right to self determination. If he had, he may have been met with the objection (in the 1930s) that no such general principle existed in international law.

Although Sri Lankan political establishment's behavior since the signing of the CFA has been characterised by intransigency (Kumaratunge and Rajapakse) and duplicity (Ranil Wickramasinghe), the international community has not changed its strategy. On the contrary, it has sharpened its criticism of the LTTE and taken the extar-ordinary steps of treating it as the unequal party to the CFA. The banning of the LTTE by the UK and EU being the prime examples of this conduct by the international community. 

comment by tamilnation.org Here it may be helpful to ask why? Why is it that "athough Sri Lankan political establishment's behavior since the signing of the CFA has been characterised by intransigency" the international community has not changed its strategy?  The answer lies in the end goals that the 'international community' seek to achieve. The members of the international community are not disinterested good Samaritans. Each member of the international community is concerned with stabilising Sri Lanka in such a way as to secure its own strategic interest in the Indian region and the Indian Ocean.  And it is those strategic interests which may need to examined in depth - and addressed.

Meanwhile, emboldened by the EU ban and motivated by his commitment to a unitary stand, Rajapakse had taken bold measures to retake the defacto state. It is in this context that Rajapakse's 'excesses' had come under the scrutiny of the UNHCR (at its sessions in Geneva in September to  October 2006) which had shown a renewed interest in castigating the Sri Lanka regime for the culture of impunity surrounding human rights violations. The international community fears that should Rajapakse continue in this path, it would further alienate the Tamil people and precipitate a full blown war. These actions on the part of the international community too are therefore part of its strategy of containment which require the Sri Lanka regime to help maintain the 'no war no peace' situation.  

comment by tamilnation.org We may need to examine further the question as to whether the international community's real fear is that "should Rajapakse continue in this path, it would further alienate the Tamil people and precipitate a full blown war". After all US ambassador Lumpstead famously remarked  on 9 January 2006,  that the US wanted the "cost of a return to war to be high," in Sri Lanka. On that occasion Lumstead resisted accusing the Sri Lankan Armed forces for the escalation of the violence, and declared that the US wanted it to be clear that if the Tigers chose to "abandon peace," they will face a "stronger, more capable and more determined" Sri Lankan military.  Clearly, in the immediate aftermath of President Rajapakse assuming power, the  US took the view that the way to influence and direct affairs in the Indian region was to extend overt support for President Rajapakse. So what if anything has changed since January 2006? 

Here, we may need to differentiate the interests of the three major international actors - US, India and China. Each is concerned to secure that when the conflict is resolved, it is resolved in such a way that its own (and differing) strategic interest in the Indian Ocean region is preserved. We may want to remind ourselves that it was, after all,  President Jayawardenes's westard shift which impelled New Delhi to arm and train Tamil militants in the early 1980s.  Today, we need to recognise the political reality of the 'two geopolitical triangles' in the Indian Ocean: U.S. - India - China relations and China - Pakistan - India relations.  China is an important supplier of arms to Sri Lanka and its presence in Hambantota is evidence of its continuing interest in the island - and the Arabian Sea. Again, at the time of the JVP insurrection in 1971, one of the first acts of the Srimavo Bandaranaike government was to close down the North Korean embassy and detain the Ceylon Communist Party (Mao)  leader, N.Sanmugathasan.

What has changed since January 2006, is that Sri Lanka President Rajapakse has increasingly sought to use the political space provided by the two geopolitical triangles in the Indian Ocean: U.S. - India - China relations and China - Pakistan - India relations to advance his own agenda. And both US and New Delhi are concerned that President Rajapakse's actions (and his covert reliance on the JVP)  may threaten each of their own (and different) strategic interests. Hence the attempts by US (NGOs and the UN Human Rights Council) and  India (Ananda Sangaree, Karuna but without the UN Human Rights Council) to reign in President Rajapakse - and also neutralise the JVP.

It appears that the international community now believes that simply maintaining a 'no war no peace� with some minor concessions alone may tire out the Tamil population (the Diaspora and the local Tamils) and undermine support to the LTTE .As Professor Neelson puts it

'Fatigue sets in when a cease-fire is prolonged without any apparent timeframe or a lasting settlement or when the fruits of peace remain insufficiently forthcoming [ii]

However, this strategy of the international community is bound to fail because it rests on the basic assumption that the Sri Lankan regime may be persuaded to cooperate by conceding at least minor concessions. This is unlikely for several reasons.

Firstly because, apart from a handful of peace activists, there are no strong advocates amongst the Sinhalese for a peace lobby that can help deliver these concessions. 

Secondly because of the misconception that there is a moderate and hard line divide within the Sinhala polity, the international community operates on the premise that the 'moderates' can be persuaded to play a role in conceding at least concessions to the Tamil people.  

Thirdly, the Colombo regime is driven by class interests which actually promote war. This class includes those related to the arms industry and others who have benefited from the war. It also provides the regime with the excuse to use the 'Tamil threat' as a cohesive social force in retaining its hold on power. 

Fourthly, there is a strong school of thought within the Sinhala political establishment that the defection of Karuna, the effects of tsunami and the fatigue brought about by the 'no war no peace� scenario have sufficiently weakened the LTTE to impose a military solution.  

Fifthly, there are committed unitarists within the Sinhala political establishment who look upon the destruction of the defacto state as a necessary step as it would otherwise make their claims for a 'solution' under a unitary constitution untenable.  

It is, however, possible for the international community to realise its goals without compromising on the aspirations of the Tamil and Sinhala nations by actively promoting the transformation of the Island into a union of two states. Professor John Neelson, has in fact recommended such a solution in his paper 'New Trajectories for Peace in Sri Lanka-Re-Envisioning Sri Lanka� by citing Europe which is

" trying to integrate a great number of states in a single union which differ not only in size, in wealth, and in culture, proves that in today�s highly unequal world of countries and a market dominated by multinational companies national sovereignty is no longer an absolute value. Only the pooling of resources holds the promise of maintaining and improving wealth and status. The example of France and Germany illustrate in particular that centuries of warfare and enmity can be overcome, that integration and cooperation is the best guarantee for each to survive precisely as a nation. It is an experience the peoples of the island may want to contemplate[iii]".  

comment by tamilnation.org Here, there may be a need to examine yet again:  what are the 'real' goals of the international community in relation to the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka?  What if the aspirations of the Tamil people are seen to be contrary to the strategic interests of  one of the three international actors - US, India and China? The example of  France and Germany does illustrate that centuries of warfare and enmity can be overcome.  But at the same time we must remember that it was the strategic interest of the US ( expressed through the Marshall Aid Plan and underpinned by Nato) which made the European Union possible. Why would the international community support a solution based on a union of two states? We may need to address, up front, the strategic interests which leads the US to oppose the emergence of an independent Tamil Eelam. We may also need to address up front the strategic interests which leads New Delhi to oppose the emergence of an independent Tamil Eelam.  And the reasons which impel each are different (and do not flow from a generalised statist disdain for non state actors). We may then take the next step of  showing that a union of two states in the island of Sri Lanka will not be against the strategic interests of any of the three international actors - and that it is a refusal to progress such a solution which will work against those strategic interests. The idea of an independent Tamil state has taken root in the hearts and minds of millions of Tamils living in many lands - and ideas do have a material force. Velupillai Pirabakaran's words in 1993 bear repetition yet again -

"We are fully aware that the world is not rotating on the axis of human justice. Every country in this world advances its own interests. Economic and trade interests determine the order of the present world, not the moral law of justice nor the rights of people. International relations and diplomacy between countries are determined by such interests. Therefore we cannot expect an immediate recognition of the moral legitimacy of our cause by the international community... In reality, the success of our struggle depends on us, not on the world. Our success depends on our own efforts, on our own strength, on our own determination."





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