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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > International Safety Net - You can't have the cake and eat it

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

International Safety Net - You can't have the cake and eat it
Northeastern Herald, September 6, 2002

There are no permanent alliances but only permanent interests that inform the affairs between states. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe appears to be sure of an international safety net to deter the LTTE from going back to war. In securing this safety net, he is attempting to do what many consider impossible in international politics. He is getting the support of countries whose strategic interests in this part of the world are diametrically opposed and hence in conflict. Can Mr. Wickremesinghe and his team of peace negotiators have the cake and eat it as well? Let me first paraphrase the argument of those who firmly believe that it can be done.

The cold war has long been over and hence the big powers have no compulsion to fight proxy wars in third world nations afflicted by ethnic and class contradictions. During the cold war what America branded as terrorism was defended and upheld by the Soviet Union and its allies as legitimate national liberation struggles.

But today, particularly in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, there is a general consensus among all major powers that terrorism should be wiped out from the face of the earth and that America has a legitimate right to go after the terrorists in every corner of the world.

The US has designated the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organisation. Therefore the US would provide adequate military and other assistance to crush the LTTE in the event of war breaking out again if Sri Lanka signs a mutually beneficial defence agreement with America. Furthermore a military pact with the US and the prospect of indirect or direct military backing from the world's sole super power would act as a concrete deterrent on the LTTE, one that would prevent it from contemplating the prospect of going to war again.

The visits of Christina Rocca, assistant secretary of state and recently of Richard Armitage, US deputy secretary of state to Jaffna and their statements in support of the UNF government's peace efforts have bolstered the belief about the international (read US) safety net.  Mr. Armitage even went far as to assert on Jaffna soil that the US would 'forcefully' make its point to ensure that the LTTE would toe the line.

In the meantime, the government has also sought to cement its longstanding friendship with the Pakistan by signing a free trade agreement. And there has been a solemn reaffirmation of continued military support from Gen. Parvez Musharaf.

The assumption that the end of cold war and the seeming consensus on the fight against terrorism would impel countries across the global political spectrum to bury their differences in assisting Sri Lanka fight the LTTE has already been shaken by reports that India has objected to the cross servicing treaty with the US.

Two questions arise here. Under what conditions would the US commit its military power against the LTTE in the event of the war breaking out again? What is the level of tangible military power that the US can deploy in Sri Lanka on behalf of the army to overwhelm the Tigers eventually in case of another war?

In the absence of a treaty or UN sanction, the US may not find it easy to commit its military power against the LTTE on Sri Lankan soil, as it (the LTTE) is not a direct threat to American interests except being 'designated' as a foreign terrorist organisation. That the Tigers are not considered a direct threat to American interests should be evident from the roles of Norway, UK and Thailand - all US allies in the current peace process.

This brings us to the question of the level of military assistance the US will have to commit here to fight the LTTE.

The LTTE is no Taliban. It is easily the most ferocious and resiliently compact conventional fighting force in the world today.

Therefore, US military assistance to the Sri Lanka army has to be more than mere training in manoeuvre, combat, intelligence and long range reconnaissance patrols, all of which were found to be ineffective against the LTTE.

The considerable US special forces training from 1997 to 2001 didn't help the army prevent the great debacles in the Vanni and Elephant Pass. The same can be said about future military assistance from Pakistan to the Sri Lanka army.

Now the point here is that both a defence treaty and the level of military power the US (or Pakistan) has to commit here against the LTTE will have to be such that they will inevitably have a strategic dimension other than fighting the war in the northeast.

In fact the proposed US treaty is firstly aimed at critically enhancing the capability of the US Navy and Air Force to project power in South Asia, Central Asia and the Arabian Sea.

The US troop commitment we are talking about here may eventually be commensurate with this enhancement and power projection capability, even creating the potential for a strategic shift from Diego Garcia in terms of men, material and support facilities for naval and air force operations to a place closer to the emerging scenes of action in the Indian Ocean region.

"So what? scoff the advocates of the safety net theory. "We get the safety net, 'the force multipliers' required to crush the LTTE and the US has to get something in return, things which bring us no harm. After all we are a sovereign nation. It is our sovereign right to decide our alliances with view to promoting our interests they say, chagrined by India's purported objection to the cross servicing treaty with the US.

They, including some senior politicians in Colombo, miss the main point � that they are legally bound by a treaty to share that sovereign right with India. By virtue of the 1987 Indo Lanka Accord India holds the right to 'advice' Sri Lanka "about the relevance and employment of foreign military and intelligence personnel with a view to ensuring that such presences will not prejudice Indo Sri Lankan relations. Sri Lanka is treaty bound not to make any of its ports "available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India's interests

Well-informed defence analysts in Delhi say that US, Pakistani and Chinese military assistance to Sri Lanka would be acceptable as long as these are not 'in any manner prejudicial to India's strategic interests'. They say India has regularly fulfilled it part of the treaty contained in the annexure to the Accord  2 (I) and 2 (II) of the exchange of letters.

Although Sri Lanka is treaty bound to jointly review all foreign military and intelligence presence in the island, it is understood that "developments since 1997 haven't been in consonance with the spirit of the Indo Lanka Accord. Hence India retains the legal right to assess at its discretion what level of foreign military involvement in, and assistance to, Sri Lanka is prejudicial to its strategic interests and to 'advice' the government here accordingly.

You can't have the cake and eat it � forget the eating, you don't even have the whole cake of national sovereignty to talk about.

Annexure to the Indo Lanka Accord

Conscious of the friendship between our two countries stretching over two millennia and more, and recognizing the importance of nurturing this traditional friendship, it is important that both Sri Lanka and India reaffirm the decision not to allow our respective territories to be used for activities prejudicial to each other's unity, territorial integrity and security.

1. In this spirit, you had, during the course of our discussions, agreed to meet some of India's concerns as follows:-

(i) Your Excellency and I will reach and early understanding about the relevance and employment of foreign military and intelligence personnel with a view to ensuring that such presences will not prejudice Indo Sri Lankan relations.

(ii) Trincomalee or any other ports of Sri Lanka will not be made available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India's interests.

(iii) The work of restoring the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm will be undertaken as a joint venture between India and Sri Lanka.

(iv) Sri Lanka's agreements with foreign broadcasting organisations (read Voice of America) will be reviewed to ensure that any facilities set up by them in Sri Lanka are used solely as public broadcasting facilities and not for any military or intelligence purposes.

2. In the same spirit India will:

(I) Deport all Sri Lankan citizens who are found engaging in terrorist activities or advocating separatism or secessionism.

(II) Provide training facilities and military supplies for Sri Lankan security forces.

3. India and Sri Lanka have agreed to set up a joint consultative mechanism to continuously review matters of common concern in the light of the objectives stated in para 1 and specifically to monitor the implementation of other matters contained in this letter.



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