Contemporary Conflict Resolution

November 28, 2007

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By Lt. General Denis Perera (Rtd)

Currently there seem to be diverse views on Sri Lanka’s internal conflict that can be resolved. Various opinions have been expressed in the media and debates are taking place in numerous forums as to the best solution to end the conflict.

If one looks at the contemporary situation in which the United States is currently involved in, there are certain lessons to be learned by us in Sri Lanka. The mighty United States army supported by its Navy, Air Force and Marine corps quickly and easily defeated Saddam Hussein’s forces. But the conventional war turned into a grinding occupation, a multifaceted insurgency and something very close to a civil war, the U.S. military with all its fire power and technology could not control.

Iraq territory or the population and conventional state of war was replaced by asymmetric warfare. These “new” wars, whatever they are called, are insurgency rooted, low tech and unconventional confrontations between the weak and the strong. (Incidentally, the war in Iraq has been fought over

a period longer than the American civil war 1864-1868: the first World War 1914-1918 and the second World War 1939- 1945 in which American troops were involved).
There is no way a rational but weaker competitor will confront a stronger opponent on his own terms, rather, a wise competitor will shift away from conventional military confrontations, enlarge the proverbial playing field to include the whole of society and focus on non-traditional, inexpensive and more politico psychological forms of war.

There is a belief in some segments of society that air power can deal effectively, cheaply and quickly with all types of enemy. The counter to this theory is that an adequate and properly prepared ground force is necessary to exercise control of territory and people. That is, without control of territory and people the result of air power, must be at best, transient. The experience in Afghanistan is a case in point. Despite precision bombing, air power has not been able to dislodge and defeat the Taliban fighters. Even the introduction of infantry and special forces into the equation, the small, low tech and highly motivated Taliban forces have been dislodged but not defeated.

The important point is that contemporary asymmetric irregular conflict requires more than military solutions. Contemporary conflict is multi dimensional and requires the coordinated application of all the instruments of national and international power. Astute diplomacy, not brashness as sometimes indulged in and national unity which is very much lacking are two essential ingredients in a scenario where peace and stability have to be aimed at. It has to be a “united” national commitment, sans petty bickering as presently resorted to.

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