Belmont Club

"Sri Lanka's Bad Example"

The Tigers, Time Magazine says, were bad guys and thoroughly deserved to be defeated. “The Tamil Tigers taught terrorists everywhere the finer (or more savage) points of suicide bombing, the recruitment of child soldiers, arms trafficking, propaganda and the use of a global diaspora to collect resources.” Now they’re defeated, but the world shouldn’t celebrate. Why? Because Sri Lanka did it the wrong way. Time lists the wrong lessons a casual observer might be tempted to draw.

  • Brute Force Works
  • Negotiations Don’t
  • Collateral Damage Is Acceptable
  • The Press Should Shut Up

Because none of these really had anything to do with the Tiger’s defeat. The LTTE lost because it ceded the moral high ground. It acquired a legitimacy deficit. That’s why it lost. Time writes:

insurgent groups using terror tactics “can no longer call themselves freedom fighters,” according to Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The Tigers didn’t understand this, and paid a significant price.”

The NGOs seem determined to make Sri Lanka pay for its victory. Any Sri Lankan security man who wantonly shot or harmed civilians should be hauled before a court. That precedent is established. But the question, and I think it’s a fair one to consider, is how much the “International Community'” actions contributed to the prolongation of the war, to the continuation of suffering, mutilation and mayhem, and by their “relief”, to aiding and abetting the Tigers in the acquisition of human shields, perhaps not consciously, but in effect. In other words, to what extent is the International Community responsible for the death of thousands of civilians themselves? I think that if some lawyer made the case that the International Community had to bear some responsibility for the carnage, it would be a landmark case, even if the lawyer lost it. At the very least, it would highlight the circumstances in which well intentioned organizations can make things worse rather than better. If only as a public policy analysis exercise, it would be well worth it.


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