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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 23-Apr-2011
23-Apr-11 News -- Sri Lanka has deep split with U.N. on war crimes report

Web Log - April, 2011

23-Apr-11 News -- Sri Lanka has deep split with U.N. on war crimes report

The Sri Lanka civil war was similar to other crisis wars

Sri Lanka has deep split with U.N. on war crimes report

Next week, the United Nations will release a report accusing both sides in the Sri Lanka civil war of war crimes. The report is threatening to cause a breach between Sri Lanka's government and the U.N.


Areas of conflict in Sri Lanka civil war (Economist)
Areas of conflict in Sri Lanka civil war (Economist)

The report says that the Tamil Tigers recruited children to its fighting forces, held civilians as human shields, used them as forced labor, and exposed them to danger by firing heavy weapons from nearby positions, according to the Guardian. It says that the government launched full-scale shellings of no-fire zones, including hospitals and food distribution lines.

The Sri Lanka civil war presented a valuable opportunity for me and Generational Dynamics, because I was able to track it and report on it, as it grew from low-level violence into a full-scale generational crisis war that finally climaxed in May, 2009, with the surrender of the Tamil Tigers. (See "Tamil Tigers surrender, ending the Sri Lanka crisis civil war.")

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, the Sri Lanka war followed a familiar pattern for a civil war in a country in a generational Crisis era.

This war was fought between two ancient races: The Sinhalese (Buddhist) and the Tamils (Hindu). WW II was a crisis war for India and for Ceylon, the former name of Sri Lanka. There was relative peace on the island until 1976, when the Tamils began demanding a separate Tamil state, and formed a separatist group called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or just "Tamil Tigers."

A non-crisis civil war began in 1983, and the low-level violence continued until a peace treaty was signed in 2002. As in most civil wars, peace agreements alternated with periods of conflict, with each period of conflict more violent than the previous one. In this case, the peace treaty started falling apart in 2005, and violence took a big surge upward in summer 2006. (See "While world watches Lebanon, Sri Lanka goes to war.")

Low-level violence becomes extremely wearing on a society, especially in this case where the Tamil Tigers were blowing up buses and perpetrating other terrorist acts. Once a society enters a generational Crisis era, the population loses all fear of all out war, and demands victory at all costs from its politicians. At that point, the war turns into a full-scale generational crisis war, as happened in January, 2008, when the government announced they would win the war by the end of the year. (See "Sri Lanka government declares all out war against Tamil Tiger rebels.")

Genocidal crisis wars

This is the point where the war -- like any generational crisis war -- became increasingly genocidal. As I've written many times, Generational Dynamics doesn't use the strict legal definition of the word "genocidal." In generational theory, "genocidal" refers to any action that clearly gives little value to individual life. Generally this means that the society gives much higher political priority to scoring a victory in a battle than it gives to the goal of preserving individual lives, especially civilian lives.

Returning to the Sri Lanka civil war, in 2008 the Tamil Tigers used civilians as human shields, and therefore the government couldn't attack the Tigers without attacking civilians. These are the actions that are now being called "war crimes" by the United Nations, but they're at the core of every generational crisis war.

The genocidal actions get worse and worse, until a crisis war climax is reached.

As far as I know, every analyst in the world was predicting that once the Tamil Tigers were defeated, the civil war would continue as low-level violence. That prediction was completely wrong, as I wrote repeatedly as the climax was approaching. The correct analogy was the surrender of the Nazis and Japan in 1945, the climax of WW II. That's what happened in Sri Lanka. Just as there was a Marshall Plan after WW II, both sides called for reconciliation after the Sri Lanka war ended.

Once the climax occurs, the genocidal fury of each side turns into revulsion at their own actions during the war, and the survivors vow that they will devote their lives to guaranteeing that nothing so horrible will ever happen again. And the survivors keep that promise, as long as they're alive.

When I was in school in the 1950s, the whole concept of "war crimes" never made sense to me. The purpose of war, it seemed to me, was to kill as many of the enemy as you can, so how could anything be a greater crime than that? I've since learned that "war crime" is a term of political art, often having little to do with actual crimes.

It's easy to see why the Nazis were accused of war crimes for committing the Holocaust. But why weren't the Nazis also accused of war crimes for bombing London and other British cities?

It the Sri Lankan government is being accused of "full-scale shellings of no-fire zones" as a war crime, then surely the Nazi bombing of British cities was also a war crime. Why do we never hear that?

Well, actually, the reason is pretty obvious, isn't it. If the Nazi bombing of London was a war crime, then the Allied fire bombing of Dresden and Tokyo would also be a war crime, not to mention the nuking of two Japanese cities.

So I've personally come full circle, and the concept of "war crime" still doesn't make any sense to me, just as it didn't in the 1950s. The Tamil Tigers were internationally identified as terrorists, and they were blowing up buses and killing civilians, so of course the Sinhalese army was going to do anything it had to in order to stop them. If the Sri Lankan army was guilty of "war crimes," then the Allies were even more guilty of "war crimes" in WW II.

The UN report

Thus, the UN report is infuriating the Sri Lankan government, as shown in this editorial in the Sri Lanka Daily News:

"[The UN is] dealing with a country that has decidedly defeated terrorism, which countries such as the UK and USA, and their allies are failing to achieve; despite all their fire and economic power, while also carrying out regular and brutal attacks on civilians whether by unmanned drones or helicopter gunships.

What matters much more than the blatant hypocrisy of the UN Secretary Generalís Office in this matter, when considering whatís happening just now in Bahrain and for so long at Guantanamo, is the deliberate use of the facilities and instruments of the United Nations, to serve the needs and interests of those who continue threaten the territorial integrity of a sovereign member state of the UN, and are acknowledged even by the UN as having held Tamil civilians as human shields leading to so much death and injury to them, using child soldiers till the very defeat of their terror, and spreading the cult of the suicide killer, as well as designing, producing and marketing the equipment of the suicide killer, as reported by the US State Department.

It is a tide of international deceit that is sweeping the Office of the [UN Secretary General] in New York, seeking to destroy the efforts at reconciliation and inclusive democracy in a country that is emerging from the ravages of a 30-year war against terror, where UN staffers, Western donors and the great missionaries of democracy were themselves working with and for the forces of terror."

The government has called for demonstrations against the U.N. in Colombo (Sri Lanka's capital), but from the point of view of Generational Dynamics, the politics of "war crimes" will have little effect on the reconciliation effort now occurring in the post-war (first turning) generational Recovery Era. (See "Basics of Generational Dynamics.")

What will happen, though, is that there will be a long-lasting political rift between the Sri Lankans and the United Nations, according to an analysis by the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS):

"In sum, the present regime under President Mahinda Rajapaksa is astutely pursuing a two-pronged strategy to achieve new foreign policy goals in the post-war period. First, it prefers to keep the Europeans and Americans out of Sri Lanka, who have been constantly criticizing the government for war crimes and human rights abuses. ...

Second, it wants to keep China in to defend itself against such allegations and possible actions as its veto power in the UNSC provides a perfect balance against the Western human rights lobby in international forums. China therefore has emerged as an indispensable factor in Sri Lankan post-war foreign policy strategy vis-ŗ-vis the West. For China, Sri Lanka is a big pearl in its string of pearl strategy though not in traditional military sense of building bases but in terms of building favorable (authoritarian) regimes for its own grand strategic interest in the region."

The Buddhist Sinhalese government of Sri Lanka is naturally more compatible with China than with mostly Hindu India, and so we can expect Sri Lanka to be a major strategic ally in the Indian Ocean during the Clash of Civilizations world war.

Update: A reader says that the reference to Buddhism in the last paragraph is overreaching. The Buddhist religion may play a part, but the final conclusion is really based on the previous analysis, and the fact that Sri Lanka is very important to China's "string of pearls" strategy in the Indian Ocean. War-weary Sri Lanka, in a generational Recovery Era, will do everything possible to avoid taking sides in a war between India and China, but China today is laying the groundwork to coerce Sri Lanka onto their side when the time comes. (Added 23-Apr-2011)

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 23-Apr-11 News -- Sri Lanka has deep split with U.N. on war crimes report thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (23-Apr-2011) Permanent Link
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