by Tisaranee Gunasekara
“If people are frightened that their security is threatened, they will gravitate towards strong leaders”. Noam Chomski (Imperial Ambitions)
The war is over. But defence expenditure keeps on increasing. According to media reports, the defence allocation for 2011 will be Rs.214 billion as compared to Rs.201 billion for 2010, an increase of Rs.13 billion. Logically, such a massive hike in the defence budget should not and need not be.
After all, the Tigers have been conclusively defeated and Vellupillai Pirapaharan and all top Tiger leaders (apart from the Tiger top-rungers turned Rajapaksa protégés, KP and Daya Master) are dead. The victory over the LTTE is so conclusive, the government wants the world to learn from and emulate Sri Lanka.
Yet, defence expenditure is increasing, despite peace, and despite an impending financial crisis and a burgeoning debt burden. In plain language we are borrowing money, nationally and internationally, to spend more on defence, despite the victorious ending of the war.
This seems an inexplicable anomaly, until one considers that Sri Lanka is undergoing not one but two radical transformations – from a flawed democracy to not just to a familial oligarchy but also a National Security State. Post-war, Sri Lanka is experiencing a galloping militarization in the North and a creeping militarization in the South.
In the North, temporary military camps are being made permanent while new camps and military cantonments are being set up. At an Army Day ceremony held at the Sri Maha Bodhiya to bless the Army Flags, the Army Commander spoke of a plan to station at least one army division and one STF camp in each district.
According to the Army Commander this ‘new security arrangement’ is a brainchild of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary and Presidential sibling. If implemented, this plan will accelerate significantly the Rajapaksa efforts to militarise post-war Sri Lanka with a Rajapaksaized military.
The regime is arguing that a large (and a permanent) military presence in the North is necessary to prevent a Tiger re-emergence. But why militarise the South in peace time?
On the one hand, the regime is inviting foreign investors and tourists, claiming that the terrorist threat is over; Sri Lanka even wants to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. On the other hand moves are afoot to garrison the entire country, indubitably at great expense. The contradiction is an illusive one and vanishes the moment the new developments are considered in the context of Sri Lanka’s transformation into a family oligarchy and a ‘National Security State’.
As in the North, in the South too, the army will be used to suppress democratic dissent caused by political and economic issues. The South is peaceful currently, but not remain so, if economic pain becomes unbearable (this may explain why the first camps will be set up in Hambantota). With the Armed Forces cast in the role of keeper of internal peace, both in the North and in the South, the increase in post-war defence expenditure post-war becomes explicable.
Even as the country is being militarised the military is being Rajapaksaized. The Rajapaksa siblings control the defence establishment and thus the armed forces. The Armed Forces are accorded a key position in the Rajapakse Sri Lanka; they are the mainstay of the Ruling Family, its chief defender and are honoured as such. But this ‘veneration’ of the Military as an institution will not prevent any individual serviceman, be he of the highest or the lowest rank, from being hounded and punished, if he is perceived as being disloyal to the Rajapaksas.
So the Viru Dana Gee Sara III, a musical extravaganza, was held with much pomp and pageantry, under the patronage of the Rajapaksa sibling, while the war-winning Army Commander was incarcerated in a meagre cell without a bed or a chair. Only those servicemen who are loyal to the Ruling Family will be considered ‘viruvo’ (heroes); and any ‘hero’ who turns anti-Rajapaksa will cease being a ‘hero’ and turn ‘traitor’ and will be punished mercilessly as such. Thus Sarath Fonseka who opposed the Rajapaksas is in jail and Major General Shavendra Silva who did not is in New York as Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN.
The signal could not be clearer – those servicemen who are loyal to the Ruling Family will be rewarded while those who oppose the Ruling Family will be punished. The attitude to the Rajapaksas rather than the service record or any other criterion is the key to deciding whether a serviceman is a hero who will be rewarded or a traitor who will be punished.
Philip Giraldi (former CIA agent and counter-terrorism expert turned anti-war political commentator) identifies three preconditions for the creation of a ‘National Security State’: a narrative which explains and justifies the idea of a ‘national security state’; a system of laws and regulations which accords the right of impunity to that state; and a high-tech system of surveillance which enables that state to monitor and control its citizens.
The narrative creates a new ‘national security consensus’; the legal changes enables the regime to repress those who are outside this ‘consensus’, with impunity; the spying permits the state to keep tabs on potential opponents of this ‘consensus’. All three preconditions are present in Sri Lanka, some in embryonic form.
The narrative justifying the de-democratisation of the Lankan state is almost complete. Two arguments are being used to justify the departure from democracy: one is the ‘need’ to safeguard independence, national sovereignty and territorial integrity, from Tiger separatists and their Lankan and international allies; the second is the ‘need’ to achieve rapid economic development.
This narrative enables the Rajapaksas to demonise its democratic opponents as either ‘anti-national’ or ‘anti-developmental’; both are deemed anti-patriotic and deserving of the harshest of treatment. Thus Gen. Fonseka is being punished for being ‘anti-national’ while those Colombo poor who oppose their eviction from their traditional localities will be castigated as ‘anti-developmental’.
Soon after the new government was sworn in, Presidential Sibling and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa spelled out why ‘national security’ has to remain the priority, post-war. He opined that even in peace time the main task would be to “thwart a fresh attempt by separatists operating abroad to throw a lifeline to the LTTE (backed by) a section of the international community….bent on reviving the LTTE and giving it recognition… Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that the next six years would be of crucial importance to the country as the first government elected in a post-LTTE era had to tackle a separatist threat in a different manner. ‘They may not have artillery pieces in their arsenal and their strategy will be different, but let me tell you their goal will be the same,’ he warned” (The Island – 17.4.2010).
So the war continues, post-war. And the Shade of the Tiger would be pursued with the same relentless ruthlessness and obsessive determination as the living Tiger was: “Suppressing the separatist movement and tackling its propaganda apparatus should be a major part of Sri Lanka’s strategy against the LTTE….. The new government should go all out against any local element promoting separatist sentiments regardless of political consequences…the country could not afford to make way for terrorists” (ibid). Implicit is the contention that only the Rajapaksas can identify threats to national security correctly and combat them vigorously. Thus the continuation of Familial Rule is perceived and depicted as a sine qua non for the protection of national interests. As the Defence Secretary warned, challenging Rajapaksa rule, however democratically, can be akin to endangering national unity,: “Opposition political parties or constituent partners of the ruling coalition should not be allowed to engage in divisive politics” (ibid).
Post-election, the Rajapaksas are moving fast to set up the constitutional and legal framework necessary for a ‘National Security State’. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in his interview mentioned the need for “new laws to meet security requirements”. The 18th Amendment removed presidential term-limits, immeasurably enhanced the powers of the presidency by turning Independent Commissions into presidential appendages and transgressed the principle of separation of powers even further by empowering the President to attend the parliament regularly (recently President Rajapaksa chaired the Parliamentary Committee on the Ministry of Highways).
According to the theory of preventive counter-terrorism, an ‘excess of democracy’ (‘too many’ human rights, ‘too much’ media freedom and judicial independence) is harmful to national interests and needs to be curtailed. The PTA and the Emergency are in place. In his interview the Defence Secretary “expressed concern that a section of officialdom could help the separatist cause by trying to appease foreign governments and some funding agencies”.
This is a clear warning to the bureaucracy about the dangers inherent in being insufficiently obedient and loyal to the Rajapaksas. He also emphasised the “pivotal importance of the judiciary, particularly the Attorney General’s Department, in supporting the government’s efforts to suppress terrorism” and hinted that rulers will have to intervene if the courts prioritised legal considerations over political ones: “the political establishment would have to take into consideration the security aspects of even on-going judicial proceedings as part of their overall measures to sustain maximum possible pressure on the separatist movement”.
The third precondition for the creation of a ‘National Security State’, an efficient and technologically up-to-date spy system, is on the verge of coming into being. According to media reports a ‘New National Intelligence Service’, centralising all intelligence gathering activities (i.e. spying on actual and potential opponents of the regime, within and outside Sri Lanka) under the Defence Ministry is to be created. A cabinet paper is already in place and a parliamentary act will soon follow. The new agency is bound to enhance immeasurably the Ruling Family’s capacity to legally intrude into the political and private lives of any citizen.
Rajapaksa Sri Lanka is a confluence of a Family Oligarchy and a National Security State. The purpose of the ‘National Security State’ would be to ensure the stability and the longevity of Rajapaksa Rule. The Armed Forces, a growing behemoth, will be tasked with protecting the Ruling Family and defeating any challenges (including democratic ones) to its power, its new role as a Praetorian Guard justified by a narrative which equates the nation with the Ruling Family and national interests with Familial interests.