"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
 
- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

International Dimensions
of the Conflict in Sri Lanka

2 October 2007

On the 138th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi
and on United Nations Declared 'International Day of Non Violence'

This is a revised and extended version of a key note address delivered at a Seminar on International Dimensions of the Conflict in Sri Lanka presented by the Centre for Just Peace & Democracy (CJPD) in partnership with TRANSCEND International in Luzern, Switzerland, 17 June 2007. Three key note addresses were delivered - the other two  were by Professor Johan Galtung and Professor Sumantra Bose. [see also Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom - Some Aspects of the International Dimension - Powerpoint Slide Presentation and Tamil Translation by M.Thanapalasingham  of Keynote Address in PDF]

"...the denial by international actors of their conflicting strategic interests in Sri Lanka draws a veil over the real issues that any meaningful conflict resolution process in the island will need to address. We cannot ostrich like bury our collective heads in the sand - and, to mix the metaphor, ignore the elephant in the room. Whilst the goal of securing peace through justice is loudly proclaimed by the international actors, real politick leads them to deny the justice of the Tamil Eelam struggle for freedom from alien Sinhala rule. The harsh reality is that on the one hand international actors are concerned to use the opportunity of the conflict in the island to advance each of their own strategic interests - and on the other hand, Sri Lanka seeks to use the political space created by the geo strategic triangle of US-India-China in the Indian Ocean region, to buy the support of all three  for the continued rule of the people of Tamil Eelam by a permanent Sinhala majority within the confines of  one state. The record shows that Sinhala Sri Lanka seeks to engage in a 'balance of power' exercise of its own by handing over parts of the island (and the surrounding seas) to India, US and China. We have India in the Trincomalee oil farm, at the same time we have a Chinese coal powered energy plant in Trincomalee; we have a Chinese project for the Hambantota port, at the same time we have the attempted naval exercises with the US from Hambantota (to contain Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean); we have the grant of preferred licenses to India for exploration of oil in the Mannar seas, at the same time we have a similar grant to China and a 'road show' for  tenders from US and UK based multinational corporations;  meanwhile we have the continued presence of the Voice of America installations in the island and the  ten year Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) was signed by the United States and Sri Lanka on 5 March 2007.  It will not be a matter for surprise if the US has found Sri Lanka's attempt to engage in a 'balance of power' exercise of its own somewhat irritating - and has cautioned Sri Lanka privately that Sri Lanka was not a super power and should not try to behave like one."


Ayubowan, Vanakkam
Co chairs, colleagues and friends.

The few words that I spoke in Sinhalese and in Tamil reflect in a small way the internal dimension of the conflict whose international dimension we are seeking to address here today.

There is also another reason why I spoke those words in Sinhalese and in Tamil. Here, I am mindful of the remarks made by Professor Galtung that today, many who speak on international conflicts  are usually trained by English professors and that their political horizons are generally limited to Oxford, Cambridge, the London School of Economics and such places. Professor Galtung may be right. Said that, the question is not only which university you may have attended but also what language you speak.

Language is not simply a means of communication. It has something to do with the way in which we segment the world – language shapes the way a people look at the world and that is true of all peoples, including the Tamil people and the Sinhala people. In 1835, it was the power of language to influence, which led Lord Macaulay in his Education Minute to prescribe for India, an education in the English language. He said

“We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect."[1]

The struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam for freedom arose amongst those who spoke in Tamil and who may not have understood much of what we are discussing here in an alien tongue. Again, the growth of the Sinhala language together with Buddhism, the Mahavamsa and so on are not to be dismissed as inconvenient ‘myths’. Sinhala nationalism is a product of that growth.  And Sinhala ethno nationalism is not a myth – though it may often masquerade as ‘Sri Lankan civic nationalism’.[2]  Sometimes we too easily forget that even words like ‘nation’ are not easily translated into Tamil, or for that matter into Sinhalese.[3]  And, much may be lost in translation.

Said all that, I am very happy to have been invited to deliver one of the three key note addresses at this seminar. It is not that there has been a shortage of seminars on the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka. There have been many seminars. I believe one researcher has commented that the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka is one of the most researched in the world.

But, in one way, this seminar is a first. We have had seminars before where a session or two was devoted to the international dimension. But, this is the first seminar which is focused entirely on the international dimension of the conflict in the island. Given that, I do not propose to spend much time attempting to offer prescriptions for the resolution of the conflict in the island. In any case, I have always regarded  the story of the mice who held a seminar to resolve the conflict with the cat as a cautionary tale. I will therefore limit myself to the narrow confines of the seminar subject -  and that is the international dimension of the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka  – and to contribute in whatever small way I can, to a discussion of that dimension.

Many years ago in 1955, in Cambridge University,  Krishna Menon was addressing the Cambridge India Society.  It was a packed audience and the title of his speech had been announced as “India’s non-alignment policy”. Krishna Menon had been recently appointed Minister without Portfolio in the Indian Cabinet.  But, ofcourse,  for years before that he had led the Indian delegation to the United Nations.  He had a sharp mind and perhaps a sharper tongue. 

Krishna Menon  was scheduled to speak for one hour and to respond to questions thereafter. Menon got up before the packed audience and said “Well, I was not consulted on the subject of my talk. On the subject of my talk I have only one sentence to say to you, and that is: India’s foreign policy is non-aligned”. Whilst the audience was digesting this information he went on to say: “However, I am willing to spend the hour set apart for my talk, to respond  to any questions you may want to ask”.

After some initial hesitation, the questions started to flow. 1955 was a time when Taiwan (or Formosa) had a seat in the Security Council as ‘China’. Mao Tse Tung’s China was not recognised by the US and it had not been admitted as a member of the United Nations. At the time of Menon’s visit to Cambridge, the US Sixth Fleet was engaged in naval exercises near Taiwan. It was a time of some tension. 

A youthful questioner stood up rather hesitantly and asked “Mr. Menon sir, what do you have to say about the situation of Taiwan”? Menon’s reply came in a flash. He said “the situation of Taiwan is that it is 150 miles from China and several thousand miles away from the United States”. The audience dissolved in laughter. However, the fact that some 50 years later, Taiwan continues to exist (albeit, not as a member of the Security Council) reflects, perhaps, the long reach of US naval power. Mao was not wrong when he had said that power flows through a barrel of a gun.

I sometimes wonder whether if Krishna Menon was alive today and he was asked what he had to say about the situation of Sri Lanka, he may have responded:  “Sri Lanka is an island about 20 miles away from India in the vast expanse of the Indian ocean, several thousand miles away from the USA and a couple of thousand miles away from China.”

Geography plays an important (though silent) role in the affairs of states - and also in nations without a state.  Where a state has a large internal market, the size of that internal market is itself a strategic asset. Where a state does not have a large internal market, it seems that it is often a question of location, location, location. The  smaller the country, relatively more important becomes the location - and the location itself becomes a strategic asset.

The Indian Ocean is not the largest ocean in the world.  It is the third largest. But it has something like  47 countries around it and contains several islands.[4] 

You can see them on the map. Coco island is not far from Myanmar where of course now the Chinese have a base[5]. Then we have  Andaman Islands[6], Maldives[7], Madagascar[8] and of course Gawdor[9] in Pakistan and  Kawar[10] in India. And if you go down south you may even  get to Diego Garcia[11] with its US naval and air base.  India itself projects something like 1200 miles into the Indian Ocean. And many Indians take the view that after all, the Indian Ocean is the Indian Ocean.

The strategic importance of the Indian Ocean has been recognized for many years. US Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan said more than a century ago, "Whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia. This ocean is the key to the seven seas in the twenty-first century, the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters."[12]  Again, the British Empire owed much to British dominance of the Indian Ocean – a dominance which Hitler sought to undermine with his U-boats during the Second World War.[13]

The Indian Ocean contains an estimated 40% of the world’s oil production[14]. And today fresh exploration for oil and gas continues in the Mannar seas off Sri Lanka[15], the Cauvery Basin off  Tamil Nadu and in the seas off Myanmar. But the significance of  the Indian Ocean arises not simply from the resources it has. The Indian Ocean is a critical waterway.  It includes half of the world’s containerized cargo, one thirds of its bulk cargo and two thirds of its oil shipments. Its waters carry heavy traffic of  petroleum products. And unlike the Atlantic Ocean, much of this traffic is to countries outside the Indian Ocean.
 

The sea lanes of the Indian Ocean give a graphic picture of its strategic significance.  

China, which has been a net oil importer since 1993, is the world’s no 2 oil consumer after the United States. It achieved that status in 2004. Before that the second largest oil consumer was Japan. China has accounted for as much as 40% of the world’s crude oil demand growth during the period 2000  to 2004[16].  

Access to energy resources is  a very critical factor for continued Chinese economic growth. And, not surprisingly China has stepped up efforts to secure sea lanes and transport routes that are vital for its  oil supplies. The geo political strategy adopted by China has been dubbed 'the string of pearls' strategy.

"...Each “pearl” in the “String of Pearls” is a nexus of Chinese geopolitical influence or military presence. Hainan Island, with recently upgraded military facilities, is a “pearl.” An upgraded airstrip on Woody Island, located in the Paracel archipelago 300 nautical miles east of Vietnam, is a “pearl.” A container shipping facility in Chittagong, Bangladesh, is a “pearl.” Construction of a deep water port in Sittwe, Myanmar, is a “pearl,” as is the construction of a navy base in Gwadar, Pakistan. Port and airfield construction projects, diplomatic ties, and force modernization form the essence of China’s “String of Pearls.” The “pearls” extend from the coast of mainland China through the littorals of the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the littorals of the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. China is building strategic relationships and developing a capability to establish a forward presence along the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) that connect China to the Middle East” String of Pearls: Meeting the Challenge of China’s Rising Power Across the Asian Littoral Lt.Col. Christopher J. Pehrson, July 2006 [17]

'The emergence of new powers like China and India is expected to transform the regional strategic landscape in a fashion that could be as dramatic as the rise of Germany in the 19th century and the United States in the 20th century'  [18]    and  the  'Indian ocean region has become the strategic heartland of the 21st century, dislodging Europe and North East Asia which adorned this position in the 20th century. The developments in the Indian Ocean region are contributing to the advent of a less Western centric and a more multi-polar world.'[19] 

Hopefully, sufficient has been said to sketch the strategic significance of the Indian Ocean region. One matter of significance is that the dynamics of the region calls for a balance of power approach rather than a straight alliance.

“…the dynamics of the region calls for a balance of power approach rather than a straight alliance…. The rise of India as a major power, coupled with the better-known - and frequently analyzed - Chinese rise, is changing the structure of the world system. Not only is U.S. ‘unipolar’ hegemony in the Indian Ocean facing a challenge, but the strategic triad U.S.-Western Europe-Japan, which has ruled the international political economy for the past few decades, is now also under question…We can expect the South Asian region to be one of the system's key areas to be watched in the next decade.” [20]

The balance of power in the Indian Ocean region is not a simple black and white matter. And it is not static. The frame is multilateral and the interactions are nuanced – and calibrated.

There is a word that was coined some years ago in a different context  - in the study of multinational corporations and the market economy. The  word was co-petition.  You compete in some areas but you also  co-operate in other areas. When you cooperate in some areas and compete in other areas - that's co-petition.   For instance India and US do have a strategic partnership in some areas. At the same time the US will remain watchful of  India's relationship with China. New Delhi is not simply a partner of the United States or China. It will attempt to march to the beat of its own drummer[21]. Whether New Delhi will succeed, only the future can tell.

The doubt arises for two reasons. Firstly, the penetration of multi national corporations into the Indian private sector and the increasing linkage with the US for defence (and nuclear knowhow) may deprive India of the independence that it may seek. Ramtanu Maitra reported in July 2007

 "...Last April, at a two-day workshop at the Indian Defense Studies Analysis (IDSA), a New Delhi-based think tank, discussions took place on emerging U.S.-Indian strategic relations. One Indian analyst pointed out that although Indians are eager to obtain U.S. technology, a 'trust deficit' still exists, based on past U.S. sanctions on India, and Indians worry that at a crucial time they might not be supplied with replacement parts if the relationship goes bad again...."

Here it is not without relevance to note, for instance, something which  Lt Gen (retired) Dan Christman, senior Vice President (international affairs) of the influential US Chamber of Commerce declared in March 2007 whilst leading a 38 member delegation to Tamil Nadu -

"...Tamil Nadu is a gateway state for international business as it connected both to the east and the west. US-India defence relationship has been improving. US companies are getting acquainted with India's rather intricate procurement arrangements and educate their counterparts here about our (US) systems... about our new, sophisticated US military equipment. This is an area of significant commercial promise"

Secondly New Delhi will need to recognise that, in the end, the strength of India will lie not in the nuclear bomb, but in its peoples. The economy of India will not grow unless the different peoples of India are energised to work together to achieve their shared aspirations. There may be a need for New Delhi to address the concerns such as those expressed by Arundhati Roy in her  conversation with Shoma Chaudhury in March 2007 -

"..What we’re witnessing (in India) is the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in independent India — the secession of the middle and upper classes from the rest of the country. It’s a vertical secession, not a lateral one. They’re fighting for the right to merge with the world’s elite somewhere up there in the stratosphere... to equate a resistance movement fighting against enormous injustice with the government which enforces that injustice is absurd. The government has slammed the door in the face of every attempt at non-violent resistance. When people take to arms, there is going to be all kinds of violence — revolutionary, lumpen and outright criminal. The government is responsible for the monstrous situations it creates... "

Here, the failure of successive Indian governments to openly recognise that India is a multi-national state, has served to weaken the Indian Union rather than strengthen it. The European Union (established albeit, after two World Wars), may serve as a pointer to that which may have to be achieved in the Indian region in the years to come. India may need to adopt a more 'principle centred' approach towards struggles for self determination in the Indian region. A  myopic approach, apart from anything else, may well encourage the very outside 'pressures' which New Delhi seeks to exclude. And there may be a need to pay more than passing attention to the views expressed by U.S. Congressman Edolphus Towns in the United States Congress ten years ago  on 2 October 1998 -

"..India’s breakup is inevitable. I think I speak for most of us here when I say that I hope it happens in the peaceful way that the Soviet breakup did. Otherwise, there is the risk of another Yugoslavia in South Asia. ..It has been American policy to preserve the current artificial stability in South Asia, but let us remember that we pursued a similar policy with regard to the Soviet empire and it collapsed anyway.."

In contrast to India, China has taken pains to construct an independent defence policy. Lt Gen Zhang Qinsheng, Deputy Chief of the General Staff, People's Republic of China explained at the Shangri La Conference in Singapore in June 2007 -

 " ... (China) aims for independent defence. We would secure the country with our own capabilities, without joining any form of military alliance with any countries.... We adhere to open multilateralism.  We are committed to developing non-alignment, non-confrontational mutual cooperation, which does not direct against a third party. "

And, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) - has emerged as a potential rival to Western groups. Significantly it includes India but the US was denied membership.

Given the China - India equation,  the US may welcome a ‘balance of power in Asia' as a way of securing its own pre-eminence as the sole global super power -  a unipolar world 'with a multipolar perspective' a la Condoleezza Rice [22]   or to use an older and perhaps better known phrase, divide et impera. In the 19th century, British foreign policy was directed to secure a 'balance of power' in continental Europe so that Brittania may rule the waves and the sun never set on the British Empire in the world. It will not be a matter for surprise  if  New Delhi and China may feel challenged by the US  ‘balance of power in Asia'  approach. Whilst the US is intent on securing an unipolar world with a 'multipolar perspective' for the foreseeable future, New Delhi and China may see a multi lateral asymmetric world where the 'asymmetry' progressively diminishes - and a truly multipolar world emerges. Recently Shyam Saran Special Envoy to Indian Prime Minister, and Indian Foreign Secretary 2004 - 2006 declared in Singapore -

"We are already in a world of what I would call "asymmetric multipolarity" with the asymmetry progressively diminishing over a period of time. India has an instinctive preference for multipolarity and... this is a trend which is positive from India’s standpoint as an emerging power.."

Given all this, the question is: in what areas are the US, New Delhi and China competing with each other, and in what areas are they cooperating with each other?  And this may be the appropriate stage to turn to an examination of the strategic significance of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean Region.

Is Sri Lanka an area of competition or cooperation for India, the US and/or China? And if it is an area of cooperation what is the extent of that cooperation? The pregnant question is: does that 'co-operation' extend to any one of them (US, India or China) walking away and leaving  Sri Lanka to the other two? And if it does not, at what stage does co-operation end and competition begin?

Here  I am reminded of the occasion of  Ceylon’s independence in 1948. Independence was proclaimed on 4 February 1948.  The ceremonial opening of the first independent parliament of Ceylon  was on the 10th of February 1948. As a young teenager, I was present at the ceremonial opening.  Two memories have stayed with me during the past several years.

One was the picture of  the Ceylon Prime  Minister, the Rt Hon D S Senanayake, one of His Majesty’s Privy Councilors.  A large marquee had been set up for the opening of parliament.  It was a warm day in Colombo and the Rt Hon D S Senanayake was there, resplendent in a top hat, and a morning coat with tails. It seemed that Lord Macaulay’s Education Minute of 1835 had secured some success in creating “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.”

The other memory was that of the King’s representative who delivered  the ‘throne speech’. He was the Duke of Gloucester, the brother of the King at that time and he was dressed in the uniform of an Admiral. At that time the significance of the naval uniform escaped me.

But the fact was that  Ceylon had  entered into a defense agreement with the United Kingdom in 1947/48[23] for the use by the United Kingdom of the naval base in Trincomalee.  The Defence Agreement was a condition precedent to the United Kingdom granting independence in February 1948.  Interestingly the exchange of letters[24] between the UK Foreign Office and  Australia (in 1947 and before Ceylon was granted independence) reflected the importance that not only the United Kingdom but also Australia[25] (with its western coast on the waters of the Indian Ocean) attached to that Defence  Agreement.

I relate this story to show that the strategic significance of Sri Lanka existed before the present conflict in the island - and will continue to exist even after the conflict is resolved.

Said that, the strategic significance of Sri Lanka arises not only from Trincomalee. It is not as simple as that – we need to include Hambantota, the Voice of America installations and so on. Ramesh Somasundaram of Deakin University in his 2005 publication  ‘Strategic Significance of Sri Lanka’  gives three reasons for  the ‘interest of the international community’ in Sri Lanka -

“ (1) Sri Lanka is strategically situated
(2) It is ideally situated to be a major communication center, and
(3) It has Trincomalee, described by the British Admiral Horatio Nelson as “the finest harbour in the world.

Sri Lanka occupies a strategic point in the Indian Ocean, whose vast expanse covering 2,850,000 sq miles, touches the shores of the Indian subcontinent in the North; Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia in the East; Antartica in the South; and East Africa in the West."[26]

In 1985 I was in Bhutan as a member of the Tamil delegation to the Thimpu Talks[27].  The Research Analysis Wing of India spent some considerable time informing us of the threats that US submarines posed in the Indian Ocean and the difficulties they had and why it was important that some agreement must be achieved with Sri Lanka.

The Thimpu Talks themselves  failed but two years later in 1987, the Indo Sri Lanka Accord did secure for India its strategic interests. The exchange of letters between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lanka President J.R.Jayawardene on 29 July 1987 preceding the Signing of Agreement[28] provided inter alia  that

 ‘Sri Lanka's agreement with foreign broadcasting organisations 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’ and that  ‘Trincomalee or any other ports in Sri Lanka will not be made available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India's interests.’

That said, we must bear in mind that the intervention by the United States and by India in the conflict in the island  has a long history.

In 1979 the Governor of the State of Massachusetts proclaimed 22  May 1979 as  Eelam Day[29]. In 1981 the legislature of the State of Massachusetts passed a resolution calling for ‘the restoration and reconstitution of the separate sovereign state of Tamil Eelam’[30].   And it is perhaps not without significance that the Proclamation of the Mayor of Somerville, Massachusetts on 22 June 1981 declared interalia that

"..The harbour of Trincomalee is one of the wonders of nature and is a strategic area in the Indian Ocean; and that Trincomalee had been a purely Tamil area along with Jaffna, Mannar, Vavunia, Batticaloa and Ampara, until the administrative fusion with the Sinhalese country; and that the Tamils of the island had been there from time immemorial.."[31]

At the same time, Tamil Nadu in India (like the State of Massachusetts in the US!) was vociferous in its support for Tamil Eelam, and Indira Gandhi's  India armed and trained Tamil militants in their struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam.

"...Most Tamil separatists from Sri Lanka had accepted the Indian offer (to provide arms and training) at its face value, thinking that New Delhi was reaching out to them out of genuine concern for their condition. However, an extraordinary revelation began to unfold as the training started. Many guerrillas realized that the training was just a subterfuge for a larger strategic game that India was attempting to play, a game in which the Tamil rebels may end up being just expendable pawns…” [32].

In 1998, Jyotindra Nath Dixit  who served as Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka 1985 /89, Foreign Secretary in 1991/94 and National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister of India 2004/05 declared disarmingly -

"...Tamil militancy received (India's) support  ...as a response to (Sri Lanka's).. concrete and expanded military and intelligence cooperation with the United States, Israel and Pakistan. ...The assessment was that these presences would pose a strategic threat to India and they would encourage fissiparous movements in the southern states of India. .. a process which could have found encouragement from Pakistan and the US, given India's experience regarding their policies in relation to Kashmir and the Punjab.... Inter-state relations are not governed by the logic of morality. They were and they remain an amoral phenomenon....."[33]

When these matters are mentioned today, it is sometimes said that all this may have been relevant during the time of the cold war but that the world has moved on since then. It is true that the world has moved on – but today we are in the midst of a new cold war. The United States may be the sole super power, but it lives in an ‘asymmetric’  multi lateral world where strong regional powers (including the EU, Russia, China and India) have increasing global impact. We are living in a world where the current ‘asymmetry’  is  progressively diminishing. This is the new cold war.[34] It is a cold war because open warfare is to nobody’s benefit.  And this is so not only because of the inter linked nature of the global economy but also because of the deterrent effect of the nuclear capability of today's enlarged nuclear club.

Today, for Sri Lanka, China is a ‘benign friend’[35]. Sudha Ramachandran warned in the Asia Times on 13 March 2007

 ".. China is all set to drop anchor at India's southern doorstep. An agreement has been finalized between Sri Lanka and China under which the latter will participate in the development of a port project at Hambantota on the island's south coast. ...the significance of Hambantota to China lies in its proximity to India's south coast and on the fact that it provides Beijing with presence midway in the Indian Ocean.”[36]

In March 2007, B. Muralidhar Reddy commented on the ten year Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) signed by the United States and Sri Lanka on 5 March 2007 –

“The ten year Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) signed by the United States and Sri Lanka on March 5, which provides for among other things logistics supplies and re-fuelling facilities, has major ramifications for the region, particularly India. For all the sophistry and spin by the Americans, the ACSA is a military deal and, on the face of it, is loaded in Washington's favour “ [37]

These then are some aspects of the international dimension of the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka - an international dimension constituted by the geo strategic political triangle of the US, India and China. And for the US we may also read  'the Trilaterals'  i.e. US, EU and Japan - though the interests of the three may not always be congruent. Iraq was a recent instance of disharmony.

It will be fair to say that there are two conflicts in the island. One is the conflict arising from the people of Tamil Eelam struggling[38] to free themselves from oppressive rule[39] by an ethno-Sinhala nation masquerading[40] as a ‘civic’ Sri Lankan nation[41].  The other is the conflict between international actors jostling for power and influence in the Indian Ocean region.

And the record shows[42] that these international actors are concerned to influence the resolution of the conflict in such a way that each of their own (conflicting) interests in the Indian Ocean region are advanced – or at least not undermined.

For instance, today, the US and India may find common cause in 'weakening' the LTTE and the Tamil Eelam struggle for freedom - but weaken it in such a way that thereafter each of them may successfully jockey (if necessary, against each other) for position and influence in the Indian Ocean region.  Each has a need to 'embed' its influence in the Sinhala body politic during the conflict resolution process. After all, if Tamil resistance is totally annihilated, both US and India may lose an useful lever to influence a Sinhala Sri Lanka. This may be more so for India than for the US. The US is a super power and may feel that it has other weapons in its armoury to advance its foreign policy objectives.

And so the US espouses the cause of 'human rights' (but not self determination)  in UN fora, builds links with sections of the Tamil diaspora concerned with human rights,  and at the same time  strengthens  its links with the Sinhala opposition in Sri Lanka to bring about a 'grand coalition' among the Sinhala political parties and in this way increase its leverage in the island. 

Here the US may be mindful that the traditional urban/mercantile/land owner electoral constituency of the opposition United National Party may be more supportive of US economic policies than the left of centre 'Sinhala nationalist' constituency of the SLFP and/or the Marxist  JVP. A JVP delegation led by JVP leader Wimal Weerawansa, during a recent tour to China urged the Chinese Foreign Bureau and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party to "resist the intentions of western powers to create an Israel in South Asia".

At the same time, New Delhi which has no desire to lose its ability to play the 'Tamil card' as a useful lever (as in fact it did in the early 1980s), builds its own network amongst dissident Tamils both in Sri Lanka and abroad and makes contributions to the political funds of Sinhala political parties to propagate its interests.

Amidst all this, the public stance of each of these international actors is to deny the existence of their strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region - and, more importantly, the conflicting nature of those interests. For instance, former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Jeffrey Lunstead in a recent paper on the ‘United States Role in Sri Lanka Peace Process 2002-2006’ said -

“..With the end of the Cold War, U.S. interest in Sri Lanka waned. As recently as 2000, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was planning for significantly reduced development assistance levels. The enhanced engagement that commenced in 2001 occurred despite the absence of significant U.S. strategic interests in Sri Lanka. Political-military interests are not high, and the U.S. has no interest in military bases in Sri Lanka. From an economic and commercial standpoint, Sri Lanka is unlikely to be a major U.S. trading partner in the near future. There is not a large enough Sri Lankan-origin community in the U.S. to have an impact on U.S. domestic politics. “[43] 

Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead fails to mention that with the end of the old cold war a new cold war has started. He fails to address the issues raised by  United States Lt.Col. Christopher J. Pehrson in ‘String of Pearls: Meeting the Challenge of China’s Rising Power Across the Asian Littoral’[44].  But, though strategic interests may be denied they cannot always be hidden -

“..US Marines will conduct exercises with the Sri Lanka Navy later this month, deploying more than 1,000 personnel and support ships for amphibious and counter-insurgency maneuvers with the aim of 'containing' growing Chinese presence in the region and to test its latest theories on 'littoral battle' without putting American soldiers at risk…” Indian Marines to train Sri Lanka Navy  - Rahul Bedi, 25 October 2006[45] 

“..At the last meeting of the Indo-US Defence Joint Working Group held in New Delhi (on 10 April 2007), China's 'growing naval expansion in the Indian Ocean' was noted with concern. The meeting also noted: ''China is rapidly increasing military and maritime links with countries such as Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar… The 200 years of the Anglo-Saxon presence in the region has now been replaced by the US-China presence to further and protect their interests. Isn’t it time for the ‘owners’ of the Indian Ocean to get together to protect their own interests?  " Atul Dev in the Mauritius Times, 25 May 2007 [46]

The reluctance on the part of the international community to openly state their interests may be understandable. And we may also need to recognize that  human rights and humanitarian law are more often than not simply instruments through which states selectively intervene in the affairs of other states, so that they may advance their own strategic interests in an acceptable way. We had for instance Helsinki Watch which played an important role in the old cold war. Now of course Helsinki Watch has matured into Human Rights Watch which has on occasion acted as an arm of US Foreign Policy (see Human Rights Watch in Service to the War Party). The gallery of friendly dictators supported by the international community from time to time also serves as a constant reminder of the political dimension of human rights and humanitarian law.

Said that, the denial by international actors of their conflicting strategic interests in Sri Lanka draws a veil over the real issues that any meaningful conflict resolution process in the island will need to address. We cannot ostrich like bury our collective heads in the sand - and, to mix the metaphor, ignore the elephant in the room. Whilst the goal of securing peace through justice is loudly proclaimed by the international actors, real politick leads them to deny the justice of the Tamil Eelam struggle for freedom from alien Sinhala rule.

The harsh reality is that on the one hand international actors are concerned to use the opportunity of the conflict to advance each of their own strategic interests - and on the other hand, Sri Lanka seeks to use the political space created by the geo strategic triangle of US-India-China in the Indian Ocean region to buy the support of all three for the continued rule of the people of Tamil Eelam by a permanent Sinhala majority within the confines of  one state.

The record shows that Sinhala Sri Lanka seeks to engage in a 'balance of power' exercise of its own by handing over parts of the island (and its surrounding seas) to India, US and China. We have India in the Trincomalee oil farm, at the same time we have a Chinese coal powered energy plant in Trincomalee; we have a Chinese project for the Hambantota port, at the same time we have the attempted naval exercises with the US from Hambatota (to contain Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean); we have the grant of preferred licenses to India for exploration of oil in the Mannar seas, at the same time we have a similar grant to China and a 'road show' for  tenders from US and UK based multinational corporations;  meanwhile we have the continued presence of the Voice of America installations in the island and the ten year Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) was signed by the United States and Sri Lanka on 5 March 2007. It will not be a matter for surprise if the US has found Sri Lanka's attempt to engage in a 'balance of power' exercise of its own somewhat irritating - and has cautioned Sri Lanka privately that Sri Lanka was not a super power and should not try to behave like one.

But, behind the machinations of real politick, there is also something that history teaches. History shows that a people's struggle for freedom is also a nuclear energy. Sri Aurobindo, the sage of Pondicherry said it all a hundred years ago -

"...The mistake which despots, benevolent or malevolent, have been making ever since organised states came into existence and which, it seems, they will go on making to the end of the chapter, is that they overestimate their coercive power, which is physical and material and therefore palpable, and underestimate the power and vitality of ideas and sentiments. A feeling or a thought, the aspiration towards liberty, cannot be estimated in the terms of concrete power, in so many fighting men, so many armed police, so many guns, so many prisons, such and such laws, ukases, and executive powers. But such feelings and thoughts are more powerful than fighting men and guns and prisons and laws and ukases. Their beginnings are feeble, their end is mighty. But of despotic repression the beginnings are mighty, the end is feeble.But the despot will not recognise this superiority, the teachings of history have no meaning for him. ..He is deceived also by the temporary triumph of his repressive measures.. and thinks,

“Oh, the circumstances in my case are quite different, I am a different thing from any yet recorded in history, stronger, more virtuous and moral, better organised. I am God’s favourite and can never come to harm.” 

And so the old drama is staged again and acted till it reaches the old catastrophe..."

Again, all of us, including the Sinhala people of  Sri Lanka, may also want to remember that which  Sardar K.M.Pannikar, Indian Ambassador to China from 1948 to 1952, and later Vice Chancellor, Mysore University said in Principles and Practice of Diplomacy, in 1956 -

"...Foreign Ministers and diplomats presumably understand the permanent interests of their country... But no one can foresee clearly the effects of even very simple facts as they pertain to the future. The Rajah of Cochin who in his resentment against the Zamorin permitted the Portuguese to establish a trading station in his territories could not foresee that thereby he had introduced into India something which was to alter the course of history. Nor could the German authorities, who, in their anxiety to create confusion and chaos in Russia, permitted a sealed train to take Lenin and his associates across German territory, have foreseen what forces they were unleashing. To them the necessity of the moment was an utter breakdown of Russian resistance and to send Lenin there seemed a superior act of wisdom... "

At the end of the day, it is for all to recognise that it is the Tamil people and the Sinhala people who will need to have the conversation with one another as to how two free and independent peoples may associate with one another in equality and in freedom.

I will end here - with the words of the Leader of Tamil Eelam, Velupillai Pirapaharan on Maha Veerar Naal in 1993

“Every country in this world advances its own interests. It is economic and trade interests that 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..." [47] 

Thank you very much.



[2]  See generally on Civic Nationalism & Ethno Nationalism at www.tamilnation.org/selfdetermination/nation/civic_ethno/index.htm

[3] "...In the Sinhala language, the words for nation, race and people are practically synonymous, and a multiethnic or multi communal nation or state is incomprehensible to the popular mind. The emphasis on Sri Lanka as the land of the Sinhala Buddhists carried an emotional popular appeal, compared with which the concept of a multiethnic polity was a meaningless abstraction..." (Sinhala Historian K. M. de Silva in Religion, Nationalism and the State, USF Monographs in Religion and Public Policy, No.1 (Tampa, FLA: University of South Florida 1986) at p31 quoted by David Little in Religion and Self Determination in Self Determination - International Perspectives, MacMillan Press, 1996 quoted at www.tamilnation.org/tamileelam/fundamentalism/index.htm)

“The central place of Buddhism in the constitution of the Singhalese territorial relation of a nation goes back to the Sinhalese histories of the fourth and fifth centuries of the Christian era, the Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa. There one finds the myth of the visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka, during which he freed the Island of its original supernatural and evil inhabitants, the Yakkas. As a result the Buddha had sanctified the entire island transforming it into a Buddhist territory. These histories thus asserted a territorial relation between Sinhalese and Buddhism, the stability of which was derived from a perceived order of the universe, that is, the actions of the Buddha. The reaffirmation of that relation may be observed to-day in the shrines throughout the island at Mahiyangana, where the supposed collarbone of the Buddha is kept, at Mount Samantakuta, where the Buddha’s supposed fossilized footprint may be seen and the most important one at Kandy, supposedly containing the relic of the Buddha’s tooth." Stephen Grossly, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Clemson University on The primordial, kinship and nationality”. “When is the Nation?” Edited by Atsuko Ichijo and Gordana Uzelac Routledge (2005) p 68  quoted at www.tamilnation.org/tamileelam/fundamentalism/index.htm)

[5] "..Myanmar's military government leased the Coco Islands to the Chinese in 1994. China has a maritime reconnaissance and electronic intelligence station on the Great Coco Island and is building a base on Small Coco Island. The significance of these facilities for China stems from the fact that the Coco Islands are located at a crucial point in traffic routes between the Bay of Bengal and the Malacca Strait and lie very close to India. Sudha Ramachandran  in Myanmar plays off India and China, 17 August 2005 www.tamilnation.org/intframe/indian_ocean/index.htm#Myanmar,_Coco_Islands_-_China

[8] Indian Monitoring Station in Madagascar www.tamilnation.org/intframe/indian_ocean/index.htm#Madagascar

[9] Gwadar in Pakistan: China's Naval Outpost on the Indian Ocean  at  www.asianresearch.org/articles/2528.html

[10] “Indian Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee said on May 31 that the naval base INS Kadamba in Karwar, Karnataka state will protect the country's Arabian Sea maritime routes. Kadamba will become India's third operational naval base, after Mumbai and Visakhapatnam.” India's Project Seabird and Indian Ocean's Balance of Power, PINR, 20 July 2005 at  www.tamilnation.org/intframe/indian_ocean/050720seabird.htm  

[11] US Navy is upgrading its submarine base at the isolated tropical atoll Diego Garcia www.theregister.co.uk/2007/04/07/marineville_in_diego_garcia/  

[12]  US Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan quoted by Cdr. P K Ghosh in Maritime Security Challenges in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, 18 January 2004 http://community.middlebury.edu/~scs/docs/ghosh,%20maritime%20security%20challenges%20in%20SAsia%20&%20Indian%20Ocean.pdf

[13] " ...Next to nothing has been written about the U-boat war in the Indian Ocean… The battle began in August 1943, when a German submarine arrived in the Malaysian harbour of Georgetown. In total, nearly forty U-boats were assigned to penetrate the Indian Ocean, serving alongside troops of the occupying Imperial Japanese forces..." Lawrence Paterson - Hitler's Grey Wolves: U-Boats in the Indian Ocean  www.tamilnation.org/books/War/index.htm#Lawrence_Paterson  

[15] The International Frame of the Tamil Eelam - The Oil Dimension at www.tamilnation.org/intframe/tamileelam/070920oil.htm  

[16] “China is the world's number two oil consumer after the U.S. and has accounted for 40 percent of the world's crude oil demand growth since 2000. .. in the presence of sporadic power shortages, growing car ownership and air travel across China and the importance of energy to strategically important and growing industries such as agriculture, construction, and steel and cement manufacturing, pressure is going to mount on China to access energy resources on the world stage.” Setting the Stage for a New Cold War: China's Quest for Energy Security - PINR, 25 February 2005 www.pinr.com/report.php?ac=view_report&report_id=272

[17] " The geopolitical strategy dubbed the “String of Pearls” is arising as foreign oil becomes a center of gravity critical to China’s energy needs. China’s rising maritime power is encountering American maritime power along the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) that connect China to vital energy resources in the Middle East and Africa. The “String of Pearls” describes the manifestation of China’s rising geopolitical influence through efforts to increase access to ports and airfields, develop special diplomatic relationships, and modernize military forces that extend from the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the Arabian Gulf… ” String of Pearls: Meeting the Challenge of China’s Rising Power Across the Asian Littoral Lt.Col. Christopher J. Pehrson, July 2006  

[18] Barry Desker, Director IDSS, Singapore  in  Maritime Balance of Power in the Asia-Pacific - Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Singapore, 8th – 9th March 2005 www.tamilnation.org/intframe/indian_ocean/maritime_balance_of_power.pdf  

see also “… Let this be clear: the two major powers of the region, China and India, are scrambling for advantage around the Indian Ocean's rim. China is building military and naval links with Bangladesh and Myanmar. The cooperation between China and African countries is now getting more and more visible, particularly after the China-Africa summit in Beijing in November 2006... Reports available indicate that both India and the United States are studying intensely this rise in Chinese activity. Atul Dev on The Indian Ocean: Current Security Environment, 25 May 2007 www.tamilnation.org/intframe/indian_ocean/070525atul_dev.htm

[19] Donald L. Berlin, Head of Security Studies, Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii - www.thehindu.com/2006/12/13/stories/2006121305190300.htm

[20] Adam Wolfe, Yevgeny Bendersky, Dr. Federico Bordonaro - India's Project Seabird and Indian Ocean's Balance of Power, PINR, 20 July 2005 www.pinr.com/report.php?ac=view_report&report_id=330&language_id=1

[21]"Evolving Entente": Geostrategic Import of the Coming Bay of Bengal Naval Exercise,  Ramtanu Maitra, 27 July 2007  www.tamilnation.org/intframe/indian_ocean/070727naval_exercises.htm  

[22]  "..Rice's announcements culminate a major revision of Washington's overall geostrategy that has been in the making since 2004 when the failures of the Iraq intervention exposed the limitations of U.S. military capabilities and threw into question the unilateralist doctrine outlined in the administration's 2002 National Security Strategy... Rice's reforms are significant because they are embraced by a multipolar perspective on world politics that brings Washington into line with the other major power centers. Her reforms put into place concrete measures that follow from that perspective, even though they are -- as should be expected -- just a beginning.... other power centers will welcome Washington's acknowledgment of multipolarity at the same time that they will be challenged by it..." Condoleezza Rice Completes Washington's Geostrategic Shift, 1 February 2006 at  www.pinr.com/report.php?ac=view_report&report_id=431&language_id=1
 

[25] See generally Stirling Naval Base in Australia at www.tamilnation.org/intframe/indian_ocean/index.htm#Stirling,_Cockburn_Sound  

[26] ‘Strategic Significance of Sri Lanka’ - Ramesh Somasundaram of Deakin University quoted by  P.K. Balachandran in  Hindustan Times, 30 May 2005 at www.tamilnation.org/intframe/indian_ocean/050530sri_lanka_strategic_importance.htm
 

[32] "...Most Tamil separatists from Sri Lanka had accepted the Indian offer (to provide arms and training) at its face value, thinking that New Delhi was reaching out to them out of genuine concern for their condition. However, an extraordinary revelation began to unfold as the training started. Many guerrillas realized that the training was just a subterfuge for a larger strategic game that India was attempting to play, a game in which the Tamil rebels may end up being just expendable pawns…” Narayan Swamy, M.R. - Inside an Elusive Mind - Prabhakaran  Published by Literate World, Inc, USA, 2003 at www.tamilnation.org/books/Eelam/elusivemind.htm  

[34] 'Setting the Stage for a New Cold War: China's Quest for Energy Security, PINR Re port 25 February 2005 www.pinr.com/report.php?ac=view_report&report_id=272  see also US Strategic Interests in Sri Lanka, Dharmaretnam Sivaram, 30 July 2005

[37] Another U.S. base in the Indian Ocean? B. Muralidhar Reddy in the Hindu, 9 March 2007 quoted at www.tamilnation.org/intframe/indian_ocean/070309us_srilanka_india.htm  

[38] For a documented record of the struggle see Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom at  www.tamilnation.org/tamileelam.htm

[39] For a detailed and systematic account of that oppressive rule see Indictment against Sri Lanka at www.tamilnation/indictment/index.htm

[40]  “In certain circles where a search is on for a solution to the armed conflict in the island, the oft repeated mantra is that Sri Lanka is a 'multi ethnic plural society'. It is a mantra which the Sri Lanka government has also found useful to chant from time to time. The mantra has a nice meditative ring to it. It conjures up the soothing vision of a society where all ethnic groups are equal and a plurality of view points is encouraged and secured. But mantras intended to resolve an armed political conflict, must fit the political reality on the ground. The political reality is that there is nothing 'multi ethnic or plural' about the society over which the Sri Lanka government seeks to impose unitary rule. If nothing else, forty years of gross and consistent violations of the human rights of the Tamil people is proof of that…” Self Determination & the 'Multi Ethnic Plural Society' – Nadesan Satyendra at   www.tamilnation.org/saty/9307selfdetermination.htm  

[41] "...So-called civic nations like France, Canada, and the United States may have become relatively open societies that offer citizenship rights to all peoples, but they did not start out that way. In each case, they began with restricted core communities - be they white or Catholic or British or European - and expanded outward. As a result, when we urge nationalists, say in Bosnia or Kosovo, to follow our example and found nations solely on the basis of shared political principles, we are in fact urging them to do something that we never did ourselves..." The Myth of Civic Nationalism - Bernard Yack, July 2000 www.vigile.net/spip.php?page=archives&u=/archives/00-7/nationalisme-yack.html 

[42] See generally the Power Point Slide Presentation - Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom: Some Aspects of the International Dimension by Nadesan Satyendra at www.tamilnation.org/intframe/tamileelam/0708026slide_show.htm

[43] United States Role in Sri Lanka Peace Process 2002-2006, Jeffrey Lunstead, 15 May 2007 at www.tamilnation.org/intframe/us/070515Lunstead_US_Role_in_SL_War.pdf

[45] US marines to train Sri Lankan navy, Rahul Bedi, 25 October 2006 at www.tamilnation.org/intframe/tamileelam/061025rahul_bedi.htm 

[46] The Indian Ocean – Current Security Environment , Atul Dev – Mauritius Times, 25 May 2007 at  www.mauritiustimes.com/250507atul.htm  

[47]  Velupillai Pirabaharan, Maha Veera Naal Address - November 1993 at www.tamilnation.org/ltte/vp/mahaveerar/vp93.htm

 
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