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This a reply to  Why a Large Defence Budget is Highly Beneficial to the Nation” by Dilrook Kannagara

Here’s the original post.

 

The article itself is quite petty minded, but it is an important evidence of a mindset. The principles which inspired it, are a fundamental element of debate. It is impressive that Mr Kannagara has the guts to say them explicitly. The courage of course to speak without any spark of intelligence. Yet, his vision is a  a profound insight into the most deranged thoughts of a majoritarian, warmongering mindset.

Is he serious? No of course he is not. But he participates in the ideological mainstream which at the end drives the tragic destiny of Sri Lanka. So even these pathetic words, are actually responsible for the general climate of intolerance, violence and brutality.

I couldn’t resist to respond. 

The Singapore point: similar treat? What on earth has in common a city-State like Singapore with a country like Sri Lanka? If this is the argument then why not saying that Colombo has the same duty and responsibility of North Korea, so Sri Lanka could spend an entire 25% of its GDP. And why not trying to reach the military expenditure of the Soviet Union during Second World War?

The employment point: military expenditure to pay salary? Wouldn’t it be better to give those salaries to doctors and teachers, to improve the services for the citizens?

Handsome return point: maybe you are right and if you are, it is precisely because it was spent on an ongoing conflict, it could make sense. At that time. The argument against military expenditure now it is because that very conflict is over. 

Unvalued return: here you are definitely right: Sri Lanka is a regime, where people don’t feel free and in possess of their right. It is a country run by thugs and their arbitrary will. They wanted to kidnap the Secretary of Judiciary Commission in plain daylight. When there is a clash between executive and judiciary power. 

People are scared and want to flee. Only if you are part of the regime, you are happy and secure. So yes, the only place where loyalty is not in discussion is the army: this is a clear admission that Sri Lanka is an authoritarian State. Well done!

Sri Lankanisation of the North: that’s the most beautiful. Thanks, really because you say in plain words what is the secret mission: to occupy a territory and to destroy cultural identity. That was the reason for the armed struggle, that is the reason why unrest will always torment Sri Lanka. The problem is the military solution. Not the other way round. 

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The notion of the String of Pearls is an American hypothesis about China’s containment of India. All the facts indicate that China is building a network of harbour facilities from the Corn of Africa, the Persian Gulf up to the shores of Indo-China. These line of ports crosses the entire Indian Ocean so it wouldn’t be wise to deny the reality of these system of of harbours. And we can keep on calling it with the name of “String of Pearls”. But it is important to investigate the purpose of these facilities. In the American definition, it is an expansive military strategy to encircle India. It suggests that any move to consolidate the String or to add another Pearl, is an offensive step against India.

East-West Shipping Lane

It is well known that the primary goal of the String is to secure the energy supply of China. More than 80% of China’s imported fuel passes along that route. So it is an obvious strategy to establish a network of military facilities to safeguard such vital energy line. Especially if you consider the bottleneck of the Malacca Straits, where an American fleet is patrolling a very short sea passage. Very easily relatively few American naval forces could choke completely the import of energy. It is important to note also that in the future the percentage of energy import will grow significantly. The String system therefore is a defensive strategy against the USA.

Chinese harbour facilities in the Indian Ocean: the String of Pearls

The question now becomes: how India is affected by China’s naval presence in the Indian Ocean? This of course is an important obstacle in the Indian aspirations of becoming a regional super-power, in the Indian Ocean in particular. The fact is that though India is surrounded by water, all its strategic interests are concentrated on the mainland. The crucial one is per definition the border with Pakistan. A secondary, but important issue is with China itself on the #Andra Pradesh. Minor reasons to exercise geopolitical power lie with Nepal, Burma and Bangladesh. All on land. The only strategically relevant issue on the sea is with Sri Lanka, but the proximity is so close, that you could consider it with the land group. A lot of attention has been grabbed by the Pearl in Hambatota, Sri Lanka. Although there is no doubt that this facility will serve the Chinese maritime presence when it will be needed, it is also foolish to think that China will count on that stronghold to obstacle India in case of a confrontation. Sri Lanka is a domestic issue for India and any military escalation will see New Delhi overwhelms Colombo and any other country on its side.

The fact is that the Indian presence in the Indian Ocean is so firm that it will never really be excluded. Of course the Chinese presence can shadow all the imperialistic aspirations of New Delhi in the region, and yet, besides prestige, it is difficult if not impossible to worry the Indian presence in its own waters.

The real reason is that the USA suffer even more distance that China from the Indian Ocean and the String of Pearls is seriously menacing the American presence. Washington is heavily worried by being cut off from the region. So we can consider the String of Pearls almost entirely an anti-American defensive strategy.

We can conclude with a last reflection: if it is a China-American issue, what is the involvement of India? In the first place, the USA are uncomfortable in admitting their worries about their own containment; second they want to co-opt India on their side and convice New Delhi that they share values, goals and most of all, enemies. What is more surprising is that Beijing didn’t do much to change this perception. I suggest that China prefers to pretend of having a fictional confrontation with India, than to admit the real friction with the USA. The battle with supremacy with the USA is global and it has the potential to be nasty and dangerous, especially for the economic well-being of the Chinese people, given the mutual business relations. A confrontation with India can always be reconsider under the historical issues. And even a open, circumstanced war-fare will have very limited consequences. So for the Chinese interests is better to talk fictionally of the India’s containment, rather that facing the real rivalry with the USA.

It is possible that in the future the positions will change, that India’s strategic relevance will grow up to become a real competitors for Chinese supremacy. I suspect that even in this case it will be more a land-based confrontation rather than a naval one.

As a final remark I have to admit the appealing of the theory of the String of Pearls: a concept concisely expressed in an image, whose representation power seems to be self-explaining. It is a fortunate, well-thought artefact of geopolitical propaganda. My impression that is even too good to be real. But sometimes art not only precedes life, it can also lead it.

courtesy EPA-telegraph.co.uk

If you repeat for 1000 times that the sky is green, would heaven turn emerald? Well it seems that the Sri Lankan government is precisely committed in this game; and successfully, given its international recognition. It started with the final stage of the IV Eelam War. The government was absolutely determined to defeat the LTTE once for all. The goal of the operation was to annihilate the Tigers leadership. Fair enough. It was an armed conflict and Colombo decided that it wanted to terminate it at any cost.

And the cost were measured mainly in terms of Tamil civilians lives: the Tigers were retreating dragging with them all the inhabitants of the areas previously under their control. So the situation is of Tiger militants surrounded by a huge number of civilians, men, women and children. The hard intervention required to wipe out the Tigers would have the predictable cost of high number of civilian casualties, very high. This was the stake of an hard offensive. And this should have been the topic of the debate. Instead the government was speaking of a ‘humanitarian rescue’. Heavy shelling on entire families barely fit with the concept of saving civilian lives. But the government propaganda launched a media campaign not less intense than its bombing in the Vanni. President Rajapaksa continued to support his policy of ‘Zero civilian casualties’. Colombo resisted in its version for years. Even against obvious evidences of the truth. Finally, after the extra mild report of the UN was confirming without any doubts the shocking magnitude of the massacres, with more than 40 000 killed, the government accepted that few civilians died. In the census made public in 2012 you can argue that the governmental figures are around 10 000. The real figure could be as high as 140 000, according to other sources. We won’t discuss it here.

courtesy Eranga Jayawardena/Associated Press

What it is important is that the government maintained its version for a couple of years, enough to escape the immediate reprimand. You would say that it was mainly for internal reasons, that the government wanted to convince its domestic audience of the good will in its actions. For sure large portion of the Sinhalese society are not aware of the enormity of what happened. But my point is another.

The real scope of the media operation was to buying time with other audience. It wasn’t the high diplomatic sphere of the international community: everybody knew since the beginning of the operation, what was going to happen.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who led the army to victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) last year, justified the troops' conduct in the final days of the fighting

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who led the army to victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) last year, justified the troops’ conduct in the final days of the fighting

Mr Rajapaksa diluted the massacre with time. The Zero Civilian Casualty policy is a case of printing noise around the initial news. It is basic propaganda and contrary to what you think, it is very effective. It doesn’t need to turn really the sky pink, just inflates the meaning. Propaganda is quantitative easing of truth, so distortion can be effective not on facts, but on reaction to those facts. And propaganda is not effective on your peers, who know the facts, but on audience. If I keep telling that the sky is verdant, you’ll be annoyed and upset, but to communicate with me, you’ll have to argue that green is not the same of blue. And the audience will be caught in the debate.

Debate is inflating truth and if you don’t adjust the interests, a big debt in the past, will be a risible repayment in the future.

You see in 10 years, the government could be able to accept the UN figures. In 20 or 30 even the highest one.

 The Sri Lankan government knows the real figures. And so does the international community. But had it admitted in the aftermath of the war, it would have been much harder to defend it. And make no mistake, it is not a matter of China. Beijing has a clear policy: no foreign intervention. Moreover Colombo is a protégè, so it would have made no difference. It was no big deal for the international community of diplomacy: on Wikileaks it is clear that everybody knew the dimension of the tragedy.

People burning the Sri Lankan flag in Tamil Nadu, India

The real target of the quantitative easing on this truth, is India’s public, and more precisely Tamil Nadu. Nationalistic propaganda is quite loud in the Chennai state, but politicians both in South and in New Delhi have been clever in missing the point. In 2009 it happened a catastrophe, a Tamil catastrophe. But juggling with figures, messing with geopolitics, in conclusion not targeting the issue, at the end, was effective. The goal was to avoid immediate repercussion in India, not in Sri Lanka. The creditors of the crimes against their brothers, are the Tamils in India. But time is shrinking the remission and soon Zero Civilian Casualty will be replaced with 100 000 Civilian Casualty with no more consequence than a mistype in history books. Propaganda seems stupid because it works on the future, not on the present.

It is very likely that the Syrian government target civilians in its repression of the insurgents; it is also quite possible that the West, led by the US would see very favourably a regime change in Damasco. Pretty much as it happened in Lybia. It is also quite undisputable that the current Syrian government is an authoritarian oppression of the Syrian people. We noted that the big supporters of the Rebels are actually Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Now we have some perplexities about the real intentions of subverting a despotic regime, with a democratic system. Normally the big sponsor of an activity holds the key of the future of that activity. We doubt that Saudi Arabia and Qatar will support any democratic effort by the Syrian civil society.

courtesy Getty Images

And here we commence our Odissey. Is it right to fight a tyranny? Well, yes of course. But the natural expectation is to install a better government, not worse. All the premises in the Syrian case are suggesting that indeed Damasco isn’t any closer to a fair and democratic society. Middle East expert Robert Fisk is right in his analysis about the contradictions of attitudes towards this crisis, both from Westerns and Arabs.

The overall impression is that good principles are just waved in front of public opinion simply to make it swallow any kind of dirty operations. It’s Real-politik, baby. Or simply international relations. Really is there an educated audience, which still believes in those principles?

Reuters

I’m sorry, but I do really believe that those principles are important and that the public opinion is really supporting them. And it is very unfair (anti-democratic) to operate against it. There are good reason to fight Assad, as there were to Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein. But it is absolutely paramount the way you reach that goal. If you combat anti-democratic governments, because they are anti-democratic and you use anti-democratic means, don’t you see a contradiction? Am I naïve?

I think that for governments is becoming more difficult and difficult to cover up all their dirty operations. Recently the New York Times investigated the Al-Qaeda infiltration in the Free Syria Army, the Dutch journalist Orlemans confirmed that version . Why it is all right to be in the same war of Al Qaeda now? Is it really true that anybody figthing my enemy is my friend? The West was the sponsor and the founder of the Talibans in the ’80s, when Saddam Husseins was an ally ( a paid one).

The newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeinen advanced the hypothesis that the Houla Massacre, the carnage that shocked the world and accelerated the opinion making against Assad, could have been actually committed by the rebels. But the UN as recently as two weeks ago pointed out the Syrian regime as the sole responsible.

This is wrong, grossly wrong.

Mullivaikal Massacre of Tamil civilians, May 2009

In 2009 the Sri Lankan government kept on saying it was conducting a ‘humanitarian rescue’. It was barbarously slaughtering thousands and thousands of civilians. According to the UN report, more than 40 000 (double of that in Syria), but different sources put the figures at 140 000. For who are we fighting as a society, as a (group of) civilization? Geopolitical interests come first, the people don’t really need to know, they don’t care, they like reality show and new tech gadgets. It seems to me like a give them brioches. But those people are able to get informed and to shape their opinion, quite rapidly now (thanks to the tech gadgets and the like). And I think that those ‘Jihads’ against ‘antidemocratic’ countries, with such antidemocratic means, should undergo a profound process of rethinking. Propaganda is there, is everywhere. But the civil society is growing very fast anti-bodies to unmask those lies.

I still believe in the principles of democracy and human rights. And I don’t think I’m a dreamer, and surely I’m not naïve.