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National Security Concerns-1:

Economic development vital to achieve national reconciliation

As we all know, Sri Lanka is one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the world today. Our citizens are enjoying the benefits of peace and have complete freedom and countless opportunities to build better futures for themselves.


Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivers the lecture at the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University

At the same time, it must be understood that as with any other sovereign nation, Sri Lanka faces potential threats from various sources. Guarding against these threats and ensuring the safety of the nation is the first duty of the Government, because National Security is the foundation of our freedom and prosperity.

As such, the Government needs to be fully aware of all the issues that impact the country in areas such as defence, foreign policy, economic affairs and internal law and order. It must formulate a comprehensive National Security strategy to deal with them.

A viable National Security strategy must constantly align ends with means, goals with resources, and objectives with the tools required to accomplish them. The strategy needs to be aligned with the aspirations of the people, and it must have public support.

Ideally, if comprehensive security is to be ensured, it requires the achievement of national cohesion, political and economic stability, the elimination of terrorism, the countering of extremism and the formulation of effective responses to external challenges. The Government must make every effort to keep aware of a continually changing situation and take appropriate action in response to new developments and challenges. It is only then that the safety of the nation can be assured.

In the course of this lecture on Sri Lanka's National Security concerns, I will examine the following areas:

* Sri Lanka's overall National Security context
* The primary threats to our National Security at present and
* The strategies that are being formulated in response to these threats.

Context of National Security in Sri Lanka

In the first several years after the achievement of Independence, National Security did not need to be a primary concern of the Government of Ceylon. As an independent Dominion of Great Britain, and as a Non-Aligned nation with excellent relationships within and outside the region, there were few pressing threats that the Government had to deal with.


The Humanitarian Operation was launched to rescue the large number of civilians held as hostages by the LTTE

As a result, the attention given to National Security was minimal, as was the emphasis placed on the country's defence apparatus. The military was largely ceremonial. It only had to assist the Government on occasions when there were issues such as public sector work stoppages or riots. The need to strengthen law enforcement and the Armed Forces to protect the nation against internal or external threats was not seen as a pressing concern. The attempted coup d'etat in 1962 further reduced the attention given to the defence apparatus by the Government. Due to fears that a strong military would be a threat to democracy, as had been the case in some neighbouring countries during this period, funding for the Armed Forces was drastically reduced and recruitment curtailed.

As a result of the weakening of the military, the country was not in the best position to deal with the first major threat to its National Security when it erupted in 1971. This was the first JVP insurrection. Although investigations into JVP activities had been going on for some time, cutbacks to intelligence services, including the closure of the Special Branch of the Police in 1970, had left the Government largely unaware of the scale of the insurrection it was facing. The nation's military was overstretched.

In response to the Government's appeals for help, India and Pakistan sent in troops to secure critical installations while essential equipment and ammunition was provided by Britain and the Soviet Union. Although the insurrection was successfully suppressed within a short time, it had many consequences.

One of the most crucial from a historical perspective was that National Security became a much greater concern both for the Government and for the general public. As Ceylon became Sri Lanka in 1972, upholding National Security was one of its foremost priorities.

Greatest threat to sovereignty

In the late 1970s, Sri Lanka saw the emergence of the greatest ever threat to its sovereignty in the form of the terrorism of the Tamil separatist groups in the North and the East. As the conflict worsened in the early 1980s, particularly after the riots of 1983, the threat of terrorism loomed large not only in the North and the East, but effectively all over the country.


The Civil Defence Force was revamped and significantly expanded

The rise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the likelihood of its attacks in public places fostered a deep insecurity amongst the people. There was significant loss of life, loss of property, and countless lost opportunities to achieve economic development. The law and order situation deteriorated as arms and ammunition started to flow to criminal elements in the underworld.

By the late 1980s, the second JVP insurrection caused the further deterioration of the security situation throughout Sri Lanka. As a result of the increasing instability and violence, people began to lose some of their freedoms as more and more intensive measures had to be taken by the State in trying to uphold public security.

As the terrorism situation worsened, there was also an increasing involvement of foreign powers and the international community in Sri Lanka's internal affairs. During the early stages of the terrorist conflict, India trained LTTE cadre in training bases established in Tamil Nadu. Many of the leaders of other separatist groups also frequented that state.

It is also important to note that several international Non Governmental Organisations that were based in the North and the East first started to cooperate with the terrorist groups active in those areas during this period. In 1985, India facilitated talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and the separatist groups in Thimpu, Bhutan.

The talks collapsed due to the unrealistic demands made by the separatists. These demands would have gravely affected Sri Lanka's sovereignty, if granted, and the Government had no choice but to refuse them. Fighting soon resumed.

By this time, the conflict transformed into one between the State and the LTTE, which had used the ceasefire granted for the Thimpu talks to destroy rival separatist groups.

Larger recruitment drives

As the fighting gained momentum, the emphasis given to National Security by the Government also increased. For the first time, the appointment of a Minister of National Security was seen as necessary. The strength of the Military was also significantly enhanced, with larger recruitment drives, the acquisition of better assets, and improved training to counter the growing threats.

With its improved capabilities, the Military was able to make more and more progress in fighting the terrorism of the LTTE. For the first time, we also saw changes within the structure of the Military. The need for a coordinated effort to combat terrorism led to the establishment of a Joint Operation Command to coordinate the three Armed Services, Police and Intelligence Services in counter-terrorism operations.

The Military used battle formations for the first time, and the requirement for a National Intelligence Bureau to coordinate the intelligence services at a national level was also understood and subsequently brought into being.

In 1987, the very successful Vadamarachchi Operation enabled the Government to regain control of much of the North, leaving the LTTE on the brink of defeat. At this point, India intervened directly in the conflict by air-dropping humanitarian relief supplies over Jaffna. This led to the abandonment of the Vadamarachchi operation, and the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed in July of that year.

This led to the induction of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) to the North of Sri Lanka, where it got embroiled in conflict with the LTTE. After more than two years of fighting, the IPKF withdrew from Sri Lanka in October 1990, and fighting resumed between the LTTE and Government Forces.

Although there were several periodic attempts at peace talks, the intensity of the battle grew during the 1990s and in the early 2000s, with several major battles being fought and much hardship suffered throughout the country. The Military was strengthened significantly to deal with this threat.

Specialised units such as the Commando Regiment and the Special Forces Regiment of the Army, as well as the Special Boat Squadron of the Navy were developed to deal with the increasing military challenge posed by the LTTE in the North and the East.

However, in addition to its battles with the Military, the LTTE also frequently carried out attacks against civilians in the rest of the country. Large-scale bombings took place in public locations in Colombo, killing thousands. Hundreds more were massacred in vulnerable villages near LTTE-dominated territory. Critical installations and economic targets such as the International Airport, Central Bank and the Kolonnawa Oil Refinery were also ruthlessly attacked.

Precautionary measures

In order to contain this very serious threat to national security, precautionary measures had to be greatly increased throughout the country. This led to the visible presence of soldiers on the streets, the widespread use of checkpoints, frequent cordon and search operations, and the constant upholding of the Emergency Regulations, which gave wide-ranging powers to the Military and law enforcement agencies. The entire country was effectively on a war footing.

In 2002, the next major development was the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE under the mediation of Norway.

This event can also be viewed as the next major phase in the internationalisation of Sri Lankan affairs as a result of the conflict. The Peace Process that was entered into by the Government of the time was facilitated by Norway, with the support of the representatives of major donor countries, namely the European Union, the United States of America and Japan. Together with Norway, they comprised the four Co-Chairs of the Sri Lankan Peace Process.

A Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission was also established, comprising members from Nordic countries, to supervise the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement. Despite their presence, the LTTE continued to create instability in the country; assassinating its key opponents including Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, and carrying out occasional attacks against civilians.

In 2006, increasing provocations by the LTTE culminated in its threatening of a humanitarian crisis by closing the vital Maavil Aru sluice gate. This was a crisis that affected the right to water of thousands of households, and even affected national food security by preventing the flow of water to many thousands of acres of agricultural land. The Government intervened with a limited operation to reopen the sluice gate, but was met with large-scale attacks by the LTTE on several fronts. This led to the widening of the military campaign into the Humanitarian Operation that ultimately freed Sri Lanka from terrorism.

Strengthening of Military

The Humanitarian Operation required significant strengthening of the Military to enable its success. During the ceasefire period, the LTTE had managed to strengthen its offensive capabilities significantly. It had approximately 30,000 cadre in its ranks and a vast arsenal of weapons and equipment that included heavy artillery, mortar, missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and light aircraft.

Combating such an enemy that employed guerrilla tactics required the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to grow significantly. Between the end of 2005 and the end of 2009, the number of Army personnel grew from 120,000 to over 200,000; its nine Divisions were increased to 20; its 44 Brigades expanded to 71; and its 149 Battalions increased to 284. The Navy and the Air Force were also expanded significantly, and given tasks beyond their classic role. The upholding of security throughout the country also required the Police and Special Task Force to be strengthened, and the Civil Defence Force was revamped and significantly expanded.

Because of the internationalisation of the Sri Lankan situation during the previous decades, there was a great deal of foreign scrutiny on the progress of the Humanitarian Operation. By keeping the Indian leaders constantly informed about what was happening on the ground, and by skilfully managing our relationships with other nations, it was possible for the war effort to continue unimpeded.

Nevertheless, towards the end of the war against terrorism in 2009, the Foreign Ministers of France and the United Kingdom arrived in Sri Lanka and attempted to intervene in the military campaign, although they did not succeed. Efforts by such parties to end the Humanitarian Operation reflect the tremendous influence that the LTTE's international network had on foreign capitals.

Many in the international community wilfully ignored the fact that the Government of Sri Lanka was duty-bound to protect its citizens from the aggression of the LTTE terrorists. Even after the war against terrorism ended and peace dawned in 2009, this bias against the Government led to Sri Lanka being taken up at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Although the initial Resolution against Sri Lanka was defeated that year, two more were sponsored by the United States in 2012 and 2013, and successfully passed.

Prosperity to citizens

Today, Sri Lanka is a country enjoying the full benefits of peace, and it is engaged in a concerted push to accelerate its economic development and bring prosperity to its citizens. The country has much to catch up on. Three decades of conflict lost us countless opportunities for growth: Foreign and local investment suffered due to fears about terrorism; tourists did not visit the country, and many of our best and brightest went overseas to build better futures for themselves.

Countries such as Singapore, which were in a similar economic position to Sri Lanka when we reached Independence in 1948, developed at a tremendous rate during this period. This is because they did not have a major conflict to contend with. Sri Lanka's prospects, on the other hand, were greatly curtailed as a result of terrorism.

This is why the biggest responsibility of the Government of Sri Lanka even today, in the post-war situation, is to ensure the continued security of the country. Without security and stability, there will be no economic development. The maintenance of National Security is therefore of the utmost importance. The National Security of Sri Lanka needs to be addressed in context of the history of this country and the realities of its present situation, and most critically from the perspective of several responsibilities of the state. The state must ensure that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation is maintained, and that there are no threats to the safety of our population.

Ensuring economic growth so that the people of the country can uplift their standard of living is also critical in order to prevent internal problems recurring in the future. Creating a favourable environment for Sri Lanka internationally is similarly of the utmost importance in keeping adverse external influence at bay. Securing the safety of our physical assets and safeguarding the nation's democracy are also critical.

Considering this overall context, it is clear that National Security must be understood within a unified, single framework that integrates the nation's defence, law and order, foreign policy and economic policy. These four areas need to come together in the creation of a comprehensive National Security Strategy. This is essential if Sri Lanka is to consolidate its present peace and stability and fulfil its potential.

To be continued


The lecture delivered under the National Interest Module of the inaugural MPhil/PhD Program of the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently.

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