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
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
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
(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
(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
(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.