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LTTE strategies for growth and war

[This article is based on a presentation made by the author at a round table conference organised by the Control Arms Foundation of India in collaboration with United Nations Information Office, New Delhi on "Armaments, Disarmament & Non-Proliferation" on 23 & 24 September 2009 at New Delhi.]

By Col R Hariharan


(October 27, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) Thanks to the three revolutions – knowledge, technology, and communication – during the last three decades new global paradigms are emerging with far reaching effects on the lives of nations and peoples. Positive effects include economic liberalisation, improved global networking of peoples, emergence of information technology as change agent, and increasing global awareness among people. Negative fall outs include changes in the nature, scope and intensity of conflicts, increasing consumerism, erosion of family values and increasing criminalisation of societies.

These changes have also enlarged the classical perception of national security as relating to territorial security and domination. It now includes security issues relating to trade and commerce, energy resources, human development and well being, and the new genre of cyber security. Effects of these changes are as follows:

• Scope of conflicts: The traditional progression of conflicts from local to national to regional to international spheres has been short circuited. As a result even local conflicts can draw international attention and influence. The Eelam war in Sri Lanka is a case in point.

• Enlarging conflict domains: More countries than ever before have demonstrated nuclear capability. Similarly increased membership of space club imparting spread of rocket and space technology. Space has become the fourth dimension of conflict apart from land, sea and air. This has resulted in expanding areas of interest and influence of nations.

• Increasing intensity of warfare at subunit level: Weapon and armament developments are focused on conquering new areas of communication, firepower, design, portability and mobility to acquire, reach and destroy targets faster. As a result weapons of high destructive capability like thermobaric weapons are available at the infantryman’s level. Remote battlefield reconnaissance capability has given the ability to destroy targets from command posts located well away from the battle zone.

• Diffusion of military power: Modern technology has enabled smaller nations to assert their power increasing the areas of potential conflict. North Korea’s nuclear weapons development is a typical example.

• Terrorism: Terrorism has become a cost effective assertion of power by weak non state actors to take on powerful states. This was demonstrated by the 9/11 Al Qaeda terrorists strike in the U.S., and the 26/11 Lashkar e-Tayyaba attacks in Mumbai. Terrorists have availed benefits of increase in fire power, mobility and target acquisition capabilities of modern armies to their benefit

Responding to dynamics of change – A Sri Lanka case study

Sri Lanka had been battling the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Tamil ethnic separatist insurgent group in a series of Eelam Wars for the last two decades. The LTTE had refined the use of suicide terrorism as a weapon to strengthen its strategic posture. In its three decades existence the Tamil Tigers had grown to a formidable force with a conventional army capable of waging war in land, air and sea. About 80,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives in these conflicts. Of these about 35000 people were LTTE cadres and followers.

Recently Sri Lanka armed forces succeeded in crushing the military might of the LTTE in the fourth episode of the war that lasted for nearly three years.

The Tamil Tigers, who had become the world’s most powerful non state actor, provide an interesting case study on the existing weaknesses in national and international policies in control, trade and trafficking of arms. It also highlights the global linkages between international arms trafficking and other criminal activity money laundering, piracy, human trafficking etc. Its assets overseas are estimated to yield millions of dollars as regular income.

Even a partial list of arms captured from the LTTE after the war gives an idea of the real dimensions of its arms procurement and trafficking operations. It included assorted artillery pieces -76, infantry mortars – 768, multi-barrel rocket launchers -45, SAMs -11, anti-aircraft guns -91, assorted machine guns -291, small arms (automatic) -14,413. It also procured eight light aircraft, modern night vision devices and GPS equipment for its military use.

LTTE strategies for growth and war

Creation of expatriate support network: In the absence of a political settlement of Tamil grievances, after 1983 there was large scale exodus of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. The LTTE either took over or created new support networks among nearly 800,000 Tamil expatriates the world over. It used them for providing financial, material and motivational support to help LTTE’s growth and sustain it in war and peace.

Creation of front organisations: It successfully managed to infiltrate and takeover existing expatriate cultural and social organisations and places of worship. It created NGO fronts which performed relief work and collected funds for such work. These funds were regularly siphoned off to progress war. Some of them gained legitimacy by networking with other recognised global bodies.

Lobbying and political support: The LTTE managed to exploit to its advantage the sympathy among expatriate concentrations for the cause of Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. It influenced strong pro-Tamil lobbies within overseas political parties (i.e., UK, Canada, India) to garner international political support and to carryout psywar and propaganda. Although the LTTE in Sri Lanka is in total disarray, these assets continue to exist even now.

Arms procurement and logistic network: LTTE sympathisers in tandem with LTTE cells procured illegal weapons and modern arms technology globally. LTTE procured most of its arms from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. The list of countries include China, North Korea, Hong Kong, Cambdia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in Asia: Ukraine; Bulgaria in Eastern Europe; Lebanon: Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey in the Mediterranean and Eritrea, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe in Africa. It also organised a captive shipping network of 12 merchant ships to transport them.

Subversion of peace process: LTTE illegally brought in most of its weapons during the ceasefire period when an international peace process was in force. It exploited the desire of nations to assist Sri Lanka to end the conflict to its advantage. It is clear that weaknesses of international monitoring were fully exploited by the LTTE.

Action areas

To sum up, the LTTE had demonstrated how the existing international protocols can be subverted to its advantage using existing assets in the form of NGOs, criminal elements, and loopholes in systems of transnational administration for controlling sale and transporting of arms by non state agents. It is clear that it is not enough if nations ratify international arms trade treaty. Nations will have to coordinate their concepts, policy making and implementation of all issues relating to arms trade and traffic on a holistic basis.

Insurgent groups are more modern and powerful now than ever before because they use the advantages offered by globalisation that enables speedier communication and provide real time information on modern military thought and technology. To combat them collective action of nations is required in the following areas to make international arms trade treaty effective –

• International cooperation required both inside and outside the UN orbit. Help and support of India, China, Pakistan, the US and the EU enabled Sri Lanka to militarily defeat the LTTE.

• The nexus of criminals-elements of state– arms traders both nationally and internationally has to be broken.

• Synergy required in fighting money laundering and to curb illegal transfers and trafficking in arms, people and drugs.

• Need for sustained campaign for control of proliferation and trade of arms.

• Greater international attention to defuse and disarm potential areas of conflicts.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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