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"There is no military solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka"




An Exclusive Interview with William D. Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation

Interviews by Nilantha Ilangamuwa

(January 06, The City of New York, Sri Lanka Guardian) "There is no military solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka and there needs to be a political solution," Mr. William D. Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation based in Washington, said in an exclusive interview with Sri Lanka Guardian in the City of New York. Speaking to the Sri Lanka Guardian, he says, " In my view terrorism is driven by a combination of political powerlessness and humiliation and economic deprivation. Poverty alone does not breed terrorism; but poor people can be recruited to a terrorist cause in situations in which they have absolutely no way to put right the chronic injustices they may face in a given place and time"

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Here full text of an Interview,

Q. On behalf of the Sri Lanka Guardian, I'll appreciate a brief background of yours, your responsibilities with the Arms and Security Initiative and the goals of this organization.

A.
I am the director of the Arms and Security Initiative, a project of the Washington-based New America Foundation. Our goal is to provide independent information and analysis to the media, policymakers, and the broader public on United States policies as they related to weapons proliferation, military spending, and military strategy.

Q. In what way is your new responsibility different from your previous involvement as Director of the Arms Trade Resource Centre at the World Policy Institute at the New School in New York City?

A.
The Arms and Security Initiative is very similar to the Arms Trade Resource Center, with the exception that it is affiliated with a larger, more vibrant think thank, the New America Foundation.

Q. How do you view the role of the United States as an international super power that is if you see it that way?

A.
The United States is a declining superpower in the sense that it's most highly developed source of power -- it's dominant military -- is increasingly ill-suited to the most pressing problems of the day, from poverty to disease to terrorism to global warming. By contrast, in other gauges of power such as the strength of its economy and the force of its political and cultural example, there has been a sharp decline during the Bush period. It remains to be seen whether an Obama presidency can reverse these trends.

Q. Do you see there is a difference in approach and goals in respect of foreign policy between the two major political parties in the US, the Democrats and the Republicans?

A.
The current Democratic party leadership is more inclined to use all of the foreign policy tools at its disposal -- including intelligence, diplomacy, and economic assistance -- rather than relying so heavily on military force or the threat of military force as a centerpiece of U.S. strategy. The Obama administration in particular will be more interested in international cooperation and more respectful of international agreements.

Q. How do you reckon the roots that have brought forth terrorism in the world today?

A.
In my view terrorism is driven by a combination of political powerlessness and humiliation and economic deprivation. Poverty alone does not breed terrorism; but poor people can be recruited to a terrorist cause in situations in which they have absolutely no way to put right the chronic injustices they may face in a given place and time.

Q. Do you think a government elected by the people have a right or mandate to kill terrorists without the proponents of it going through the civil process which is the hallmark of democracy?

A.
There may be situations in which attacks against known terrorist leaders may be justified. In general, however, the pursuit of terrorists should be pursued through constitutional means, without resort to torture, imprisonment without trial, and the other tactics adopted during the Bush years.

Q. The 9/11 tragedy was a defining moment in respect of terrorism. One could say in consequence the Bush Administration acted with impunity ignoring even the resolutions of the United Nations. After seven years of 9/11, what are your views on War on Terror? Do you reckon that the US policy has been justified?

A.
The notion of a "war on terror" was flawed from the start. Seeking to root out or blunt the activities of a given network -- Al Qaeda -- was never sufficient justification for the military and intelligence abuses that were carried out in the name of the "war on terror," from the war in Iraq to the prison camp at Guantanamo.

Q. Now that President-Elect Barack Obama will take the reins of the highest office in the United States in three weeks, will the expectation, "Change we Need" become a reality?

A.
It is much harder to bring about change than it is to promise it. In some key areas -- such as reducing nuclear weapons and eliminating torture -- I feel optimistic about the chances of the new administration to make a difference. Other problems -- such as promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- will be much more difficult, but still well worth vigorous diplomacy (the exact oppositie of what we have seen in the Bush years).

Q. Are you quite informed of the military capability of Al-Qaeda?

A.
I have no access to special intelligence sources on the matter, but my impression is that Al Qaeda has very little conventional military capability, and that its ability to carry out terrorist bombings and other attacks varies according to the quality and motivations of the recruits it and allied organizations have at their disposal at any given time.

Q. Bush administration has been very expansive talking about democracy and human rights especially to justify US involvements in counties like Lebanon, Georgia, Ukraine even in Somalia and Kirghizstan using such catchy phrases as Tulip, Rose, and Orange Revolutions. How far, in your view, democracy and human rights have fared in these efforts?

A.
Democracy must mean more than just elections. In most of the cases you mention, citizens lack certain key rights, ranging from access to a free press, to the right to assemble peacefully to demand changes in government policy, to basic security in their person and their homes. Democracy cannot be fostered by force.

Q. Three years ago some members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were arrested in the US for attempting to purchase arms in the black market for an organization seeking self-determination of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. How do you think this black market is operating in the US? LTTE operatives are still active in the US and how are they being viewed in the US?

A.
Most citizens, and even most foreign policy analysists, in the U.S. have little or no knowledge of the LTTE's operations here. It has by and large been a concern of law enforcement, which has limited resources for dealing with arms trafficking as compared with other objectives, such as the "war on drugs."

Q. In respect of Afghanistan US gave arms support to the Jihad organization against the USSR. Now Jihad has become an international Islamic militant movement. Where does the US stand here? Wasn't Jihad nurtured by the US?

A.
The U.S. role in arming and training Islamic extremists in Afghanistan helped foster the current terrorist networks operating globally. It certainly accelerated their development, although they would likely have developed over time even absent U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

Q. How do you respond to the CIA being involved in major human rights violations and the holding of prisoners in secret prisons around the world?

A.
In an ideal world, the CIA should be gathering intelligence, not playing a role in torture or subverting governments. That was the original purpose of the agency, which was subverted during the Cold War period and has never been re-established.

Q. Is there a chance for the US to attack Iran?

A.
It is unlikely that the U.S. will attack Iran. There are advocates of taking military action in Iran amongst neo-conservatives outside of government and some hardliners in government, but they are outnumbered by officials who see any attack on Iran as being disastrously counterproductive. While this situation could change as events unfold in the Middle East, I still think that a U.S. attack against Iran is unlikely.

Q. There seems a general fear that there could be a World War III. How do you react to it?

A.
What we have is bad enough -- scores of "small" wars that have killed and displaced millions of people in recent years. In that sense, we are already living in a sort of slow motion World War III.

Q. How do you view the conflict in Sri Lanka?

A.
I have no well developed view of the roots of the conflict in Sri Lanka; I do believe that outside powers should refrain from arming or financing the rebel groups there while limiting as well their arms to the government side of the conflict. A reduction in armaments might help open the space for a political solution. But analysts in Sri Lanka are far better educated on the roots of the conflict and what to do about it than I am.

Q. How can nations and people achieve lasting peace in a world plagued with ethnic and other differences that have caused armed conflicts?

A.
We need to focus on meeting people's needs -- not just economic, although that is fundamental; but also meeting their needs for meaningful participation in the decisions that have an impact on their lives. This will be a long-term process; as we proceed we need to waste less time, money, and energy on the production and use of weapons, be they small arms or nuclear bombs.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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