Saturday, March 29, 2008

Paper Presented by me at a Seminar on Conflict in Sri Lanka-Road Ahead in Colombo on March 27, 2008


Sir Arthur Clarke, the most celebrated guest citizen of Sri Lanka passed away without having his three fondest wishes fulfilled. He had wanted to establish contact with extra terrestrial beings, which, he knew, existed; he had wanted to rid humanity of dependence on fossil fuels and he had wished to see lasting peace established in his adopted land. Many of his other dreams came true and these three may well happen, but all the three appear distant at this time. On establishing peace, he observed: “Peace cannot be just wished; it requires a great deal of hard work.” Let us hope that peace comes to Sri Lanka before we see ET and set ourselves free from slavery to black gold.

If seminars, studies and debates could resolve the simmering problems in Sri Lanka, which have taken a huge toll in terms of human lives and property, it would have happened long ago. Much has been said and written by both Sri Lankans and outsiders, many peacemakers have made sincere efforts and every known method of resolving conflicts has been tried. The sum total of our experience in Sri Lanka has shown that only a change in the minds of men can lead to lasting peace in this war ravaged and tension ridden piece of Paradise.

Many of the studies and seminars, particularly by the Centre for Security Analysis, have not been in vain. The fact that they and other think tanks persist with their efforts to look for new insights and alternatives shows that they are sincere and determined to end this conflict. One particular study, “Cost of Conflict in Sri Lanka” by another think-tank confirms our suspicion that the costs of the conflict have been staggering. In every sphere of activity, the economic costs alone are huge, not to speak of loss of lives, the opportunity costs and the environmental costs. Sri Lanka of the sixties was a role model for developing nations. Some analysts have concluded that the cost of the conflict per year is 2 to 3% of the GDP per year. By 1996, the cumulative cost of the war was estimated to be 1.5 times the GDP of Sri Lanka. There are no winners in this conflict, only victims.

Speaking of the international dimensions of the conflict in Sri Lanka, it should be said in fairness to the international community that it has not been insensitive to the problems faced by this nation. Whether it is the neighbouring India or the distant Norway, whether it is the United Nations or the Commonwealth, nations and international organizations have spared no effort to bring this conflict to an end. That those efforts were rebuffed, often with tragic consequences, proved that the problems were deep and extremely complex. But it is unconscionable to abandon peace efforts, as a military solution would not be attainable. Only a negotiated solution, which takes into account the legitimate aspirations of all Sri Lankan citizens, can be durable and the international community has the responsibility to urge and assist such a solution.

The Sri Lankan Ambassador to the US said recently that no other country in the world in a similar situation has given greater access to foreign individuals, nations and international organizations than Sri Lanka has done. This is an acknowledged fact. The successive Governments in Sri Lanka have thrown open the doors of the country to those they thought would be of help, without asserting the point that these are matters of domestic jurisdiction, in which the outside world had no business to get involved. All the parties concerned have traveled long distances in the quest for peace. Even today, though the Government has taken a position that it will not allow stationing of foreigners in the island, it has not closed its doors to foreign ideas and assistance to establish peace. I have no doubt that the Nobel Peace Prize is waiting to be awarded to any one who can find the magic formula which can bring peace to Sri Lanka.

The role of the international community is essentially limited as the conflict is domestic in origin and has to be resolved domestically. As Prof. G.L.Peiris observed at a CSA seminar in Chennai: “We have to remember at all times that this is our problem and there is no question of abdicating responsibility and blaming the international community when things go wrong. That is an irresponsible attitude. Our friends can help us, the solution is in our own hands because this is our problem and as a nation we have to formulate a solution with the assistance of the international community.”

An analysis of the previous efforts at internationalization and direct external intervention, particularly by India in the eighties, shows the validity of Prof Peiris’s assertion. India’s intervention was, in a way, aimed at preventing excessive internationalization of the issue. If the accord of 1987 had succeeded, the history of Sri Lanka would have been different. India paid a heavy price for the failure of the accord and decided not to involve directly in the conflict any more. But it has not tried to prevent other international efforts to facilitate a peace process. The most recent abrogation of the ceasefire agreement has once again demonstrated the limitations of any external role. The external role is further constrained by the fact that many countries see one of the parties as a terrorist group.

But the international community can neither ignore nor remain a silent witness to the conflict in Sri Lanka. At the very least, it has to alleviate the suffering of the people and be ready to rebuild the devastated areas as soon as the situation permits it to do so. The way India went to give medical and other assistance to the tsunami victims in the North-East was much appreciated even by the warring factions.

In a situation where the traditional methods of peace making and peace keeping are not possible by the United Nations, the international community can only urge Sri Lankans to make use of the vast experience it has gained in other areas and to abide by the norms, standards and ground rules set by the United Nations over the years. The concepts that surface again and again in the discussions on the Sri Lankan situation are self-determination, democracy, non –violence, human rights, development, disarmament and terrorism. None of these concepts is either new or unique to Sri Lanka. Their characteristics and scope have been debated in the United Nations either in the abstract or in the context of a particular conflict or another. International consensus or near consensus exists on many of these concepts and the best that the international community can do is to urge the parties in Sri Lanka to abide by these norms. The international community will support the country during and after the conflict if it is confident that the norms have been followed.

Take, for instance, the concept of self-determination. While it is asserted as a right of all peoples, it was clarified in the early days of the UN that it applied only to people under colonial occupation or alien domination. A people exercises self-determination in a particular moment in history and once a sovereign nation is born, sections of that nation has no right to claim the right to self determination. The whole concept of the sovereign state will be undermined by repeated exercises in self-determination. Similarly, the international community has identified the features of a democratic society, even if local variations have developed. The possibility for the entire population to participate in elections and the government is the fundamental feature that cannot be compromised. At the same time, all violence stands condemned by the international community.

Human rights have been the subject of extensive deliberations and standard setting by the international community. Violations of the fundamental freedoms of citizens by states have been condemned worldwide and there are norms of behaviour by the states even while dealing with law and order situations. Extra-judicial killings, illegal detentions and torture are not permissible in any circumstances. No civilized nation should violate human rights of its people even in the face of provocations. But at the same time, politicization of human rights and violation of human rights by organized groups or terrorists also stand condemned.

Terrorism has been recognized globally as the worst kind of crime against humanity as it takes different forms and manifestations. Although an international convention on terrorism is yet to take shape, there are several seminal conventions on terrorist activities of various kinds. In an earlier phase, there was a tendency to exclude liberation struggles from the purview of terrorism, but today there is universal recognition that there is no such thing as “good terrorism”. To use indiscriminate force to destroy innocent lives and property in order to secure political advantages is to engage in the worst form of terrorism. States too cannot engage in terrorist activities of any kind. Some see even the examination of “root causes” of terrorism as justification of terrorism.

These are some of the issues on which the international community has clear and definite views. As long as the parties to the conflict act within the framework of these norms, they can be assured of the support of international community. The confidence of the Government that the country is at the threshold of a decisive phase in her contemporary history is welcome and as long as the norms are observed, nobody will point fingers or preach from the pulpit. As Jehan Pereira observed just the other day, the need for preservation of Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity, the inadmissibility of terrorism and the impracticability of a military solution are the messages that lie behind the mixed signals that emanate from the international community.

Thank you

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Talbott is right: so is Sinha

By T.P.Sreenivasan

In an uncharacteristically convoluted manner, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott told a news channel that the NDA Government was ready to settle for much less than what had been offered by the Bush Administration to the UPA Government in the form of a nuclear deal. “I think that what the Clinton Administration has been prepared to offer the BJP-led Government that we were dealing with, the deal that President Bush was willing to make with Manmohan Singh and company, the Indian side would have gone for it”, he said. The statement is hypothetical as the Clinton Administration did not offer any such deal, but the public record would corroborate Talbott’s claim in substance. Talbott’s “Engaging India” and Jaswant Singh’s “A Call to Honour” differ on the details as to what each tried to achieve in their marathon talks, but both agree that the “village” that they sought to find was not a comprehensive agreement, but an understanding on each other’s concerns, arising out of India’s tests. But if they had the opportunity to build a house once they reached the village, they would have gone for it.

Talks with the United States became imperative when the Clinton Administration imposed the Glenn Amendment sanctions over and above the technology denial regime that had already existed. Though Jaswant Singh never conceded that his immediate objective was to return to the pre-May 1998 situation, Talbott made no secret of the conditions or “benchmarks” India had to reach to set it free from the new sanctions. The Glenn Amendment was entirely uncharted waters and the way it operated sent shock waves across India. Apart from trade and financial restrictions, the so-called people sanctions threatened to undermine even the visa system. Several Indian scientists had to leave and others, like Dr.R.Chidambaram, were denied even visitors’ visa. American officials decided to err on the side of overdoing the sanctions regime. There was a palpable sense of emergency in the air in Washington, when anxious Indian Americans lost sleep over their visa status. The Jaswant Singh-Talbott talks were, therefore, seen in India and the U.S as a modality for getting the Glenn Amendment sanctions lifted.

Talbott’s benchmarks were clearly spelt out publicly. They consisted of India’s signature on the CTBT, India’s agreement to negotiate a permanent ban on the production of fissile material and, in the interim, a freeze on further production, a strategic restraint regime, a stricter export control regime and improvement in India-Pakistan relations. The U.S. expected that these reasonable benchmarks would be accepted in return for the reward in the form of sanctions relief and a Presidential visit. But India, without rejecting any of the conditions outright, kept developing theories on each of them, as though we were willing to do some of them as part of our own scheme of things at our own pace. We were tantalizingly close to making our de facto commitment not to test into a de jure undertaking, we had no problem with entering negotiations on an FMCT, we had an open mind on export control and we were more than willing to normalize relations with Pakistan. It was only on the question of strategic restraint that there was no meeting point.

No nuclear deal like the kind President Bush offered to India was on the table, but India’s anxiety to build new bridges with the United States and the new confidence that India had demonstrated in the talks should lead to the logical conclusion that India would have moved to a nuclear deal if such a deal was on offer. But the fact is that the two sides had a more limited objective of returning to the pre-May 1998 position.

Talbott’s contention is also based on the efforts made by the NPA Government to move further on the nuclear front with the Bush Administration. Jaswant Singh states that the document signed in January 2004, the ‘Next Steps in Strategic Partnership’ (NSSP) had been planned during his time as Foreign Minister. It was under the aegis of NSSP that the two countries began talking about the sale of civilian nuclear technology, joint space exploration, missile defence and high technology trade. Jaswant Singh has expressed satisfaction that it was on the foundations laid by him that the nuclear deal was constructed by the Bush Administration and the UPA Government. It is also well known that it was the NDA Government that had first mooted the idea of additional nuclear installations being subjected to IAEA inspection in return for civilian nuclear co-operation. On the basis of this, it was logical for Talbott to assume that the NDA Government would have accepted the present deal or even something less. He had read the minds of his interlocutors correctly.

It was not Jaswant Singh, but Yashwant Sinha, who reacted to Talbott. Without the burden of history on him, he said in a straightforward fashion that “we had no discussion on the current lines of the current nuclear deal or the 123 Agreement’ with the Clinton Administration. This was absolutely correct. He was also correct in asserting that “there was no draft of the kind like the 123 Agreement of the present Government”. But when he went on to say that “in our time, as all the evidence will show, we were discussing peripheral issues like safety of nuclear plants etc’, he was way off the mark. How could Jaswant Singh claim that he planted the seed for today’s tree if only peripheral issues were under consideration?

Indeed, both Talbott and Sinha are right in their own ways. They represent two former Governments, who aspired to reach an agreement on nuclear issues, but could not make it on account of force of circumstances. But it is hard for politicians to rise above politics. It takes statesmen to see beyond political expediency and accept what is in the best interests of their countries.
The “Unclear” Deal

By T.P.Sreenivasan

(Former Ambassador of India and Governor of IAEA)

After two years of the most extensive and exhaustive debate nationally and internationally, no one seems to be clear about the prospects of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal of 2005. The UPA Government, which piloted the deal with gusto till August 2007 and performed a negotiating feat by finalizing a bilateral agreement with the US (the 123 agreement) and appeared to be prepared to go down with it, if necessary, has suddenly lost momentum. The BJP, which initiated a new strategic partnership with the US and prepared the ground for the deal, wants it renegotiated, with no certainty that they can get a better deal. The left, with its abhorrence of possible US domination on account of the deal, blows hot and cold. For the first time in Indian history, India is in no position to operationalise an international agreement, which has been approved by its cabinet. The path ahead is unclear for the nuclear deal.

Except for a few fanatics, who think that India can do without nuclear energy in the future, no one believes that India can afford to continue its international isolation as a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). We know that we decided many years ago that the energy mix for India in the future will have nuclear energy as an important component. We also know that our civilian nuclear programme cannot be sustained at a level commensurate with our current economic growth unless we have access to fuel and technology from abroad. We know, therefore, that we need to have a deal of some kind at some time in the near future with the nuclear weapon states. In fact, India’s diplomatic efforts since 1974 have been directed towards securing such a deal without signing the NPT. Till 2005, the prospects for such a deal were gloomy, particularly after India defied international opinion and declared itself a nuclear weapon state. Any Government of India in the future, regardless of its ideology, will have to seek an accommodation with the international non-proliferation regime. What is unclear is the price we are willing to pay for such an accommodation.

For Indian diplomats, who have been engaged in disarmament negotiations for several years, the Indo-US Joint Statement of July 18, 2005 was a dream come true. President Clinton, with all his goodwill for India, could not go beyond setting aside the nuclear issue and proceeding with co-operation in other areas, but President Bush showed an alternative to the NPT route for India to end its nuclear isolation. India virtually won nuclear weapon state status with the same rights and obligations as the other nuclear weapon states. In return, India reaffirmed its moratorium on testing; it agreed to separate the Indian military and civilian nuclear facilities and place the civilian facilities under IAEA inspection and abide by the internationally accepted norms for export control and fissile material production. The balance of rights and obligations in the Statement ensured that we had a non-discriminatory regime in place. Against the backdrop of the bitter arguments of 31 years, the deal looked the best that we could ask for.

But a mix of ignorance, fear of the United States and undue optimism about our own capabilities ignited protests against the deal in India and the blind believers in non-proliferation in the United States and elsewhere raised a hue and cry. Both the Governments were pressured by their respective constituencies to become rigid, if not backtrack on the initial agreement. In India, it was the scientific community, unaccustomed to external inspections, which raised questions. The issue of the theoretical possibility of testing by India was raised repeatedly, making India suspect in the eyes of the world. They argued that the separation plan was expensive and unrealistic and that India’s deterrent as well as its fast breeder programme would be jeopardized by the deal. The non-proliferation Ayatollahs in the US created the Hyde Act of the US Congress, with the objective of constraining the Administration to put forward caveats of a political nature. The cumulative effect of these debates was that the Indian and US negotiators had their hands and feet tied as they sat down to negotiate the enabling 123 Agreement.

It is a tribute to the negotiating skills of the Indian diplomats and the willingness of the US to go more than half way that the 123 agreement was successfully negotiated. The contentious issues of testing and reprocessing were resolved for the purposes of the agreement, even though doubts remained on both these issues. India has the right to test, but the US has the right to react! The reprocessing scenario is far from clear as the modalities are yet to be worked out.

The Government genuinely believed that the agreement would move forward to the IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) before being submitted to the US Congress. But the bomb shell came not from the IAEA or the NSG, but from the leftist members of the UPA coalition when they demanded that the agreement should not be operationalised as they saw the grave danger of US hegemony in it. It is not clear as to why they chose to oppose the deal only after the agreement was reached with the US. They felt, perhaps, that the US would not agree to the features we were seeking in the agreement and, therefore, remained silent. The Government was unaware of the strong feelings in the minds of the Left and tried to call their bluff only to find that the Left was willing to bring the Government down on this issue. The UPA relented in the end and virtually put the agreement in the cold storage. Not that it loved the nuclear deal less: it loved power more. In any event, if they gave up power, the deal would have also fallen by the wayside.

The “unclear” deal will have to wait for better times when we have a Government which has the ability to implement agreements it negotiates with foreign governments. But it remains to be seen in what circumstances and under what conditions the deal will be operationalised. It is a deal, which is good for India, good for the US and good for the world. But it has to be acceptable to the members of the ruling coalition in India. In a democracy, the crucial test is not the merits of the issue, but its perception by the majority.

Monday, March 17, 2008


January 27, 2008
Lecture at the Civil Service Academy, Trivandrum

January 31, 2008
Inauguration of Angloscape Workshop, Trivandrum

February 7, 2008
Valedictory Address, Trivandrum Management Association

February 8, 2008
Friday Club Meeting of KIC with HE David Malone, Canadian High Commissioner

February 12, 2008
Valedictory Address Seminar on Clobalisation, Ethnicity and Terrorism in South India
University of Kerala, Trivandrum

February 14, 2008
President, Anniversary of Sree Chithra Memorial School, Chirayinkil

February 17, 2008
Kerala Launch of my two books by the Maharaja of Travancore, Trivandrum Club

February 21-27, 2008
Commission of Eminent Persons, IAEA, Vienna

February 27, 2008
Inaugural Address, Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation
Seminar on Central Asia, Trivandrum

March 2, 2008
Pondicherry University
Inaugural Address Seminar on India and the EU.

March 6, 2008
Alliance Francais, Trivandrum
Lecture on India and the European Union

March 9, 2008
Inauguration of the Janasakthi Convention, Calicut

March 11, 2008
Meeting of the SCAP India Committee, ICWA, New Delhi

March 12, 2008
Release of a book by VSSNair, Institution of Engineers, Trivandrum

March 14, 2008
Friday Club Meeting of the KIC on MYANMAR