China factor

There was another reason that may have played a decisive role in the U.S. action. As part of pressuring Sri Lanka to a ceasefire to save the terrorist leadership, in early 2009, towards the final stages of the war, the U.S. banned supplying arms to GOSL and forced suppliers to renege on existing contracts. European Union followed suit. This left the Sri Lankan government in a quandary. The panic-stricken government approached all possible friendly nations for help. Among other countries China responded positively. Chinese war supplies helped Sri Lanka enormously during the last stages to finish the war.

In addition, when western governments, stung by the GOSL feat in winning the so-called unwinnable war, attempted to bring the human rights issue before the U.N. Security Council, China, along with Russia, vetoed the move. Such moves, which thwarted the attempts by western countries to prevent Sri Lanka defeating the terrorists, irked the West a great deal and UNHRC session was an opportunity for revenge.

Lack of a long-term strategy

But in the longer term, its action may prove costly for the United States with the potential loss of an ally so strategically located in the Indian Ocean. Dragging India along to support the move may also have damaged the close relationship that existed right through between the two Asian neighbors, which could prevent using it as a lever. And this at a time the U.S. defense budget is trimmed except for the Asian region where it is expanding, to counter China influence.

Some years back it was such strategic considerations, and not short-term election related issues, that almost entirely determined government external policy. But in the backdrop of current political processes where time horizons in decision-making do not extend beyond electoral cycles, long-term strategic considerations hardly enter the equation.

Multiple Pulitzer-prize-winning author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explains the current U.S. dilemma:

In a hyper-connected world as ours if we do not start the day by asking “what are the biggest trends and changes and how do I get the most from them” you are in big trouble. But what we do is saying I got this big crow bar. How do I stick it   into the wheel of the other party and muck up their day so I win this news cycle. You do this day in day out over ten years and you wake up one day to discover you are in the worst kind of decline.[9]

The action of the United States in Geneva seems an extension of Friedman analogy to the international arena. The U.S. played an important role in helping Sri Lanka defeat the LTTE by providing arms and intelligence as well as restricting terrorists procuring arms in United States. But before it could reap the benefits of that support the change of administration in 2008 moved U.S. policy in a different direction. That pushed Sri Lanka to the fold of China, which had been yearning for a foothold on its main sea route lying just 7 km south of Hambantota in Sri Lanka.

But Sri Lanka has been, and continues to be, a western oriented nation while retaining its neutrality in the international stage. Recovering from 30 years of death and destruction what she longs for is stability and support. Coercive action will only push the country firmly into the domain of countries that understand and remain sympathetic to her aspirations.

[1] Urasia Review, Volume 7, No. 46, May 25, 2009

[2] Shamindra Ferdinando, “How Moon panel gathered ‘war crimes’ info revealed” Island, April 20, 2012,

[3] ‘Syrian regime not alone in pushing misinformation’, The Dominion Post 13 May 2011.

[4] Department of Census and Statistics, Enumeration of vital events 2011 Northern Province, Sri Lanka

[5] See for details, Don Wijewardana, How LTTE Lost the EELAM War, Stamford Lake, 2010.

[6] Shamindra Ferdinando, “How Lanka averted US move to evacuate LTTE leadership”, The Island on line,

[9] Nick Venter, Mr Above Average, interview with Thomas Friedman. Your Weekend, The Dominion Post, 24 March 2012.