Accepted paper:

Hard Indian power, soft Norwegian power: a reverse history of international peace interventions in Sri Lanka


Bart Klem (University of Melbourne)

Paper short abstract:

Revisiting the formidable work on the Sri Lankan civil war, my input will discuss the long-term legacies of Indian (i.e. the provincial councils) and Norwegian (i.e. ruptures that contributed to LTTE defeat) peace efforts in Sri Lanka.

Paper long abstract:

As is the case with much of the writing on peace processes, scholarship of Indian and Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka suffers from historical short-sightedness. It is preoccupied with process design details and the question of immediate success and failure. A longer-term perspective sheds a different light.

Scholarship on India's attempt in the 1980s to enforce its 'solution' to the Tamil separatist conflict in Sri Lanka offers meticulous accounts of the dramatic turning points, the blunders and deceptions. An analysis of longer-term legacies suggests that India fundamentally changed the nature of the conflict and left Sri Lanka with an enduring institutional legacy: the Provincial Councils. While these are a sabotaged layer of government, they are foundational to any bargaining process about shared sovereignty in pursuit of a more comprehensive solution to the conflict.

With the Norwegian peace effort in the 2000s there is a similar tendency to over-emphasize the significance of process design and the rush to a judgment of failure. The biggest impact of Norway's effort was arguably not shaped by what they tried to do, but by inadvertent effects. Their effort caused severe rupture in both the Sinhala and the Tamil polity, resulting in a split LTTE and a fiercely nationalist government. This, in turn, helped precipitate the military defeat of insurgency in 2009. Arguably, and somewhat cynically, Norway's biggest contribution to peace was the political rupture that contributed to rebel defeat.

panel J4
Peaceful accidents in the shadow of hegemony: the unintended outcomes of international peace interventions in Asia-Pacific (Cambodia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka and Timor Leste)