Could Norway have stopped the war in Sri Lanka? - Remarks by former US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage
[12.11.2011, 07:22am, Sat. GMT]
"I was approached by parties asking me to please invite and use my personal reputation to invite Anton Balasingham to Washington. And in order to do that, because he was seen as a member of a terrorist group, I had to personally vouch for him and be with him. And I did that, I went to the State Department and they gave permission to do this under my personal recognicense. And, as soon, almost the day that permission was given the army barracks was attacked". Full remarks by Richard Armitage:
Thank you very much. I think your report is going to add richly to the public record. I'll be happy to read the entire thing. I'll learn a ton and I need the help. If Minister Morogoda is here in his personal capacity then I must be, too, as an unemployed Republican. Let me say, first of all, I yield to no one in my admiration for the efforts of the Kingdom of Norway. In so many endeavors, and since I was so closely involved in this endeavour, it certainly includes that.
And equally, I yield to no one in my admiration for the strength and the courage of Vidar Helgesen and Minster Erik Solheim from whom I learned a lot. I learned a lot about dedication and ‘stick to-it-ness’, perseverance, etc. And it's not just my view, but it's the US view, that the world is made safer and more humane by the Kingdom of Norway involved across the board in defense of human freedoms and human rights, so there should be no question about where I stand on this and other matters regarding the Kingdom of Norway.
In the Christian Bible, in the book of Isaiah, there's a saying, "Who shall we send, who will go for us, and the answer is, here I am, send me." And I think that answer comes from the Kingdom of Norway. Here I am, send me. As has been well documented, and as Erik also mentioned, Norway moved this process along and was that close. I felt it, I think everyone felt it; it was that close to a possible solution. But at the end of the day, there were a couple of insoluble problems.
And the first, in my view, more than the animosities and lack of cooperation between the two major parties, was the personal animosity between former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Former Sri Lankan PM Ranil Wickramasinghe. That trumped party loyalty and everything else. It was a personal animosity. I don't know how you solve that problem. And the second is, there is no accounting for what I would call the lack of sophistication and bad decision making in Mr.Pirapakaran And I don't know how you solve that problem.
I thought it was remarkable, and I had a fear the entire time that I was in government, that the activities of the government of Norway would lead them to fall victim to something that happened to the United States and it never really happened, there were some troublesome times, but when you're involved in someone's civil war, sooner or later you become seen as on someone's side.
It happened to us in Lebanon with terrible results, and it never happened, and I think it's a signal of accomplishment. There were troubles, there were difficulties at times but it never really happened that you were seen on someone's side in a civil war. From the US point of view, I don't think we gave the Kingdom of Norway much help. For openers, and the reason I say that, is for openers, I think there was a tremendous lack of understanding in the US and this includes me, about how much of a hangover remained from the neuralgia of colonialism and the cynicism of the colonial power. I should have been more astute having been under a colonial power ourselves at one time. But the two hundred or so years intervening have dimmed the neuralgia.
This was certainly not the case in Srilanka. At the Oslo conference, which I was pleased to attend, the US had assumed that the presence of the conference would send a signal to Anton Balasingham But my words spoken in a speech certainly didn’t send much of a signal to him; in fact, it might have sent a bad signal. In my defense, this is in the context, now, of 9/11, our feeling about terrorism and it was all I could do to get permission to come to Oslo at that time and be present with Anton Balasingham I think I failed, as has been indicated in the report, to recognize the inflection point that the defection of (LTTE man) Mr.karuna represented. I just took it as another event. And that was a mistake; I should have been more astute. And, like everyone else, I bought into the notion of no military solution. And General Sarath Fonseka had taken me to the front and had told me that all the way up in the helicopter all the way towards the front line, no military solution, and you know, that’s right, there’s no military solution to a political problem.
But there was a military solution to a military problem. And I didn’t make the differentiation, astutely and it led me falling back on this mantra of no military solution led me to believe well, “if that’s the case then we have time.” There will be enough time to work this out. And that’s where again, I think I led the norwegian prince down. A lot of this whole endeavor in Srilanka was star crossed. In 2006, I was approached by parties asking me to please invite and use my personal reputation to invite Anton Balasingham to Washington. And in order to do that, because he was seen as a member of a terrorist group, I had to personally vouch for him and be with him. And I did that, I went to the State Department and they gave permission to do this under my personal recognicense. And, as soon, almost the day that permission was given the army barracks was attacked. And clearly, the invitation to mr.Anton Balasingham was over. So, at the end of the day, I think, from my point of view, all credit should be given to those who were in the raid, who were covered with the sweat and the dirt of the contest. But as we all know, at the end of the day, nobody can want peace more than the two main protagonists and that, indeed, was the case here. Thank you very much.
-What was the international backdrop against which the Srilankan peace process played out?
I think the international backdrop was an angry and confused one that only could coalesce around one issue and that was terror and in the minds of most of the international community terror was represented in full by the LTTE. It’s an unfair and very superficial view. That is the view, the backdrop of the international community at the time. That is, the international community who actually took the time to try to understand Srilanka. This is one of the difficulties, I think. It was in my view very little interest in, and understanding of, Srilanka in the international community. And I actually credit the Kingdom of Norway with keeping some understanding alive and in fact slowly enticing others to open their eyes to the problems and the complexity.
-Is there any way 911 might have been of more pressing issues for the world than Srilanka. Quite difficult to keep Srilanka on the agenda
Well, that’s certainly true but I don’t think we should kid ourselves even absent 911 there was very limited international interest in Srilanka. Now, commercially there is a great deal higher interest because we’re involved in great power struggles as we’ve heard, now, and so there’s a lot more interest in, certainly India always had an interest but the Chinese, US rivalry is coming to the fore and that puts Srilanka front and center
If I may, I very much appreciate the effort to reduce the complex tragedy like Srilanka to black and whites, but I want everyone to understand the situations are never black and white. When I quit soldering and became a policy maker, someone much wiser than me said, "Oh, you think it's going to be a lot easier now, you can sit and think great thoughts and manage these processes in a very antiseptic way. He said,” you'll be surprised.” Well, I was, because I found out the conduct of foreign policy or the search for peace, like in Srilanka, is about as neat and clean and eloquent as the making of sausage. And that is the case in almost every foreign policy endeavor so I'm not criticizing the report, I'm just making the point that it is impossible to take that chaotic situation and reduce it to a neat, clean, antiseptic situation. It doesn't exist.
Mr Armitage is President of Armitage International and a former US Deputy Secretary of State (2001– 2005). Before returning to government service in 2001, Mr Armitage was President of Armitage Associates L.C. from 1993 to 2001. From 1989 to 1993, Mr Armitage served in various high-level diplomatic positions, including as Special Emissary to King Hussein of Jordan during the 1991 Gulf War and director of US assistance to the new independent states of the former Soviet Union. Prior to this, Mr Armitage served in the Pentagon as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (1983–1989) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia and Pacific Affairs (1981–1983).
Mr Armitage currently serves as Convener of the Non-Official Group of Friends of Sri Lanka. During his time as Deputy Secretary, he led the US delegation to the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka in 2003. Mr Armitage has visited Colombo several times and continues to maintain his long-standing ties with the people and country. He graduated in 1967 from the US Naval Academy and served three combat tours in Vietnam. He has received numerous US and foreign military decorations as well as awards for distinguished public service.