Norway In Sri Lanka: A Tale Of The Failed Peace Process – Analysis


By J Jeganaathan

In September 2011 the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation ( NORAD) – a directorate under the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a report titled Pawns of Peace-‘Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2003’. This report probes two important questions: what went wrong with Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka? And what lessons does the failed Sri Lankan peace process offer to conflict resolutionists? The report fascinatingly correlates the peace process in Sri Lanka and Norway’s multiple roles as a diplomatic broker, arbiter of the ceasefire, and as a humanitarian and development funder from 1997-2003. This article reviews the findings of the report in the context of lessons to be drawn by international players.

At the outset, the report states that Norway’s role in the Sri Lankan peace process is by and large a failed mission in terms of bringing an end to the civil war. However, this is too simplistic an assumption as Norway’s role in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict is quite complex. Even though Norway was invited by the Sri Lankan government and LTTE for a mediation role and its peace initiatives were appreciated as well as acknowledged by external players, its efforts to achieve mutual resolution were derailed.

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

These effots should not be overlooked for two reasons: internationalization of the ethnic-conflict in Sri Lanka and marginalization of big regional players such as India, whose intervention in Sri Lanka had been a complete failure. Until 2003 the peace process was effectively handled by Norway and it was only after the ‘Col Karuna’s split’ that the peace process started gradually depreciating. It was an unexpected development for the Norwegians.

At the same time, the report downplays India’s crucial role in weakening the LTTE that inadvertently contributed to the attrition of the peace process. Indisputably, India is an intervening factor in the Sri Lankan ethnic-conflict which has major geostrategic and geoethnic stakes. For instance, it was the geopolitical interest that drove the then government led by Indira Gandhi to nurture the LTTE as a strategic fence against US dominance in its backyard. The same factor influenced the nature and outcome of the war in 2009 leaving India in a catch-22 situation when China and Pakistan made strategic inroads. Moreover, ever since Norway initiated the peace process, India was nonchalant towards it, and reluctant to move beyond the Sri Lankan Accord. This stand was reinforced when the UPA government came to power in 2004. It seems that personal grudges played a major role in India’s policy against the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict. This is substantiated by Brahma Challeney, a leading strategic commentator, who argued that India failed to contain Chinese and Pakistani strategic inroads into Sri Lanka.

In addition, the report makes explicit claims that “the return to power of the Indian National Congress in 2004 and declining influence of Sri Lanka on Tamil Nadu politics mean that there are fewer inhibitions on a military solution to the conflict. India thus continues to advocate for the accommodation of Tamil aspirations in Sri Lanka, but does not apply any pressure against the Rajapaksa government in relation to the military option.”

Overall, the report derives five broader lessons for peace building based on the Norwegian experience: Peace processes produce unforeseen and unintended consequences, the balance between hard and soft power, ownership approach, aid cannot be a substitute for politics and exhibits an ‘Asian model’ for conflict resolution

The most startling derivation is the failure of the liberal peace-building model of conflict resolution and the far-reaching implications of the Asian model, which, according to the report, is built on Westphalian notions of sovereignty and non-interference, a strong developmental state and a military solution for ‘terrorism’. What this report reveals about the Tamils, the intended beneficiary of the conflict, is that they became pawns in geopolitical strategic rivalry between India and China; and the Rajapaksa government exploited this situation. India will be very comfortable with the Asian model of peace-building even though it believes in liberal values because of its domestic constraints. But, in the long-run it will have an adverse impact on its human rights records.

In sum, what can India learn from the Norwegian experience? It is unfortunate that India did not have any such evaluation report after its unsuccessful IPKF mission in Sri Lanka even though it paid a huge cost. The report denotes that India should learn to derive lessons from its foreign and security policy failures. India should also have a similar evaluation report on its IPKF mission as well as on its policy during the last Eelam war. The Norwegian experience also forewarns India to think about a balanced approach combining hard and soft power resources while engaging in any peace process. If India is reluctant to learn any lessons from its own failures as well as from the Norwegian experience, it will never be able to formulate an effective foreign and security policy strategy towards Sri Lanka.

J Jeganaathan
Research Officer, IPCS
email: [email protected]


IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

15 thoughts on “Norway In Sri Lanka: A Tale Of The Failed Peace Process – Analysis

  • December 11, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Dear Mr. Jeganaathan,
    Thank you for your excellent thought about hoe the Norway Report covetedly points to the flawed Indian Foreign Policy. More than the inresolved murder of Rajiv Gandhi in way back in 1991, there are many more factors including how a cynical Sri Lankan administration easily manipulated the corrupt Indian media and politicians to accomplish a long waiting 63-year old agenda. 30 months after the conflict, it is no more a secret.

    For China and India, 40,000 is not big number. Even 300,000 in barbed wire is not large enough.
    But for the Sri Lankan Tamils, it is an unrecoverable humanitarian disaster.

    Though Norway’s intentions were good, the international community did allow Sri Lankans to wage a most unwitnessed war in Sri Lanka, unlike in Kosovo, Libya, Syria or elsewhere.

    May be, Oil is thicker than Bloood.

  • December 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm


    Two corrections above;

    -how the Norwa Report
    -unresolved murder


  • December 11, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    Pt is not correct to say that India did not make any REVIEW. Ihe review is neither transparent nor for public consumption. It is also incorrect to say that Indian Foreign Policy has failed. They have succeeded at least for the time being to check on a Liberation Movement. That is all what they can achieve for Liberation can never be suppressed completely.There was no peace process to fail. What the cochairs, India and the International Community or Globalised Establishments wanted was to finish the LTTE by any means and they have achieved that. It is only the foolish Diaspora that is expecting the same forces to deliver Liberation. It is time for the Diaspora and Eelam Tamils to find out who their Natural Allies are and develop Solidarity with them.

    In the final strategic equation, all Globalised Establishments (1%) are on one side while the Nations without State and oppressed peoples (99%) are on the other side. The 1% is ruling because they have developed the highest possible CONSENSUS among themselves while preventing the 99% from achieving any Consensus.

    It is time for the 99% to wake up.

  • December 12, 2011 at 1:23 am

    It is wrong to say India failed in it’s forign policy, in fact it was very successful for India. Because the biggest achievement Indian government achieved by the end of the war as it was, was to avoid any possibility of Tamil Nadu seperation war based on a Sri lankan base of Tamils. Regardless of who says what, it is an established fact that the Tamils in general are as racist as anything. They in general like to live exclusively and generally do not like to live with other communities, or controlled by other communities. If an Eelam was created, India knew that the next step was to split Tamil Nadu, like what happened in Pakisthan and Bangla Desh cases.

    Therefore by keeping a “quiet” state and by allowing LTTE to be crushed beyond survival, India was saved. Thanks God! India will even to the future keep tha same stance just to save India.

    • December 12, 2011 at 2:43 pm

      Dear Manjula Seneviratne,

      Your view is getting more clear when India voted in favour of SL at UNHRC.

      I your view, there is nothing wrong with Gadhafi, Assad or Mladic.

      We should continue to play cricket in Gadhafi stadium

      Thank you

      • December 12, 2011 at 5:30 pm

        Manjula Senevirathna is keen on saving India in spite of several ethnic riots and the final blacked-out mass massacre on Tamils.

  • December 12, 2011 at 7:03 am

    Which peace initiative of Norway was successful. They can have as many reports as possible, but they are not capable of running a peace process since they support one side of the conflict. Same in Ishrael/palastine case also.

  • December 12, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Manjula, how confused one can get.
    Your statements, Regardless of who says what, it is an established fact that the Tamils in general are as racist as anything.
    How thoughtless!
    Tamilnadu is to my knowledge where non Tamils have repeatedly been chief ministers. MGR from Kerala, Jayalalitha from Karnadaka, and I am told that even Karunanithi is of Telugu origin!
    Then regarding LTTE, have you forgotten that this was a liberation movement born out of Indira Gandhi’s foreign policy. Therefore one way or other it was confused Indian policy first to create a liberation movement and then to destroy it and in the process sacrifice the lives of over 150000 tamil lives in Sri Lanka!
    All what the Indian policy makers have achieved is a hostile neighbour in the south. The Singhalese always disliked Indians.( remember how a naval recruit almost succeeded in maiming Rajiv) and now they have lost even their natural allies in Eelam Tamils who totally mistrust the Indians now.

  • December 12, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    India joined S/Lanka military in killing so many tamils thereby loosing a strategic partner. As it is , India is surrounded by China, by courtsy of S/Lanka who are natural allies of China. Time will reveal the truth when India finds itself betrayed. Unfortunately you have no idea about tamil politics as it is impossible to even suggest that T.Nadu will join Eelam.

  • December 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    There were four parties in this conflict. Two major and two minor. The Sinhalease, the Tamils , India , international community. Tamils thought that truth and fairness will win at last. Sinhalease thought you can win by teaching the Tamils a good lesson. Indians thoughts that others don’t think. International community thought there is no point in thinking . All were wrong and all lost

  • December 12, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    What went wrong is a good postmortem question after one party was murdered, in addition to the Tamil civilians who were murdered en masse.
    Norway appears not to have studied the history of the internal conflict since independence and importantly the dynamics that drove the conflict. Politics is at best quite wily and in the end having served its purpose under the so-called 2002 to 2005 Peace Process during which arms were probably sold to government and the duly elected PM was sacked by a gazette notification by then President teh stage was set for her successor to abandon it unilaterally and re-start the war with yet more arms especially WMDs like napalm bombs, cluster bombs and fuel exhaustion bombs from China and Russia,the use of Pakistan’s Airforce on contract along with Chinese military jets from China, it was all too tempting not to opt for a military solution under the slightest pretext!

    The end result was that the promised 4.5B$ of aid by the IC to the NE under the Peace Porcess never materialised but handed over to governmnt

  • December 12, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    (contd)but yet unaccounted for to date!

    Norway always debriefed with India and US after every monitoring visit. As to the purpose has never been clear nor in the pub- lic domain.

    How the war was re-started after the shooting of a barber and his assistant in the north which escalated out of control after the President said it was an “accident” coinciding with the cancellation of the Peace Process and having promsied the southern electorates to re-start the war have become anecdotal with retrospect at th present time!

    So was Norway taken for a ride or was it?

  • December 13, 2011 at 12:42 am

    Many observers used to say that LTTE was very strong militarily but very weak politically. This statement should be discussed though there is no doubt that LTTE Stalemated the Genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka between 1983 and 2009.
    The military strength of LTTE is beyond doubt but on the question of Politics, LTTE was strong in the local politics of Self Determination and Self Reliance BUT it was ignorant of Geopolitics. Otherwise they would not have accepted the Co chairs as the Peace brokers because the Co Chairs were never interested in Peace anywhere ib the World at any time. In fact at the time of the CFA, I was in a country, remote from the scene and the Provincial Leader there asked me pointedly: “Do your people think that the cochairs will deliver them Liberation. My escape was that I was far away from the Country that I did not know what was happening there though I shared the same doubts.

    The unfortunate situation is that some Tamils in the Homeland and many Tamils in the Diaspora still suffer from the same ignorance of Geopolitics.

  • December 13, 2011 at 9:30 am

    It’s good idea to focus on last two years of a problem and forget the previous 30-40 years.

  • December 13, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    It is very interesting that without calling a spade a spade everybody seems to be projecting ‘philosophy’ and many other motherhood terms and phrases into this insurrection. LTTE was a terrorist and racist band of thieves who killed without any differentiation whether Tamil or any other. Just like Canada put down the Quebec separatists, the democratically elected government put down the insurrection like they did with the JVP. Majority of the Tamils used the insurrection to secure immigration to many financially prosperous countries around the world. Some of them started a business of collecting funds for the scam. Most of the money collected using extortion in many cases went into their own pockets. The conflict created job opportunities for the Western countries. Some of the corrupt Sri Lankan politicians and armed forces king pins also made money out of it. With all its misgivings the present govt of Sri Lanka led by MR found the courage and wisdom to anhilate the bastards even it cost many civilian lives who followed the dream of EElam. The investigations is still creating job opportunities for the West. Give it a rest, use your time to plant some trees :-)


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