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Sri Lanka’s Military: From Ceremonial to Professional  

Ayesha Siddiqa

Civil–military relations (CMR) in Sri Lanka are an outgrowth of its military’s primary role of defending the state against domestic insurgencies. Historically devoid of any external threat, the main role of the Sri Lankan Army, which was the only active service at the time of independence of the island state in 1948, was ceremonial. Later, when the Air Force and Navy were also established, the role of the armed forces remained limited to policing. This function grew as a result of multiple insurgencies in the south, and later, north and northeast of the country. The CMR balance is defined by Sri Lanka’s politics. Successive governments have used the armed forces as a policy tool in enforcing a political philosophy that upholds Sri Lanka’s status as a Sinhala-Buddhist state. Over the years, the state was gradually transformed from its secular and semi-European character to predominantly, Sinhala-Buddhist. This resulted in the first coup attempt in 1962 by officers that were fearful of “Sinhalization” of the state, which went against the traditions the military had inherited. While the attempt failed, the political leadership speeded up the process of changing the ethnic balance in the armed forces through increasing Sinhala intake. Other policy changes like introducing Sinhalese as the only state language went against the inherited secular structure of the state. This caused a spike in internal tension that presented itself initially as a class conflict, and later morphed into ethnic contestation between the Sinhala and Tamil populations. The internal ethnic war that was fought from the 1970s onwards solidified both the Sinhala ethnic character of the state and the military. These domestic conflicts have also defined the professionalism of the armed forces. While ensuring that the military remains under control, the civilian leadership invested both in making the armed forces professional and ethnically tilted toward the majority. This contradiction represents Sri Lanka’s politics and CMR balance. Since the 1980s with a rise in Tamil insurgency, successive governments in Colombo appreciated the need to professionalize the military to fight internal wars. More money was spent on honing the defense services’ capabilities. However, this capacity building ensured that the military and its military capacity would serve the political interest of the Sinhala elite and majority population, with little concern for the political rights of the Tamil. In this respect, Colombo’s politics is unrepresentative and its CMR balance makes for a model that can only be explained as positively favoring civilians if viewed only from the theoretician Samuel P. Huntington’s viewpoint as laid out in his book ‘The Soldier and the State’. This makes Sri Lanka’s case similar to those of other regional democracies like India where the majority ethnic group or the ruling elite partner uses the armed forces to enforce its legal and constitutional framework, which does not necessarily favor minority groups, or certain regions. Such a framework means that the CMR balance must be described as representing not a strong and stable democracy, but a weak democratic structure.


Women and Terrorism  

Mia Bloom

Women are playing an increasingly significant role in terrorism. As men are progressively targeted by security personnel, using female operatives provides terrorist organizations with a “win–win” scenario; if security forces avoid invasively searching women for fear of outraging the local conservative population (based on social norms of women’s modesty and the honor code), women are the ideal stealth operatives. If security personnel are too aggressive in searching women, they aid terrorist recruitment by outraging the men in that society and providing the terrorists with propaganda that “our women” are being violated. In most conflicts, women remain an untapped resource. Recruiting women allows terrorist organizations to access an additional 50% of the population. Attacks by females generate greater media attention than those conducted by men. This is especially relevant when media attention is one of the terrorists’ main objectives. Although women’s involvement in terrorist and extremist activities is not a recent development, their presence as frontline activists, propagandists, and recruiters is increasing around the globe.