Demilitarisation: The Pathway To An Absolute Post-conf lict Normalcy

By Dinesh D. Dodamgoda

The recent death of a school principal whilst receiving a training offered by the Cadet Corps to decorate him as a Brevet Captain has sparked off another round of discussion on demilitarising post-conflict Sri Lanka, because the civil war that lasted for more than three decades had militarised Sri Lankan society structurally as well as culturally, providing a quasi-legitimacy for further militarisation.
As defined, militarisation creates an authoritarian environment of intolerance that celebrates values such as patriotism and toughness. This environment legitimises the existence and power of groups and regimes that accentuate hostility towards the perceived enemy. Hence, militarisation is a means to construct a power base for groups and regimes.

Militarisation tends not to deliver the defence establishment’s intended objectives of achieving normalcy, but would rather radicalise defeated or suppressed parties in post-conflict societies to resort to retaliatory violence.

Although the protracted war between the government and the LTTE had impacted on destroying and weakening civil society establishments and values, Sri Lanka is one of the oldest democracies in Asia. The ethos of the relationship between civilians and military in a democracy is “Civil control over military”, which emphasises the importance of having civilian control over military. Yet, conflicts provide contexts for the military to gain considerable control over civilian affairs due to necessity. As the study of Professor Neloufer de Mel from the University of Colombo on ‘Militarising Sri Lanka’ shows, the ideology of militarism had transformed Sri Lankan society and its popular culture in significant ways. Therefore, in order to re-establish civil society values, it is of paramount importance to reduce the role the military plays in conflict affected societies like Sri Lanka’s as quickly as possible when the conflict is over.

Militarising Sri Lanka

The end of the conflict in Sri Lanka has warranted normalcy and brought different challenges to the government, such as providing security, demining, resettlement of internally displaced people – thus, new houses and repairing damaged houses, rebuilding roads, providing water, electricity, sanitation, health and education facilities, establishing livelihood development programmes including the provision of agricultural and livestock assistance, rehabilitation of combatants, and initiating a successful reconciliation process. As one can see, most of the tasks on the list should be carried out by civil institutions including line ministries and departments. Hence, the post-conflict challenges provided an opportunity also for the government to bring normalcy back to war torn areas by transferring civil duties back to civil institutions from the military.
However, the Secretary of Defence, in a lecture delivered at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) a year ago noted, that the military played an important role in meeting ‘nearly all of the post-conflict challenges’. He mentioned that the military even donated seeds for farmers and assisted in livestock development, tasks that the Department of Agriculture and Livestock should be carrying out.
As the Secretary of Defence himself phrased it, his ‘laudable recognition’ in appreciating the role the military played in carrying out post-conflict tasks indicates the level of quasi-legitimacy that further militarisation has acquired in post-conflict Sri Lanka. Further militarisation is acquiring more legitimacy and even the training offered by the Cadet Corps to decorate school principals as Brevet Colonels and Captains also can be seen as an extension of the said endeavour.
According to a study by London based research group, the Committee for Conflict Transformation Support (CCTS), militarisation accords the defence establishments or its allies, power over a population and permits forces to usurp social responsibilities, restricting civil participation and insisting on obedience to its chain of command. Furthermore, militarisation hardens divisions between social or ethnic groups, inculcates a culture based on suspicion of the other and heightens intolerance. Moreover, CCTS observed that militarisation inclines people to resort to violence more readily instead of discussion, and channels social or personal frustration into violence by pushing the resentment of those defeated in war into a permanent hostility, demanding violent retaliation.

Demilitarising Sri Lanka

Ultimately, militarisation tends not to deliver the defence establishment’s intended objectives of achieving normalcy by securing victories, but would rather radicalise defeated or suppressed parties in post-conflict societies to resort to retaliatory violence. In democracies like Sri Lanka, militarisation will further degrade civil society establishments and values.
Therefore, the task of bringing normalcy back to war torn Sri Lanka needs a demilitarisation phase as quickly as possible. Sri Lanka should demilitarise society structurally and culturally. Hence, the process can be called a ‘deep demilitarisation’ effort, which warrants more fundamental cultural and structural transformation that is necessary in bringing back absolute normalcy and establishing lasting peace in the country.
The process needs to include such actions as rebuilding trust between divided groups by introducing an effective reconciliation process in which civil society values are upheld. Furthermore, the effort should transfer civilian tasks back to civil institutions from defence establishments and allow civilian institutions to function with civilian administrators. All these efforts require a strong political will to introduce a sincere and effective demilitarisation process.

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