Ryan Goodman, a professor of Law of Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz at New York University, writes the following;
"… Sri Lanka’s historic defeat of an insurgency is emerging as a competing model to US counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategy. It is a draconian alternative that, if adopted by other militaries, risks counterproductive and blowback effects to the detriment of US interests."
Goodman has not paid enough attention to the significant difference between these two models of counterterrorism operations, the US model and the Sri Lankan model.
While the US counterterrorism operations are conducted on foreign territories the Sri Lankan counterterrorism operation was conducted within its own territory. These are the operations I refer to as US counterterrorism operations – Goodman does the same.
This is a significant different. Unlike the Sri Lankan operation, I point out, this different causes each US counterterrorism operation to maintain a balancing act between its long term national interests and helping out foreign sovereigns to eradicate terrorism within their territories. I call this a perfect equilibrium. This perfect equilibrium is a condition which the US administration tries to maintain in foreign territories.
The winning means to the US administration is maintaining that perfect equilibrium intact.
The winning means to all the others like you and me is a total eradication of terrorism. We expect, post counterterrorism is followed by nation-state building, reforms, democratization, market liberalization, bestowing universal rights upon citizen and many others will follow. For the US administration they are just rhetoric.
In a realist point of view, it is not in the US interests to see those things are being genuinely materialized in those territories. This is a very simple understanding of what realist school of international relations teaches.
For anyone who wonders about what is wrong with the US counterterrorism operations around the world today - even if the US asserts how badly they want to win the operations - this article is a nice place to start on reflecting on inert impossibility of winning any counterterrorism operation within a foreign territory. Be mindful I refer to the winning with the second meaning of the wining I outlined above.
To conduct a successful counterterrorism operation within a state, the state has to follow certain principles in military operations. The ‘political will’ shall be the first principle of any winning counterterrorism operation, I argue. The Sri Lankan authority followed that principle. This article only discus that principle.
As Goodman also admitted the victory against the LTTE was a historical victory. And no nation as such in recent history has managed to claim such a victory against terrorist organization.
The counterterrorism operation conducted by the Sri Lankan authority remains a unique counterterrorism operation. The operation not only managed to totally eradicate the terrorist elements within the country but it also has managed to prevent any terrorist attacks occurring in the country aftermath of it. It has been five years since the totally eradication of terrorism in the country in May 2009. It has won the hearts and minds of local people too. The post-war economic developments are seemingly consolidating those.
Therefore, I argue against Goodman that the US counterterrorism model and the Sri Lankan model are two different models. They cannot be compared.
The Sri Lankan counterterrorism operation does not emerge as a competing model to the US counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategy in that regard.
But the Sri Lankan model remains as the only counterterrorism model available to eradicate terrorism within a state. Goodman has gotten that wrong.
Secondly, I point out that the Sri Lankan model offers a wealth of new perspectives to all the actors dealing with counterterrorism operations. They may include state actors, their armies, policy researchers, academics and so on. The must-have-tools to win a counterterrorism operation could be learned studying the Sri Lankan experience.
Finally, I assert Goodman mingles humanitarian law with US national interests. He advises the US Justice Department to indict Gotabaya back to the US. He lacks enough reflections on those issues that he is discussing. Or he is deliberately plays a dirty game with the Sri Lankan administration and the people of Sri Lanka.
Goodman has written three articles on Sri Lanka. In reply I have already written two articles. I have outlined some context in those two articles. Some may find those context is supportive to read this article too. I have linked his articles to my first article. My first article is titled, Reply to Ryan Goodman 1 of 4 - What is this all about?. The second article is titled, Reply to Ryan Goodman 2 of 4 - What does Goodman leave out?. I will address the US administration in the next article. That article will be titled Reply to Ryan Goodman 4 of 4 - The US position on Sri Lanka. I will argue that an attempt made to indict Gotabaya to US would have counterproductive effects to the US national interests in Sri Lanka and abroad, especially to the US’ shifting interest of Pivot to Asia.
Very few occasions in this article I attribute the US Global War on Terror and US counterterrorism operations as one. But there are differences in their definitions. I have made sure this use of two concepts does not lead to any confusion.
The Difference - US Counterterrorism Model & Sri Lanka Counterterrorism Model
President Obama states the US national interest is the first priority of any US Army operations. These army operations include counterterrorism operations too. (Available here, National Security Strategy in 2010)
However, the interesting thing about the national interest of US is that there is no clear definition to define it. That seems to go for any nation state and their nation interests - to do justice to the US.
To understand the reason for a lack of clear definition, I bring Peter Trubowitz’s explanation on the political nature of nation interest.
‘the national interest is defined by those societal interests who have power to work within the political system to translate their preferences into policy’. (Trubowitz, P (1998) Defining the National Interest: Conflict and Change in American Foreign Policy. Chicago: University Chicago Press. P.4)
This is a good place to start understanding the political nature of national interest. If you want to read further the changing and adopting nature of US nation interest read the article of Joseph S. Nye, Jr, Redefining the National Interest.
Meanwhile General Dempsey, current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the principal military adviser to Obama, has adopted the following definition to define the ‘success’ of an counterterrorism operation, or rather the Global War on Terrorism.
SUCCESS – ‘the direct approach focuses on protecting US interests.’
(Read: Counterterrorism: JointPublication 3-26. 13 November 2009. p.1-7)
(Read: Counterterrorism: JointPublication 3-26. 13 November 2009. p.1-7)
If you want to fully understand how the US policy evolution is taking place in detail in this regard - from the US national interest to the US counterterrorism strategy - read the paragraphs under the title of ‘Prioritized Strategic End States for the Global War on Terrorism’ in the same policy report linked above.
Coming back to Ryan Goodman, Goodman has gravely mistaken the model US counterterrorism operation with the Sri Lankan counterterrorism operation.
The Sri Lankan operation remained within its borders. The US operations always remain outside of its national borders. While this enables the Sri Lankan authority to act within its own territory with its untainted national interest to eradicate terrorism, the US administration either has to help or go against a foreign sovereign to secure the condition needed for the US to eradicate terrorism within that sovereign. Furthermore, at the same time, the US has to secure its long-term national interests intact in that foreign territory.
This is the fundamental difference between those two models of operations. The US has to balance out how much it helps another sovereign to eradicate terrorist elements against its own nation interest. This is the case regardless if the operation is carried out with or without the consent of the hosting state. For the US the dilemma remains.
Ideally, at an attempt to eradicate terrorist elements within a country, the US has to commit itself to provide all the necessary resources needed to do so to that country. Only that will secure the long-term conditions necessary. The US counterterrorism manuals also say that.
However, that means the US has to stay in those countries for a generation or two with their purest intentions and enough resources. We have witnessed this today in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan.
If ever the US does that, what would be the eventual consequence? The eventual consequence would be the emergence of a prosperous sovereign state. I would argue the total eradication of domestic rivalries for good would lead that country to become the latter.
What does that mean to be a sovereign state? It means, among many other things, as a nation-state it knows and it is capable of securing its own nation interest. Will the US want that?
If you ever think the US wishes to see that kind of nation-states around, as the super power today, you have gotten one simple principle of international relations wrong. It is the principle of national interest.
But then again you are not alone with that belief. Most of the liberal international theorists and those who profess more cooperation in the context counterterrorism operations it seems genuinely believe so.
In my understanding it is not in the interest of US national interest to secure those conditions – however the US counterterrorism manuals keep stipulating that is the case - in any state. It is against the US national interest. That is the bottom line.
You could now understand what the US means by a successful US counterterrorism operation. It means a totally different thing to the US – maintain of a perfect equilibrium. But we have been lead to believe success means success.
The success to the US means things like followings, oil fields are being secured, navigating waters and airspaces are being secured, the US business interests are citizens are being secured, and embassies are being secured in those countries.
Those who argue the universal values do also mean something to the US, look around before you make that argument.
In the second sense of success - that means the real success to me and you - happens when a US counterterrorism operation went wrong, which they always do. The complex dynamics surround any counterterrorism operation could easily till the outcome against the US interests. That happens all the time. That is way sooner or later every empire has to wrap them up and leave.
With this new wisdom, let me briefly reflect on a word Goodman uses to describe the Sri Lankan counterterrorism model, draconian. What is the draconian model? Is it the model that tries to eradicate terrorism or is it the one that tries to contain terrorism for prefectural gain.
The numbers speak on my behalf. Thirty years of arm conflict in Sri Lanka had cost about 70,000 civilian lives. That is for three decades. Look it up on the Uppsala Conflict Encyclopedia. How many lives have perished in Afghanistan? How many in Iraq? I don’t want to go through each of US counterterrorism operations. But those numbers amount to millions in total. And it is continuing. So, Ray Goodman what is the draconian model?
The inevitable peril of US Global War on Terror and its counterterrorism operations
Since the World War II, the US is praised to be the master of counterterrorism strategy. That is not because all those operations the US engaged in were successful but because the US is still strong enough to defend its nation interest as a/the super power. The US is still the super power, which is strong enough to defend its national interests militarily and economically in distance corners of the world. That means, according to the US national interests, none of the military operations, including counterterrorism operations, have been unsuccessful.
However, since the al Qa’ida is a global phenomenon, and their bases are located within numerous foreign territories, the US is facing the toughest challenge so far defending its national interests abroad.
To defeat the al Qa’ida the US has to create favorable conditions within many foreign territories to eradicate those terrorist elements. Since most of those states are failed states – and we have lot to do with that too – and corruptions have taken roots in cores of those state the US sees no easy fixed. Nation buildings are not in the interest of us – I mean the US.
The US has realised this dilemma its faces in terms of securing its long term national interest within those states. The US is preparing.
The US has only one realistic option left. Nation buildings are out of the question. The US could not wrap everything up and come back home for good either. That would not eliminate the generations of hatred and mess we are leaving there. It would also be detrimental to the US national interests in those countries and regions. Surgical strikes seem to be the answer. It is cost effective and the US has already secured enough logistic capabilities around to do so. Neutralization of those threats, as they surface in distance territories, could be done without waging full scale wars.
Those small stationary forces are to enable those logistics and surgical strike capacities. The modernization of US Army and investments in new technologies seems to go long way enabling these kinds of counterterrorism operations too.
However, according to my understanding, the US will still be struggling to maintain this perpetual dilemma of securing its long term national interests and pretending to be helpful to those nation-states. If you don’t think so, you have not learnt anything from history.
The perfect condition, which is just enough to temper both sides of the issues – maintaining the US national interest and the interests of local actors - cannot be sustained forever. It is becoming costly and less attractive when other players offer attractive packages to local players.
This perfect equilibrium is impossible to maintain. It is also impossible to calculate all those complex possibilities surrounding an operation.
Just to give a hint of what these conditions are like, think of the interests of different global and local actors. These are interconnected now. And then add the interests of all the neighbouring countries, interests of local actors such as war lords, actions of non-state actors, interests of the local public and interests of international communities and multinational organizations as such.
With a different degree of successes and failures, the actions and reactions of most of these actors might be calculable. But to foresee the unforeseeable is always impossible.
Here, they lay the enough ingredients for the peril of US counterterrorism operations. What would the US get at the end of its failure to maintain this prefect equilibrium is that the whole world – at least a more than half of it – standing against the US interests abroad. While at the same time, those counter developments abroad and change in the public perception will be creating an increased number of radicalized home grown terrorists compromising the US national security within its own borders. Rising super powers with opposing national interests to the US would find reassurance in the hands of US immediate neighbours too to knock the doors at the US border territories.
There is another way out of this inevitable peril of trying to manage the perfect equilibrium thou. The one that the US plays down the rhetoric a bit and do actual good in those territories instead while the each US tax payer eventually pick up a slightly higher bill for fuel prices and so on. That would be the admirable thing to do. And that is also the right thing to do. That will also leave the US self proclaimed desire to be the beacon of hope. That would be the legacy the US left behind, which will be remembered for millennia to come.
Despite those remodernizations of its Army and technological boosts, the US counterterrorism operations in foreign territories are taunted by the impossibility of accruing that perfect equilibrium in long term.
The successful Sri Lankan counterterrorism operation
Goodman writes indicting Gotabaya back to the US could somewhat mitigate the lost the successful Sri Lankan counterterrorism model has done to the US counterterrorism model.
Goodman tries to politicize the issue in favor of the US interest. The thing is that there is no issue at stake for the US administration to worry about at the first place regarding the Sri Lankan model, I have explained above. If the US administration understands indicting him back to the US would enhance its nation security strategy and national interests in Sri Lanka and within that regional, the US administration has gotten it wrong. I make this argument in the next article.
In this section, I argue the success of the Sri Lankan operation and the experience of the Sri Lankan Army could instead offer a wealth of new resources to all the actors involved in counterterrorism operations worldwide.
The strategy which was adopted by the Sri Lankan counterterrorism model exists as the only winning formula to defeat terrorism within a state.
The Sri Lankan counterterrorism strategy was based on solid principles.
The first principle of this winning formula is the political will - Gotabaya has outlined these principles in an article published in Indian Defence Review. (Read: Lessons from Sri Lanka's War)
Sarath Fonseka has also confirmed this.
‘It is the political leadership with the commitment of the military that led the battle to success … And no Defence Secretary was there like the present Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa who had the same commitment and knowledge on how to crush the LTTE. Finally, they gave me the chance of going ahead with the military plan.’ (Read: Army Commander assures LTTE is finished)
With a negative spin to it, Goodman has also pointed out that the ‘complete-operational-freedom’, the sixth principle of Sri Lankan model, had enabled Fonseka to have a ‘rock solid political backing’ for the operations. Gotabaya had promised Fonseka that he would take ‘the blame’ on behalf of the Army commanders.
In a different note, but yet another few significant points have to be made here.
The US’ campaign on the Global War on Terror had given the strength to the administration of Sri Lanka to defeat the LTTE. There is a connection between this and the Sri Lankan President’s untainted political will.
What is remarkable here is to the extent to which the Sri Lankan administration managed to capitalise on that. It is never an easy task. It requires faultless calculation of global political realities and its changing dynamics. It requires an acute knowledge in how to capitalise on the disfavouring elements in the equilibrium that the US tries to maintain.
For the readers of this article, it should come as a no surprise now why the US administration has twisted its official position towards Sri Lanka aftermath of the war. That is in the US long term interest. Read the next article.
Coming back to the original point of this section, the Sri Lankan counterterrorism operation and the US counterterrorism operations could not be compared.
Goodman tries to prey on and try to place the US administration on a collision path with the Sri Lankan administration.
The principles adopted by the Sri Lankan counterterrorism model offered a decisive military victory against terrorism.
In that sense, the victory of Sri Lankan Army is of significance to many. The legitimate governments, their armies, policy researchers and academics could be direct benefactors of this Sri Lankan experience. The academic disciplines such as international relations, diplomacy, war studies, counterinsurgency and counterterrorism studies and studies of post-war developments are all have a great wealth of knowledge to extract from the Sri Lankan experience. How the Government of Sri Lanka maintains the diplomatic relations with different actors prior-to and aftermath-of the military operations, how the actual kinetic operations were conducted, and what enabled the unprecedented level of post-war developments in that country shall be in the interest of those disciplines. It would also be interesting to research what went wrong with the US’s interest in maintaining the perfect equilibrium in the case of Sri Lanka.
Is the US national interest secured by the US domestic humanitarian law mechanism?
Could it be justified Gotabaya is being brought back to the US to indict because the Sri Lankan counterterrorism operation was successful?
Is it worth it for the sake of securing US national interests in Sri Lanka and in that region? Goodman thinks so.
I argue it would be a great mistake if the US administration is taking no interest in cooperative alliance in Sri Lanka. In terms of shifting US national security strategy towards Asia, and particular to the South China Sea, Sri Lanka could be a convenient foothold in Indian Ocean for the US. Diego Garcia is far too away and far too small in the Indian Ocean to reach the continent for prompt actions.
Apart from that, politically stable Sri Lanka could be a greater asset to smoother transactions of the US’ interests through the Exclusives Economic Zone of Sri Lanka’s in Indian Ocean than politically unstable Sri Lanka. A handful of the US direct investments will secure this favoring climate in this small country.
One way or another, Sri Lanka, this tiny island nation of Sri Lanka, would never ever be in a position to threaten any of the US’s geographical interests in that region. So, why does the US do ill in that country when very little good could achieve the same and much more? The argument here is a little of good deed could go long way in this small island. China is also doing that. China is doing that not only in Sri Lanka but also in India, Pakistan and elsewhere too.
It seems like it is not much of an argument. But this argument has its own gravity. This argument lies in the middle of where the US has to make a decision regarding Sri Lanka whether the US administration likes to maintain its classical perfect equilibrium in Sri Lanka or follow the other path. I would like to see the US is following the latter path in Sri Lanka.
As I have outlined in the previous articles, the operations were conducted by the Sri Lankan Army within the thresholds of humanitarian principles. There are a wealth of facts available outlining every aspect of the factual realities in the final phase of the operation.
The incidents which seem to raise eyebrows are very few in number, and insignificant in comparison to the total humanitarian nature of the operations. If you wish to keep stressing on those few incidents in the final phase you should first look at into your own history - that is if you have a nation-state. Look into the creation of the US as a nation-state or any other nation-states in that matter. I am not saying that because they did we could do it too. What I am saying is that it has to be looked through the contextual basis and on the foundation of utility for the majority of Sri Lankan.
In trying to favor the US interests in Sri Lanka Goodman has undermined himself as a professor of law. He mingles humanitarian law with the US national interests. I would say it would be quite okay to do so for the right reasons. But Sri Lanka is a wrong place to go after when so much evidence is available to prove the humanitarian nature of the Sri Lankan counterterrorism operation.
Goodman has to know the following:
In history, victors of war were never kept accountable for wining their wars. The norms of humanitarian law always were behind that classic practice. The legitimacy of law derives from the power of the victors not from the shame of losers.
That is why we recall the Nazis for their gruesome crimes. The nuclear victim of Japan is recalled for her expansionist attitude.
The victors of World War II, the US, the UK and the rest, are praised for getting rid evils off the planet and saving humanity. Neither the post-war justice delivered aftermaths of World War I nor the Napoleonic wars contradict that wisdom.
The contemporary international legal system is widely perceived as a something else, a something from bottom up, especially since the international community’s involvement in Rwanda and in former Yugoslavia.
In reality, nothing has changed. The aspirations of small nations are, of cause, sometimes reflect in these developments. But they never surpass the aspirations of powerful. The Security Council is the living testimony for that. They are the authority which gives legitimacy to international public law. Those institutions, like ICC, are not there to go beyond than conserving the interests of those powerful nation-states.
The international public law is a tool of maintaining conservative international peace and security. It is ideally to conserve the perfect equilibrium.
The question of what then keeps the Sri Lankan authorities away from these politicized international criminal investigations is also a good example of the dynamics of that equilibrium.
Those who wish to see any changes in this status-quo shall praise the Sri Lankan authorities for the successful conduct of counterterrorism operation instead of the annual bashing of the administration.
Goodman argues it is in the best interests of the US to indict Gotabaya back to the US using the domestic legal avenues available. He creates an unnecessary fear that the Sri Lankan counterterrorism model poses a threat to the US counterterrorism model.
Goodman has made that statement very lightly.
I have argued above these counterterrorism models could not be compared.
The US counterterrorism operations, which conducted on foreign territories, battle with a unique dilemma, a task of maintaining a perfect equilibrium. Each of the US operation has to secure the US national interests while it has to help out a foreign sovereign to establish the necessary conditions to eradicate terrorist elements within that sovereign.
The US national interest is fundamentally at odd with helping out foreign sovereigns.
However, even if the US administration thinks they have a chance of maintaining a perfect equilibrium in long run, each operation is destined to fail because of complex conditions surrounding these operations are unable to fully comprehend.
The Sri Lankan authority did not conduct a foreign counterterrorism operation. Its untainted political will helped to defeat terrorism from its soil. I have argued, the Sri Lankan counterterrorism model is the only model available to defeat terrorism within a state.
Indicting Gotabaya back to the US will have counterproductive effects to the US national interests in Sri Lanka. I will argue Sri Lanka could be a great foothold to the US to secure its national security strategy of
Pivot to Asia in the next article.