Sri Lanka's National Security - Part 1:
Sri Lanka, stable and peaceful
Sri Lanka is one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the
world today. Its citizens enjoy the benefits of peace and have complete
freedom and countless opportunities to build better futures for
themselves. At the same time, Sri Lanka faces potential threats from
Defence Ministry Secretary
Gotabaya Rajapaksa with former Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya.
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 freedom and prosperity. As such, the government needs to
be fully aware of all the issues that impact the country in areas such
as defense, foreign policy, economic affairs and internal law and order.
It must formulate a comprehensive national security strategy to deal
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.
This article on Sri Lanka's national security concerns, examines the
following areas: * Sri Lanka's overall national security context, * The
primary threats to Sri Lanka's national security at present and * The
strategies being formulated in response to these threats.
In the early years 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, Ceylon faced few pressing
| An LTTE
Sea Tiger fast attack fiberglass boat passing a LTTE supply
freighter sunken by the Sri Lanka Air Force just north of the
village of Mullaitivu, North-eastern Sri Lanka.
technicians from the UK charity HALO Trust at work early in the
morningn the edges of a paddy field near Thunukkai, northern Sri
As a result, the attention given to national security was minimal, as
was the emphasis placed on the country's defense 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
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'‚tat in 1962 further reduced
the attention given to the defense apparatus by the government.
Fearing that a strong military would be a threat to democracy, as had
been the case in some neighboring countries during this period, funding
for the armed forces was drastically reduced and recruitments curtailed.
Ceylon's weak military was not in a good position to deal with the
first major threat to its national security, which came as the 1971
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Insurrection (also known as the 1971
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 not up to the task.
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. Perhaps the most crucial from a
historical perspective was that national security became a much greater
concern for the government and for the public.
As Ceylon became Sri Lanka in 1972, upholding national security was
one of its foremost priorities.
In the late 1970s, Sri Lanka saw the emergence of the greatest threat
to its sovereignty in the form of the terrorism of the Tamil separatist
groups in the North and 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 East but throughout the country.
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 and of property,
and economic development foundered. Instability grew 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. The
increasing instability and violence prompted more intrusive 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 terrorism, India
trained LTTE cadres at bases in Tamil Nadu.
Many 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 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; these talks were held in Thimpu,
Bhutan. The talks collapsed due to the unrealistic demands made by the
These demands, if granted, would have gravely affected Sri Lanka's
sovereignty 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.
As the fighting gained momentum, the emphasis given to national
security by the government also increased.
A new ministerial position was created for national security. The
military was also significantly strengthened, with larger recruitment
drives, the acquisition of better assets, and improved training to
counter the growing threats.
With its improved abilities, the military made progress in fighting
the LTTE. Changes were also made 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
The military used battle formations for the first time, and the
national intelligence bureau was set up to coordinate the intelligence
services at a national level.
In 1987, the 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
signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord. An Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF)
was introduced to the North of Sri Lanka, where it soon got embroiled in
conflict with the LTTE.
After more than two years of fighting, the IPKF withdrew in October
1990 and fighting resumed between the LTTE and government forces.
Although there were periodic attempts at peace talks, the intensity
of the war grew during the 1990s and in the early 2000s, with several
major battles being fought and much hardship suffered throughout the
The military was strengthened significantly to deal with this threat.
Specialized units such as the Commando Regiment and the Special Forces
Regiment of the Army, ans the Special Boat Squadron of the Navy were
developed to deal with the increasing military challenge posed by the
LTTE in the North and East.
In addition to its battles with the military, the LTTE also
frequently carried out attacks against civilians throughout the country.
Numerous bombings took place in public locations in Colombo, killing
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.
To contain this 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 government signed a Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE
under Norwegian mediation. This launched the next major phase in the
internationalization of Sri Lankan problem. Norway was joined by the
European Union, the United States, and Japan, which together 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 periodic attacks against civilians.
In 2006, the LTTE provoked a humanitarian crisis by closing the vital
Maavilaru Sluice Gate. This 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.
During the ceasefire period, the LTTE had managed to strengthen its
offensive abilities significantly. It had approximately 30,000 cadres in
its ranks and a vast arsenal of weapons and equipment that included
heavy artillery, mortar, missiles, rocket propelled grenades and light
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 Defense Force was revamped and significantly expanded.
Because of the internationalization of the Sri Lankan situation
during previous decades, there was a great deal of foreign scrutiny on
the progress of the humanitarian operation. By keeping Indian leaders
constantly informed about what was happening on the ground, and by
skillfully managing relationships with other nations, it was possible
for Sri Lanka's battle against terrorism to continue unimpeded.
Nevertheless, towards the end of terrorism in 2009, the foreign
ministers of France and the United Kingdom arrived in Sri Lanka and
attempted, without success, to intervene in the military campaign.
Efforts by external 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 willfully ignored
the fact that the government of Sri Lanka is duty-bound to protect its
citizens from the aggression of the LTTE terrorists. Even after the war
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 (UNHRC).
Although the initial resolution against Sri Lanka was defeated that
year, two more were sponsored by the United States in 2012 and 2013, and
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 cost
Sri Lanka countless opportunities for growth: foreign and local
investment suffered due to fears about the terrorism; tourists did not
visit the country, and many of its best and brightest went overseas to
build better futures for themselves. Countries such as Singapore, which
was in a similar economic position to Sri Lanka when it reached
independence in 1948, developed at a tremendous rate during this period.
At least partially, this is because they did not have a major conflict
with which to contend. Sri Lanka's prospects, on the other hand, were
greatly curtailed as a result of the war.
This is why the biggest responsibility of the government of Sri
Lanka, even in today's post terrorism situation, is to ensure the
continued security of the country. Without security and stability, there
will be no economic development.
Sri Lanka's national security should be addressed in the context of
its history, the realities of its present situation, and most critically
from the perspective of the 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 its
population. Ensuring economic growth so that the people of the country
can raise their living standard is also critical in order to prevent
internal problems from recurring in the future.
Creating a favorable international environment for Sri Lanka is
similarly of the utmost importance in keeping adverse external influence
at bay. Securing the safety of Sri Lanka's physical assets and
safeguarding its democracy are also critical.
Sri Lanka's national security must be understood within a unified,
single framework that integrates the nation's defense, law and order,
foreign policy and economic policy.
These four areas need to come together, creating a comprehensive
national security strategy.
This is essential if Sri Lanka is to consolidate its present peace
and stability and fulfill its potential.
Sri Lanka today faces a range of security threats worthy of concern,
including; * The possible re-emergence of terrorism,* The emergence of
other extremist groups, * The worsening of ethnic divisions and communal
violence, * The challenges of maritime security and border control * The
growth of organized crime, * Foreign interference in domestic affairs,
* Non-traditional technology-driven threats, including social media.
In discussing terrorism, it is vitally important to appreciate the
sheer scale of the problem that the government of Sri Lanka faced over
the past three decades. Since the 1970s, the LTTE grew from a small
organization of armed individuals to a large, sophisticated terrorist
outfit with very advanced combat capabilities.
At its height, the LTTE had more than 30,000 battle-hardened cadres;
access to large stockpiles of modern armaments, ammunition and
equipment; a sophisticated naval wing and a fledgling air wing. For a
considerable period of the conflict, the LTTE was able to maintain the
illusion of a functional state apparatus in the territories it
dominated. It also had significant influence in foreign capitals as a
result of its extensive international network.
Defeating the LTTE required a concerted effort on the part of the Sri
Lankan government. As a result of the unwavering leadership of His
Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa, this task was achieved in May of
In the immediate aftermath of the war, there were a number of issues
that needed immediate attention. First was the problem of nearly 300,000
internally displaced people who had been used as the LTTE's human shield
during the last phases of the war. Then there was the need to demine the
North and East so that those areas would be safe for human habitation.
This resulted in the recovery of hundreds of thousands of mines and
improvised explosive devices laid by the LTTE during its retreat.
Infrastructure development and reconstruction of those areas after years
of neglect under the LTTE's dominance was another significant challenge
to be dealt with, after which it was possible to resettle the Internally
displaced persons (IDPs) in their places of origin.
One of the most important issues concerned the nearly twelve thousand
surrendered LTTE cadres and four thousand detained cadres.
The government took the bold step of trying to rehabilitate nearly
all of them so that they could become productive citizens in the future.
The vast majority of them have already been reintegrated with society.
Among other post-terrorism achievements has been the disarming of
other armed groups that used to operate in the North and East, and the
encouragement these groups have been given to contribute to society
through democratic processes. The restrictions that used to be in force
on movement, fishing, high-security zones, etc., have all been removed.
Democracy has been completely restored, with free and fair elections
taking place. Economic growth in the North and East has been truly
remarkable in the recent past, and it is clear that normalcy has been
restored to the people.
Despite all of these positive developments, however, the threat of
terrorism re-emerging persists. One of the main reasons for the LTTE's
success during its heyday was its extensive international network, which
has been in operation for many decades. Following the ambush and
massacre of 13 soldiers in the North by the LTTE in 1983, there was a
major communal backlash against the Tamils in the rest of the country.
As a result of the July 1983 riots, a large number of Tamil people left
Sri Lanka and travelled to countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom,
Malaysia and parts of Europe.
These countries granted asylum to the immigrants, and later granted
many of them citizenship.
As such, there is a large population of immigrant Sri Lankan Tamils
dispersed throughout the world. A small minority of this population
supports the LTTE even to this day.
Extremist elements within this community, together with LTTE agents
and operatives, including trained terrorists who fled Sri Lanka at
various times during the war, comprise the LTTE's international network.
After the demise of Prabhakaran, the LTTE's former procurement chief
Kumaran Pathmanadan, better known as KP, took control over this network
and indicated that it would continue to work for the separatist cause
through peaceful means.
However, a breakaway faction emerged almost immediately, led by
Nediyawan, who wanted to continue Prabhakaran's ideology of violence.
Nediyawan's group was previously known as The Tamil Eelam People's
Assembly or The Tamil National Council and is now known as the Tamil
Coordinating Committee. Based in Norway, this group has been working
with other international groups to promote the LTTE's separatist cause
in many parts of the world.
The Tamil Coordinating Committee has control over most of the assets
of the LTTE's international organization, including its media networks
such as Tamil Net.
Following the arrest of KP in August 2009, Rudrakumaran took over the
leadership of the main network and began working towards establishing a
“government in exile.”
This group now fashions itself as The Transnational Government of
Tamil Eelam (TGTE).
In the guise of fighting for Tamil rights, its primary objective is
to lobby foreign governments for the establishment of a separate state
in the North and East of Sri Lanka.
The so-called 'Transitional Government'has some twenty 'Ministers'
and 'Deputy Ministers', and was formed with assistance of an advisory
committee comprising prominent pro LTTE activists, including foreigners
who have been helping the LTTE for many years.
There has recently been a revolt within the TGTE where one third of
its members loyal to Nediyawan went against the leadership of
Rudrakumaran because they wished to engage in more radical action.
To be continued