Comment on Norwegian evaluation of their peace efforts in SL


By Neville Ladduwahetty

The report commissioned by the Norwegian Government titled "Pawns of Peace – Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka 1997- 2009 answers some of the questions sought by the Sri Lankan Government’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). The key answers sought by the LLRC were: "The facts and circumstances which led to the failure of the ceasefire agreement operationalized on 21st February, 2002…; Whether any person, group or institution directly or indirectly bear responsibility in this regard; The lessons we could learn from those events…".

The Norwegian report was prepared by the Christian Michelsen Institute (CMI), Bergen, and the School of Oriental and African studies (SOAS), University of London. UK. According to Mr. Kumar Rupasinghe, one of the largest beneficiaries of the Norwegian Government ($6 million from 2004-2008) CMI "receives 80% of their funds from the Norwegian Government"(Daily Mirror, November 17, 2011). It could be concluded that the SOAS also received funding for its contribution to the report. Under these circumstances, this was an internal evaluation by the Norwegian Government, the only difference being that the task itself was outsourced.


In answer to the query in the mandate to the LLRC, the Norwegian Report (NR) in its Executive Summary states: "The Sri Lankan peace process is largely a story of failure in terms of bringing an end to the civil war. Norway however, cannot be held responsible for this ultimate failure…"(The Island, November 12, 2011). However reluctant Norway may be to accept responsibility, the factors attributed for the failure such as lack of commitment on the part of the government and the LTTE; structural features of the Sri Lankan state and politics; a short window of opportunity; and changes in the international positioning, reflect a level of unawareness by Norway of its own limitations, brought home starkly by the admission that Monitoring Mission members engaged by them were surprised that items such as computers could be bought in Sri Lanka.

Despite its reluctance to do so, Norway has to take responsibility for its ignorance of the Sri Lankan scene. What Norway has to ask itself is: If it was aware of the lack of commitment on the part of the government and the LTTE and/or of the structural features of the political scene in Sri Lanka and the limited time frame in which to achieve tangible results, would Norway have embarked on this enterprise? It is one thing to now admit that there were "a number of important weaknesses", but what about the cost to generations of Sri Lankans? It was the weaknesses in the provisions for enforcement in the Norwegian-designed CFA that enabled the LTTE to build up its military capability to a level capable of balancing power with the Sri Lankan state, and engage in a conventional armed conflict that caused thousands to perish. Norway has to take full responsibility for the consequences of war that followed the failed CFA; consequences that would not have happened had the capabilities of the LTTE remained what it was prior to the CFA.


Despite the claim that the CFA was "one of the main Norwegian accomplishments" it was the weaknesses in the CFA that gave opportunities for the LTTE to build up its de-facto status. It was the CFA that recognized the LTTE as a "party to the conflict" and identified areas as "LTTE controlled areas", thereby giving it legitimacy. The report acknowledges the fact that "The peace process …had a discernable enabling effect on the ties between the LTTE and its proxies in the Tamil diaspora. Tiger delegations visited Tamil hubs in the Western cities and émigrés returned to the Vanni to witness (and contribute to) the de facto, state-like institutions of Tamil Eelam".

The intervention by Norway and the introduction of the CFA contributed immeasurably to boost the morale of the LTTE and their supporters, and to commit themselves to the task of achieving their political goal of a separate state via militarily means. The choice for the Government was to yield to the notion of an unwinnable war, or to prepare to decisively win the war and end the conflict. The consequences of the choice made by the Government had a cost in terms of blood and treasure. However, this would not have been the case had the conflict remained a low intensity war as it had been prior to the CFA. Therefore, in terms of lives lost per se, the CFA cannot be considered a "Norwegian accomplishment" because the window of opportunity provided during the CFA enabled the LTTE to take the conflict to a much higher level of intensity.

The increase in lives lost brought on by intervention of the sort deployed by NATO in Libya demonstrates the consequences of high intensity conflict. The justification given for NATO’s intervention in Libya was to ‘save lives’. However lofty the intentions may have been, the stark reality is that over 50,000 died as a result of the measures adopted and the support given to the Transitional Government of Libya by NATO. In the case of Syria on the other hand, there has been no external intervention thus far. The conflict has been limited to the scale and scope of the rebel forces. Consequently, due to the low intensity of the conflict the number of lives lost is reported to be 3500 over the last 8 months. The lesson from these experiences is that opportunities to up the intensity level of a conflict invariably results in more deaths; a fact demonstrated daily in Afghanistan. Perhaps, the cost of high intensity conflict was not anticipated by Norway at the time the CFA in Sri Lanka was conceptualized. Whether it did or not, however, Norway has to take full responsibility by sharing the cost of reparations because it clearly facilitated the intensifying of the conflict.


The two key questions in the mandate to the LLRC were: What led to the failure of the CFA and who were responsible for its failure? While disclaiming sole responsibility for the failure of the CFA the NR claims that Norway’s involvement resulted in "several intermediate achievements" notwithstanding the fact that the peace process was "largely a story of failure" in terms of ending the war. The report acknowledges that "Unlike in other countries, Norway operated as a sole mediator".

As a mediator, Norway should have realized that the effectiveness of the CFA depended on the effectiveness of the Monitoring Mission. According to the NR, the Mission was composed of Nordic personnel who had never been to Sri Lanka and consequently were totally unfamiliar with the Sri Lankan scene. Furthermore, their task was limited to only monitoring violations without authority to enforce within a field of vision limited to the "north-east and the Vanni... As a result the concentration of military power and channels of military build- up escaped its gaze" . The cumulative effect of these weaknesses coupled with the admission that "The diplomatic skills of some of the staff were a source of concern", collectively contributed to the failure of the CFA. Therefore, as mediators Norway has to take full responsibility for what followed by way of the challenges the Government had to overcome in order to neutralize the LTTE without which the civilians could not be saved.

It was the ineffectiveness of the composition and terms of reference of the Monitoring Mission that facilitated the build-up of the military capabilities of the LTTE and caused the conflict to escalate to levels making it impossible to contain the extent of death and destruction that was to follow. In addition the inability to recognize weakness in the arrangements due to unfamiliarity of the cultural and political formations in Sri Lanka led Norway to plan and expect outcomes that were not realistic. The cost to Sri Lanka as a consequence of Norway not recognizing its limitations is a burden that future generations in Sri Lanka would have to bear. The lesson for Norway is to explore how best to ease this burden. The lesson for others contemplating engagement in peace efforts anywhere in the world is that it is imperative that they first fully study and understand the complexities of the situations involved before treading water. Good intentions by themselves are not enough.

Intervention, whether militarily or in the form of mediators fails to factor in the cost of unintended consequences, the most important of which is the number of lives lost. This was the case whether it was the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or Sri Lanka. The cost of intervention by India due to pressure from Tamil Nadu prevented the conflict in Sri Lanka from being concluded in the mid 1980s. The result was to extend the conflict by over two decades at the cost of thousands dead and many thousands wounded majority of whom were Tamil , together with an albatross of a political package from which Sri Lanka cannot extricate itself. India too must bear its share of responsibility for what followed. The lesson from all this experience to the International Community is the urgent need to revisit and reevaluate the costs of intervention justified on the basis of R2P – Responsibility to Protect.

animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...