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IS DIVERSITY MEANINGLESS? WALTER BENN MICHAELS ON SOCIAL INEQUALITY PAGES 12-13
25-YEAR STRUGGLE FOR A SEPARATE
TAMIL HOMELAND IN SRI LANKA
HERVÉ DI ROSA – ‘By aeroplane’ (1998)
What is Nato for?
Nicolas Sarkozy wanted his presidency to mark a break with the “French social model”, recently restored to its former glory by the collapse of American-style financial capitalism. So did he determine to do away with another old French tradition, national independence? Although he had never expressed such an intention in his electoral campaign and even though he later made any French reintegration in Nato’s joint military command structure conditional on strengthening European defence, Sarkozy effectively announced that General de Gaulle’s policy decision had had its day. The founder of the Fifth Republic left the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s joint military command 43 years ago, at a time when the Soviet Union held a number of European countries in its iron grip. So why – with what future wars in mind – should France decide to reverse that decision now, when the Warsaw Pact is history and many former members (Poland, Hungary, Romania and others) have joined Nato and the European Union? Is it to secure billets for 800 French officers at Nato headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia? Or to please Sarkozy’s friends in the arms industry who hope to sell more military equipment now that France is back in line? Or persuade the Americans that Sarkozy can safely be admitted to the inner circle now that Paris is no longer running its own show? It’s more likely that the Elysée hopes to take advantage of the widespread sympathy for the new US president to finally lay an unforgivable piece of French effrontery to rest. It’s the day when Paris dared take issue with all the Dr Strangeloves and the “clash of civilisations” on the question of war with Iraq; the day when many of Sarkozy’s current supporters, including the foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, disagreed with this independent stance. Most member states of the United Nations are not members of either Nato or the EU, and six EU member states (Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta, Sweden) do not belong to Nato either. But the roles of the three structures are becoming confused: the military organisation is being assigned a geographical scope and entrusted with
“stabilisation” missions for which it has no qualifications or jurisdiction. On 19 February members of the European parliament, claiming that they are slowly forming a worldwide human team (une terre sans frontières), passed a resolution (1) by a small majority (293 to 283), referring to “phenomena such as international terrorism … organised crime, cyber threats, environmental deterioration, natural disasters and other disasters” and calling for “still closer partnership” between the EU and Nato. The explanatory note appended to the resolution sums the situation up in this image: “without a military dimension, the EU is like a barking dog without teeth”. Leaving no stone unturned, the resolution also recalls our “painful history”, referring to Hitler and Munich, quotes a few lines by “Elie Wiesel, holocaust survivor”, and adds: “Wouldn’t we want someone to come to our rescue when we are crying?” US officers, however, have never had a great reputation for drying civilian tears. Neither during the war in Kosovo, nor in the Iraq war, both conducted in breach of the UN charter. But, regarding many member states at the UN, the European parliament profoundly regrets that “the doctrine of non-alignment, inherited from the cold war era, undermines the alliance of democracies”. So it is understood that “the future collective defence of the European Union” to which the French head of state is committed will be organised exclusively within the framework of the Atlantic Alliance. The Alliance will not hesitate to deploy its forces in combined civil and military missions extending far beyond the old iron curtain to the borders of Pakistan. Even within Sarkozy’s own party, two former prime ministers, Alain Juppé and Dominique de Villepin, are already worried about this change of direction – evidence enough of the risks involved in taking such a course. SERGE HALIMI TRANSLATED BY BARBARA WILSON
(1) European parliament resolution of 19 February 2009 on the role of Nato in the security architecture of the EU.
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
Gaza:the blood on Israel’s hands page 2 The new protectionism:have we learned anything from past financial crises? page 4
Workers suffer while executives hesitate over US and global car industry page 6
Controversial third term: Algeria’s President Bouteflika amends legislation to run again in April’s elections page 8
Food security focus:two perspectives on fast-changing global demand page 10
End of the auteur? Critical reflections on French New Wave film page 14
Easy Street band:has Bruce Springsteen lost his values along the way? page 15
Rural repertory: an actor’s life on the road page 16
Defeating the Tigers won’t solve the problem
In January government forces captured the Tamil Tigers’ main base and drove them into a narrow jungle area.With their truce offer dismissed,the Tigers are holding the population of northeast Sri Lanka hostage and 200,000 people remain trapped in the conflict zone
BY ERIC PAUL MEYER
By the middle of February the territory controlled by the separatist Tamil Tigers (LTTE – Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) was reduced to a pocket of land of 150 sq km on the coast near the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu (PTK). The Sri Lankan government estimates that 100,000 people are packed in to this small area, but the Red Cross puts the figure at 250,000. Between 1 January and 5 February the Tigers had lost control of their main bases in the northeast of Sri Lanka: Kilinochchi, the site of their de facto capital; Elephant Pass, which controls access to the Jaffna peninsula; Mullaitivu and Chalai, ports the Tigers used to bring in provisions and to despatch gun boats; jungle airstrips constructed in anticipation of having a stronger air force; and the bunkers from where the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran ran operations. How did the Sri Lankan army manage to take control so quickly of the Tigers’strongholds, when this group – reputed to be one of the most effective in the world – had held the army in check for a quarter of a century? There are several reasons, most of which go back to 2004-5. They include the defection of Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, alias Colonel Karuna, the former commander of the Tigers in the east; the election of Mahinda Rajapaksa as president of Sri Lanka on 17 November 2005 (a result aided by the fact the LTTE instructed Tamils not to vote); and even the tsunami of December 2004. The LTTE’s strategists underestimated the impact of these changes, deprived of the advice of their chief ideologue Anton Balasingham, who had died in London in December 2006. The LTTE broke the truce (1), staking everything on a confrontation which turned to their disadvantage. It also had difficulty increasing its numbers after Karuna defected in 2004 and refused to send new recruits to Prabhakaran’s base in the north. On top of this, young Tamils continued to emigrate, despite pressure from the LTTE to remain. The growing disparity between the LTTE’s forces (stuck at around 10-15,000 fighters) and the government troops (which increased from 100,000 to 170,000) allowed the government to progressively take back territory between 2006 and 2008. The government forces also became better trained, equipped and led. The strategy of controlling access to the sea, in order to cut off LTTE supply lines also paid off: seven ships carrying
Eric Paul Meyer is vice-president of l’Institut national de langues et civilisations orientales (Inalco) in Paris
arms were destroyed in 2008 and the Tigers’bases on the east coast were captured. This meant the Tigers were not able to complete their plan of building a strong air force for attack and transport. Links between the military and the government were strengthened by the nomination of the president’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as secretary of defence. (Rajapaksa was a retired officer who had been living in the United States.) Karuna and his associates passed on information about the location of LTTE bases to the Sri Lankan army, and India’s secret service discreetly provided intelligence, particularly naval, and training for pilots and radar operators. Israel and the US supplied sophisticated equipment. There were political factors too. Thanks to an effective propaganda campaign, the Sinhalese majority overwhelmingly supported president Rajapaksa’s policy of cracking down on the LTTE. The opposition was inaudible and the ultra-left Sinhalese nationalist party, the People’s Liberation Front (JVP), went over to the government side. The government’s deft political handling of the LTTE defectors gave Karuna and other former militants a position of authority (if not representation) at the local level. In May 2006 the European Union listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, and this was followed by the gradual withdrawal, at the request of the Tigers, of Scandinavian ceasefire monitors. Western countries that had supported the truce then took measures to prevent the Tigers’international activities, such as raising and transferring funds and trafficking arms. Finally, successive regional governments in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu failed to support the separatists, allowing Delhi – governed by the Congress Party since 2004 – to take a very hostile position. In this way the Tigers lost the image of responsible negotiators they had tried to cultivate during the truce.
Support after the tsunami
However, the Tamil diaspora has continued to support the separatist movement both politically and financially. After the tsunami, Tamils living in the West gave considerable amounts of money to the Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), which is controlled by the LTTE. This despite the efforts of their host countries, such as Canada, the United Kingdom and France, to prevent what they saw as extortion. Tamil activists in the diaspora have pursued
Continued on page 3