Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sri Lanka's Opportunity of a Generation: Why the Rest of the World Should Care

Part 4 of a 5-part article about what the Sri Lankan government should do to rebuild its country after nearly 30 years of civil war, and why the rest of the world has a stake in Sri Lanka's success.

A renewed outbreak of civil strife would not only be tragic for Sri Lanka but also undesirable for the rest of the world. India in particular has a vested interest in a stable Sri Lanka, as there are over 60.8 million Tamils residing in India(1), for which the civil war had been a very heated issue. Furthermore, India’s three-year long peacekeeping tenure in northern Sri Lanka, in which it faced stout opposition from the LTTE and lost over 1500 men(2), is something India would like to forget, much less repeat.

In addition to India, other countries, like the United States, China and the European nations, would be worse off in the event of another Sri Lankan civil war. Such renewed chaos would hamper trade with Sri Lanka and, due to Sri Lanka’s strategic position along the Indian Ocean trading routes, could even disrupt economic activity throughout South and Southeast Asia at a time when the climb out of global recession is still precarious at best.

Moreover, renewed conflict would also likely breed other Tamil militant groups, and if any such groups were to become even half as ruthless as the LTTE was, it would present a significant problem not only for Sri Lanka but for the rest of the world as well. In its day, the LTTE was notorious for arms and drug smuggling. Furthermore, the LTTE had long been suspected of having contacts with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Al Qaeda, and potentially other ruthless terrorist organizations, and, indeed, such organizations adopted several techniques developed by the LTTE(3). The last thing that the rest of the world wants to see is the creation of another extremist group in the vein of the LTTE that would carry out such illicit activities and cooperate with other terrorist organizations, groups that have given the United States, Russia, Europe, and China a particularly hard time this past decade.

Given the potential negative effects of another outbreak of violence in Sri Lanka, it would seem that it is in the international community’s interest to influence the resettlement and reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. The United States or the European Union (EU), or an organization like the IMF or the World Bank, could encourage the Sri Lankan government to resettle the Tamils from the camps by offering to fund such an action, with the release of funds contingent on the Sri Lankan government having a viable plan to resettle the refugees and having the ability to monitor the use of such funds and the progress of the operations, so as to ensure maximum efficiency of the aid. The government could hire Tamils from the camps to help with the resettlement process, as well as with the rebuilding and repair of areas damaged by the civil war. The United States and the EU could also help pay for the rebuilding of the northern areas, again making sure that they only agree to give funds if the Sri Lankan government presents a well-constructed plan to them and that the donors have some way of receiving feedback on the progress of their funds and of the operations they are funding.

Another course available to the United States, the EU, and other countries is to offer general economic incentives or threaten economic consequences if Sri Lanka does not begin resettlement or rebuilding in earnest or if it does not provide suitable rights or autonomy to Tamil areas. These could be in the form of trade agreements or sanctions. The EU in particular has an effective and easy-to-wield economic lever: access to the GSP plus, a preferential trade arrangement which allows increased access to EU markets through a reduction in tariffs. Just a couple of months ago, the EU revoked Sri Lanka’s GSP plus status in response to the Sri Lankan government’s questionable conduct toward human rights during the final phases of the civil war(4). The EU could easily offer to resume this arrangement with Sri Lanka if it notices progress toward resettlement or political autonomy for the Tamil areas.

Indeed, the United States and Europe in particular would do well to try to do more to influence the recovery of Sri Lanka – rather than focus on condemning the Sri Lankan government for its handling of the war – so as to avoid being outflanked by China, who has filled the void left by the West in the past few years and now provides the bulk of financial aid and foreign investment to Sri Lanka(5). In addition to the Chinese, Sri Lanka has accepted aid from Pakistan, Libya, and even Iran in order to fuel its war and help its economy(6), much to the discomfort of the United States. For its part, though, China should recognize that aid with no conditions is not the most effective way to ensure that a stable, prosperous Sri Lanka emerges from the ashes of war, and it should realize that, given the huge sums of aid it is giving, it can afford to attach some guidelines with such aid. While the Sri Lankan government may grumble at first, in the long term such a course would be more beneficial for China, Sri Lanka, and the rest of the world.

Note: A shorter version of this piece appeared in the May 2010 issue of American Foreign Policy, a Princeton monthly foreign policy publication.


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1 comment:

Barkha said...

Incredibly well written with an analytical perspective. enjoyed reading it. Thanks for your hard work for such educational post.