Sri Lankan Army selling vegetables. Photo: Ministry of Defence – Sri Lanka

War or internal armed conflict in the North and East was over; Emergency is no more; but still the military is everywhere. The military is now engaged in peacetime police-work, whale watching, selling vegetables, agriculture,  cleaning, constructions and many other non-military activities. Yet why isn’t there sufficient public debate on this? In this article I endeavor to briefly analyze some of the issues that need attention in the public interest.

Engaging the military for non-military duties is regulated under the law. For example s.23 of the Army Act authorizes the President to order all or any of the member of the Regular Forces to perform certain non-military duties, provided the President is satisfied that there is an immediate threat of action to deprive the people of Sri Lanka of essentials of life by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel or light or with means of transport and communication.  The non-military actions are also strictly limited to ensure continuous supply of essentials. Subject to that exception, as stated in s. 19(1) of the Army Act, the functions of the Army are limited to:

(a)  Defence of Sri Lanka in times of War
(b)  Prevention or suppression of any rebellion, insurrection or other civil disturbance in Sri Lanka.

In addition, the Public Security Ordinance authorizes the President to call out the military for the maintenance of public order. Not for any other non military work.  Sri Lankan military has defeated the LTTE that was waging war against the State. At present, there is no question of a breakdown of supply of essentials in the country nor is there war or rebellion. In that context, in my view, engaging the military on non-military duties are ultra vires or, in simple terms, without any legal basis.

But the issue is much wider in scope. To take this debate forward, let us look at the countries that had powerful military establishments and faced huge wars, on the scale of a world war. What did they do after the conclusion of the war?  Post-World War II period was marred by a series of strikes within the armed forces in Allied Forces, particularly those stationed in the Middle East, South East Asia and India. There is literature on American military personnel based in occupied Germany holding mass parades for speedier demobilization. In India, thousands of Royal Air Force servicemen wanted demobilization and in fact, went on strike. Prime Minister Clement Attlee was presented with a petition by India-stationed servicemen that stated:

“We have done the job we joined up to do. Now we want to get back home, both for personal reasons and because we think it is by work that we can best help Britain. No indication has been given of when we will see our families again. Is it because the government wishes to talk tough with other powers?” (Wikipedia)

Similar examples can be drawn from other parts of the world. The established practice in the military is to recruit a large number of personnel for a war and to send them home after the job is done. This exercise is called “demobilization”. This is a well-known practice and there is a law/practice governing the demobilization. That does not mean that the soldiers who fight a war are discarded but they are sent back for civil employment and civil life so that from that point onwards they cease to be military personnel. There are transition benefits for those who worked in the forces. Once demobilized, they are not governed by regimented rules of a military then.

According to statistics, five million soldiers across the world have lost their jobs since 1990 until about 2000: the end of the Cold War resulted in defence budget cuts and the downsizing of defence forces. Internationally, personnel in armed forces have been reduced from 29 million in 1987, to 24.1 million in 1994 (Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), 1996:144).  Though the data is not available, there is no doubt that the decade beginning 2000 marked  similar number or  move  demobilizations all over.

There is no difference in the situation where there were internal armed conflicts when all sides strengthened their own military by recruiting thousands of unemployed youths. When the conflicts were over, there were efforts to demobilize the government forces as well as armed groups. Details of these demobilizations are in public domain and, in fact, these details are used by those countries proudly to tell the international community that they are no longer a militarized society or a military government. Undoubtedly, the form of demobilization in each country involves a distinct political, economic and social environment. Data maintained at the Bonn International Center for Conversion is revealing:

  1. El Salvador — 30,000 soldiers  were demobilized between 1992 and mid-1993;
  2. Guatemala — 24,000 ‘military commissioners’ were demobilized in September 1996 and demobilized  fully ‘Voluntary Civil Defense Committees’
  3. Haiti — 6,250 soldiers were demobilized between 1994 and  1996
  4. Nicaragua — the national (Sandinista) armed forces demobilized  65,000 soldiers between the end of the 1980s and 1992.
  5. Mozambique — 70,000 soldiers of the government forces and 20,000 of the Renamo opposition forces were demobilized in 1992-1994
  6. Uganda — 36,350 soldiers were demobilized between1992 and  1995
  7. South Africa — an integration of seven armed forces into the new South African National Defense Force (SANDF) took place initially and then the demobilization of about 30,000 armed forces took place thereafter

We did not see similar demobilization of our army after the successful conclusion of the war in the North and East. Why?

For a population of a little over 20 million in Sri Lanka, we have a total military strength of approximately 200,000 and a police force (including STF) of around 75,000. That means the law enforcement/military density (or ratio to population) is about 80 to 1. To understand this in proper context, the total population has able people as well as  the minor children and elders. Tuus, there is a heavy burden on the government to justify retaining a military of this magnitude. The burden is heavier when our country is debt-ridden  and when basic needs are not met at satisfactory level.  Understandably during a war, one can always justify spending large and disproportionate amounts for the military but can you apply the same standards for justification when there is no war?  Paul Collier[1] in a celebrated article on war and military expenditure reveals that the global average for military spending is around 3.5% of the GDP, but ranges from virtually zero, to an astonishing 45%. He says that following five factors are driving these large differences and probably items number 2 and 5 below  are worth emphasizing;

  1. Active international warfare
  2. Peacetime military budget inertia
  3. Neighborhood effect (arms races)
  4. Internal rebellion or civil war
  5. Beneficiaries and vested interest

What is the purpose of keeping a huge military in a country in the absence of a war or an armed conflict? What we see from the national budget and expenditure is that despite the war being over, the huge defense budget continues. To make things worse, militarization of the society has firmly gained ground.  This needs to be examined closely, in the public interest.

Let us not get lost with the meaning of the term “militarization”? The often quoted definitions are as follows:

  1. “an extension of military influence to civilian spheres, including economic and socio-political life” (Marek Thee).
  2. “direct military intervention in the people’s lives and behaviour or indirect structural involvement in political and economic affairs (increasing military expenditures at the expense of civilian needs, military-oriented industries, a reliance on military force in internal and external political affairs, etc). Militarization will then denote the spread of military values (discipline and conformity, centralization of authority, the predominance of hierarchical structures, etc.) into the mainstream of national economic and socio-political life” (Jim Zwick).

If we look around our society, business, administration, dominant religion and any other matter of public importance, military influence is excessive and amply visible. Let me ask a few questions: Can you hold a peaceful meeting in Jaffna, without clearance from the army? Can there be any major infrastructural development in the North and East without the clearance from the Ministry of Defense? How many military personal (serving or retired) have been appointed to key positions including diplomatic and administrative posts? How many constructions of non-military buildings are done by the army in Colombo? Let us not forget that Military has all types of resources including personnel, equipment, supplies and other facilities such as intelligence. The lead news item in one of the main Sinhala papers (RAVAYA dated 30thOct 2011) reported that the military intelligence was behind the journalists who pass information about the Defense Secretary and the Military, onto foreign websites. Is that a legitimate objective of the military?

Daily News (11th Oct 2011) quoted Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya said that the Sri Lanka Army is rendering a similar service in the resettlement drive as it did during the humanitarian operation. It further said that the Army is also involved in many other development projects in the North and East and in other parts of the country in support of the government’s development efforts. He asserted that the time has come to speed up the country’s development process and rebuilding of our nation. How valid this statement in terms of professionalism? Let me leave few thoughts for you from Dan Murphy of the Canadian Forces Colleges, whose research publication on military ethics, ethos and professionalism on Canadian forces commences with the following words:

“Like every other national institution, the Canadian Forces (CF) reflects the society it serves. Ways of acting, organizing, and thinking in both military and civilian life are causes, as well as consequences, of the ethical standards each assumes. Such standards eventually become translated into behaviour, and when such behaviour suggests the collapse of moral restraint and discipline in the military itself, some questioning of society’s influence on the military is in order.”

There is no secret that in Sri Lanka the military plays a major role in shaping the national policy and decision making in many areas including the field of education, foreign relations and development. When reading Hanzard, one wonders whether the defence authorities are above the parliament. Can the military be the policy/decision maker, directly or indirectly in shaping a democratic nation? Whenever the military cross the boundary into non military issues such as policy, there is a question of separation of powers, military ethics and constitutional governance. We must remind ourselves of a cardinal principle called “civilian control of military, which is a doctrine known to the military and the social scientists. The brief meaning of this doctrine is that the ultimate responsibility for a country’s strategic decision making is in the hands of the civilian political leadership, rather than military officials or defence establishment. One time a controversial writer, later turned to be a respected philosopher who wrote the highly cherished respected writing “The Soldier and the State”, has stated the civilian control ideal as “the proper subordination of a competent, professional military to the ends of policy as determined by civilian authority”. . Those who advocate the civilian control often say “War is serious a matter to entrust to military men” (Georges Clemenceau). Obviously, the rest cannot be left to the military too. The military serves as a special government agency which is supposed to implement, rather than formulate, policies that require the use of certain types of physical force. “The point of civilian control is to make security subordinate to the larger purposes of a nation, rather than the other way around. The purpose of the military is to defend society, not to define it”-Kohn (Wikipedia).

People the world over often try to compare the military with the business sector. This is a complex issue but the fundamentals will clarify the position. Dr. David L. Perry, Professor of Ethics of US Army War College, delivering a keynote address at a conference on Corporate Social Responsibility and Value Based Management, made a valuable contribution on this topic. I reproduce below four of the several main points he urged here:

  1. The “social contract” of the military is violated if it usurps constitutional limits. Thus whatever loyalty military organizations foster among their members must be subordinated to loyalty to the nation and commitment to preserve its constitution. The use of force by the military is also limited by just-war principles of discrimination and proportionality, which are intended to minimize harms to the noncombatants.
  2. The military places a premium on hierarchy, and inculcates strong habits of obedience to superior officers on the part of those who enter that profession. Obedience is often fully willing: soldiers and officers can feel tremendous trust in and respect for their commanders. But soldiers must also be encouraged and trained to refuse to obey clearly unethical or illegal orders, and enabled to do so without retribution.
  3. Both military officers and business executives seek to be admired as leaders and to be effective and responsible stewards of the people and resources entrusted to them. Military and business cultures both have their respective moral heroes whose stories are told to inspire integrity (in addition to promoting social acceptance of their vocations).
  4. Leaders in both the military and business must be aware of the dangers of “management by objective”: if subordinates are told only what outcomes they must achieve in order to be rewarded, and not how to do so ethically, serious problems are likely to occur. The stress on body count during the Vietnam War by Pentagon officials led to indiscriminate killing of noncombatants.  (A common saying among American soldiers at the time was, “If it’s Vietnamese and it’s dead, it must be Viet Cong.”)  Pressures by corporate executives on their subordinates to meet sales objectives or cut costs can lead to unethical tactics that can harm customers, stockholders, and other employees.

These remarks point to the importance of ethical approach in the military in their affairs. This is certainly valid for us, when the military is invited or dragged into non-military affairs. Due to the command structure of a military, all subordinate officers and soldiers tend to take the command on the face value and just deliver “the objective”, even if it is not permissible. Under our Constitution, military is part of the Executive. All organs of the state, including the Judiciary and Parliament have different roles to play. Thus, the constitutional limitations are equally applicable to the military and the defense establishment. In short, it is not the function of the military to attend to non-military functions or to use military  resources  for non-military activities.  Naturally, when the military is engaged in non-military actions, they are dictated to by discriminatory and politically motivated elements. By engaging the military for totally non-military work, the social acceptance of the military will diminish, not to mention integrity of the military.

In recent times, the justification for using the military for non-military activities was sought on the ground that the military (or war heroes who liberated the country) should not be redundant and that they should be active partners of development. Thus, they say, using the military for reconstruction and other developmental activities are justified. In my view, this is totally misconceived and self-destructive argument.  Economic development is not part of the military profession except in military states or authoritarian regimes.  Armed forces are not revenue earning agencies of the government nor are they self funded or autonomous institutions outside the state authority. The civil administration, public and private sectors are poised to engage in development work. Parliament is vested with authority to oversee the financial allocations because the government is using public finances. One of the main objectives of a political leadership is to ensure proper engagement of civil administration and private sectors for the development of the country.

Another argument put forward by those who justify the retention of a huge military outfit is that though the war is over, it is too early to reduce the army because the LTTE is still active. This is a military issue beyond my comprehension. However, as a citizen, I do not think the government can remove Emergency and then take a contradictory position that there is a threat to the nation.  On the other hand, if and when there is a real threat, government can always legitimately mobilize the army.

The final point I wish to make is an obvious and simple constitutional issue. Even the military is not the private property of the government or a political leader. It belongs to the public and is run on public finances. The government holds all public resources, agencies and institutions, including the military in trust for the public. Therefore, expenditure on the military should also be lawfully justified and thus there must be a nexus between such expenditure and the primary purpose of having the military. Therefore, there is no justification whatsoever for the financial allocation to the defence establishment for non-military activities.  If the military is used for such an objective, naturally there is no accountability and is beyond its constitutional limitations.

Though sensitive, these issues are staring at us and compelling us to find solutions through open but courageous debates.

[1] The Economics of Peace and Security Journal Vol.1 No. (2006),

  • “According to statistics, five million soldiers across the world have lost their jobs since 1990 until about 2000”

    So that’s a good thing?

    There is a diff between SL solders and solders who went to WW. Many were recruited by force by the government so the must be let go by the government once their jobs are done. In many cases they had their own jobs and lives to go back to after the war. In SL most people join army due to economic reasons. Being in the forces is their jobs/profession. If you lay them off there will be bigger problems.

    Your analysis in other countries is not deep enough and not relevant to SL. May be you should take a look at what happened in those societies/economies once the solders are demobilized in those countries.

    This country has had enough problems with deserted solders getting involved with crime. If we dump a large number of solders to a already bad economy, how do you think it will play out. While they are in the jobs government must get them involved in economic activities to justify the cost spent on them.

    Also most solders are from very poor rural areas. Their salaries has been feeding those rural economies. Which is a good thing. Dumping them will actually make life worst for many poor communities of the country.

  • While I completely agree that the long-term involvement of the military in civil affairs is a bad thing; for the economy, individual entrepreneurship, and societal development; the argument is that the military is filling a gap that the civilian system is unable to bridge. For instance, a few years ago, when the SAARC summit was held in Colombo, the Parliament Road from the city to Sri Jayawardenepura was resurfaced in just a couple of days, and done in an exemplary manner. It was done by engineering units of the SL Army instead of the usual RDA. It was clear to everyone who saw the speed and quality of the work that it was impossible for the RDA to have done it. Civil engineering in the state sector has deteriorated to an abysmal level, where projects have to be undertaken by the military or outsourced to foreign contractors. This is one example, but there are others.

    In addition, pointing to the large-scale demobilisation at the end of WW2, or in South Africa or South America is invalid; primarily because those armies were conscript ones, where civilians were obliged to serve in the military for the duration of hostilities and no further. They had been pulled out of civilian jobs and careers and compelled to serve. They weren’t all there because they wanted to, but because it was their duty. They were not being paid salaries that were equivalent to their civilian ones either. So once duty had been served, they were all obviously keen to return to their civilian lives. Indeed, their nation’s economies relied on their return.

    That is not the case in SL, where soldiers in the Regular Force of the SL Army (the bulk of the military) sign up for 22-year careers, with all the salaries, pensions, and other service and post-service benefits due a government or civil servant. To simply demob them is not possible. Are they to be offered early retirement? Severance packages? Will they be still due their medical and travel benefits like other retired government servants? These things have to be considered. The Volunteer Force soldiers who make up no more than a third of the SL Army on the other hand sign up for shorter terms and, are not legible for many of these benefits, and it is they that are most likely to be demobbed. Whether they wish to be thus released though is another matter. Perhaps they are likely to parade in favour of remaining in service

    In SL, the military is a viable long-term career, especially now that the dangers of combat are no more, and it is possible that large scale demobilisation will drive up the unemployment figures without really doing anything to improve national policy. What is therefore more sensible is for SL to transfer personnel from the military engineering units to the RDA, UDA, Municipality, and other areas, and get retire or release all the inept, aging, corrupt personnel that currently staff those departments.

    If the GoSL needs to maintain a large military, it must look to conscription, which is a cheaper alternative, maintaining a professional hard core for training and leadership, as well as certain specialist units which require long-term training commitments. The argument against this would be to question the necessity of pulling civilians out of their productive jobs to serve in the military while releasing trained soldiers into unemployment.

    It’s more complex a matter than it looks on the surface.

    “There is no secret that in Sri Lanka the military plays a major role in shaping the national policy and decision making in many areas including the field of education, foreign relations and development.”

    I really must ask you to provide proof of this claim. No doubt SL has its defences paramount in all its policies, which isn’t uncommon across the world (Israel, the US, etc), but that hardly means the military is shaping policy.

    • Lakshan


      Well Put

  • dinuk

    Thanks for this! The problem is that since the US led ‘global war on terror’ the securitization and militarization of development and all aspects of our lives (including official development assistance ODA) is the international standard. Check out Marck Duffield’s work on “Development, Security and Endless War” and Gorgio Agamben on “State of Exception”. Militarization has become the dominant development paradigm internationally and the Rajapakses are using this western hypocracy!
    The US and UK who talk about Human rights are also the main arms producers and exporters in the world and they do not raise the issue of militarization, economic and social inequality, because then they will need to make too many changes, which are anyway now happening with the crash of the Euro-American financial system.
    Unfortunately, the Sri Lanka HR discourse has been also colonized by this bias in the western-led HR discourse and they do not link economic rights to civil and political rights in a robust manner.

  • The Government will pooh pooh all the arguments of this writer on the illegitimacy of the military being deployed in the day to day affairs of the Sri Lanka affairs today. It is no secret that we have an autocratic rule with dissent being frowned on and sometimes summarily disposed of. All the talk of there being democracy in the country is similar to what Hitler had been saying during the height of his power or Gaddafi saying that his people are with him. That there is a total absence of all democratic values in Sri Lanka need not be re-iterated. To such a government the military is the key weapon it has to maintain to be in power.

    The oft repeated justification is that the military is needed to prevent the resurgence of militancy of the Tamils. This shows that they have not learnt any lessons from the past. It was the failure of all democratic means to make successive governments treat all its citizens alike and the widespread discrimination that prevailed at the time which lead slowly but steadily to the birth of militancy. The process was expedited with the riots of 1983. The repressive measures taken to suppress militancy among the Tamil youth lead to more and more youth joining them until they became a force to bereckoned with.

    With the ultimate victory in May 2009 over them, the government should have immediately taken steps to keep its promise of a political solution. Instead the military was further strengthen and more resources provided to the military than was provided during the war. Demobilization of the army was never considered. The North is now virtually under a military siege. What is happening there does not reach the media due to the grip the state has over reporting of such incidents. It wont be long before a more virulent form of militancy germinates in the North which continues to be ruled with an iron fist by this Government in the manner the LTTE was alleged to have done when Jaffna was under its control.

    The utterances of the Defence Secretary, who has forgotten that he is holding an administrative position, shows that he has assumed himself to be the Defence Minister. He has usurped all the powers of the Army Commander and the Inspector General of Police who are now mere figure heads. This only shows the extent to which the government has been militarized. The manner in which this government is ruling with scant regard to democratic norms makes it imperative that it keeps the military in active duty, involving the army in every sphere of the administration, so that the Government can carry on.

    So in spite of all the valid arguments of Mr. Weliamuna, this government will use the military to keep itself in power. Democracy, the rule of law and good governance are all things of the past. What we have today is a kind of martial law. The sooner the people realize this the better it is for the country. Or will the country have to wait for years as in Egypt and Libya before the regime is thrown out lock stock and barrel ?

    • wijayapala

      Dear Concerned Citizen

      That there is a total absence of all democratic values in Sri Lanka need not be re-iterated. To such a government the military is the key weapon it has to maintain to be in power.

      Then why does Mahinda still hold (and win) elections? And how come Gotabhaya did not use the military against the massive protests against the pension bill earlier this year? (in case you’ve forgotten about those protests, as Sinhala liberals typically have zero long-term memory, look below:)

      Protest against Pension and Police Attack

  • Dear Weliamuna,
    Except Pope, all the Rulers of the countries have armed forces. In the Western countries, Army and other camps are located far away from the towns and residential areas. Only on the national day, civilians have the opportunity to see and enjoy their defenders parading along the Main streets of the capital. Apart from these, the special forces are always kept in complete isolation.Among the West European countries, except the Britain, almost all the countries have compulsory national service. You do not see military personnel in the middle of the civilians interfering in almost all the matters.
    In the case of Sri Lanka, when we talk about the military interference in civilian matters, you have to separate the North and East from other regions.
    In the North and East, army camps and posts are established in almost every village. Under the cover of giving protection to the Tamils civilians, they walk through each and every small lanes. No body, even Government Administrators like Grama Niladari, Divisional Secretaries, District Secretaries cannot have any administrative functional meeting without the Commandant of the area. For all the public events, permission has to be obtained from the Army and they have to be invited! Even an ordinary soldier and a petty officer expect the teachers, Pricipals, professionals and the ordinary people to address them as ‘Sir’! They want the civilians on the roads to remove their hats when they speak with the army personnel. The other things you have already mentioned. I remember, in 1997,soon after the capture of the Jaffna peninsula, an army officer told a lawyer to address him as ‘Dorai,’just like the estate workers addressing the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of the estate.This resulted in argument between the two.
    Why such a situation prevails in the North and the East? You fail to understand the most important matter. All the civilians of the North and East, especially the Tamil speaking, are undergoing ‘Rehabilitation’ by the Sri Lankan Government and its armed forces. This is the reason why the ex-combatants of the LTTE are allowed to join their society.
    In the South, the armed forces do not interfere much in the civilian matters. Now almost 70% of the Sinhala population gives support to the Government and its policies. But, a time will come when the Southerners as well will have to face the ‘Rehabilitation’ program of the Government and its Forces.
    Apart from the ‘Rehabilitation’ of the North-East and expected ‘Rehabilitation’ of the South, the Government faces another problem with its bloated armed forces. Thousands of deserters have already become private killer squads, drug pushers, kidnappers, rapists etc. The government, politicians and the Police Force are unable to control these deserters who were given military training. With all these, de-mobilization of the armed forces in Sri Lanka will cause a lot of problem to the Sinhalese people living in the South, if the Government and the private sector do not provide the employment opportunity to the thousands of the soldiers.
    Here again, you have to note a very important thing. At the final stages of recruitment of the army, even those who studied up to 8th standard were also recruited. Except the Officers, most of the others studied only up to G. C. E. Ordinary Level. Thus, it is very difficult to provide employment for those who are being praised as great defenders of the country. These demobilized personnel could be absorbed into Government and private ‘Security Service.’ Even their, unless adequate salary is given, they may resolve to other criminal activities.
    Anyway, China also faced such a problem after the revolution. Now it has allocated different industries etc. to the armed forces and China is making big profit through the armed forces.
    The Sri Lankan Government may have the very same idea also.
    By combining all these, and keeping the ‘Tamil Issue’ at the boiling point, MR Government may establish itself permanently in the South as well. Any opposition to this by the Southerners may cause the Sinhala nation to face ‘Rehabilitation.’
    Anyway, the people in the North and East will have to suffer for decades as they have been suffering for the last 64 years with the Sinhala – Buddhist nationalism with the Aryan – Sinhala – Sinhalese – Theravada Buddhism – Lanka doctrine with one to one correspondence.

    • Actually, even the Pope has an armed force; made up of Swiss mercenaries.

      • @ David Blacker

        I agree with you about the Pope. Since he is the spiritual leader of millions of Catholics worldwide, his life needs to be protected. The ‘King/Caretaker’ of SL also has to be protected from ‘International Conspirators’who sleeplessly plot to get rid of the spiritual leader of the Sinhala Buddhists. These conspirators recently got rid of the spiritual leader of the Libyans and before that the Tunisian and Egyptian leaders.
        How low will these conspirators stoop to achieve their goals? What a sad day for mankind that innocent mass murders and humanitarian dictators can no longer use their God given right to govern their loyal subjects and lead them on the road to prosperity.
        May the blessings of the triple gem be with all spiritual leaders,kings,humanitarian dictators and their family members and their supporters…and may they rule, forever and ever…


  • georgethebushpig

    If the military are so damm good at getting things done how come they haven’t come up with a thoughtful demobilisatoin strategy? Rather than training others on how to get the job done (leadership training), cutting down trees, selling veggies and running tea boutiques they should be thinking about how do you efficiently achieve the opposite of mobilisation!

    • Because, George, contrary to what Mr Weliamuna claims, the military doesn’t set policy; the government does. The military carries out the orders given to it. If they are told to wipe out the Tigers, they will do so. If they are told to sell veggies, they will do so. That’s it. It’s up to the government to govern.

      • georgethebushpig

        Dear David,

        Fair comment if you could actually tell the difference between government and the military, which is the point of the article. It is not exactly clear who is actually governing. Is it to you?

        There is a responsibility on the part of the military to say no to actions they are asked to perform that are unconstitutional. They cannot claim that they are just following orders…. like what we probably will hear sometime in the future when the war crimes issue all comes to ahead.

        Here are a couple of new beauties from the military-agricultural-tourist-tea boutique-whale watching-leadership training-cricket ground maintenance-industrial complex:

        Army to build a five star hotel in Colombo

        SL hands cricket ground maintenance to military

      • “Fair comment if you could actually tell the difference between government and the military, which is the point of the article. It is not exactly clear who is actually governing. Is it to you?”

        George, the difference between who is governing who is very clear if you understand the role of government; ie to set governing policy. Which is why I have asked Mr Weliamuna to substantiate his claim. If the RDA was actually doing its job with the road system, would you then also be puzzled as to whether the RDA was actually the government? Of course not. You know very well that these state sectors are merely executing ministerial policies. So why this lack of clarity vis a vis the military? Are there examples of the military setting national policy? If you can respond with some examples it would be helpful.

        “There is a responsibility on the part of the military to say no to actions they are asked to perform that are unconstitutional.”

        Sure, but in the instances cited, it isn’t immediately clear if it is indeed unconstitutional, particularly under the only recently lifted Emergency Regulations. As the article says, “For example s.23 of the Army Act authorizes the President to order all or any of the member of the Regular Forces to perform certain non-military duties, provided the President is satisfied that there is an immediate threat of action to deprive the people of Sri Lanka of essentials of life by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel or light or with means of transport and communication. The non-military actions are also strictly limited to ensure continuous supply of essentials.” Now some people might argue that the military involvement in procuring and selling food is essential, or that tourism too is essential, etc. I’m not trying to argue it, but the “following orders” non-argument is mostly to do with criminal acts for which individuals can be punished under civil law. No one’s going to be prosecuted for building a hotel or selling a bunch of bananas. These are policy issues which must be addressed to the government rather than trying to hold the military responsible.

      • georgethebushpig

        Dear David,

        If the military was actually doing what it is supposed to be doing and nothing more, then there wouldn’t be a discussion. Conversely, we certainly would be having a discussion in the event the RDA broadened its mandate and started giving leadership training to university students and having a whale of a time (even if they were brilliant at building roads and filling pot holes)!

        Are you knowledgeable with how policy making happens in Sri Lanka? Can you explain how come in the 2012 post-war budget there has been about a 7% increase in military expenditures? Let me guess the answer, “elected members of Parliament legislated this and the military is merely executing ministerial policies”. Yeah right! There are many ways to influence national policy making and if the opposition got their hands out of their shorts for a minute they might be able to counter some of this regressive policy making.

        I think your example of the army making the road to the Parliament for the SAARC Summit is a classic example of the military engaging in national policy making: they literarily and metaphorically paved the way for the 18th Amendment : )

      • “If the military was actually doing what it is supposed to be doing and nothing more, then there wouldn’t be a discussion.”

        What the military is supposed to do is follow the policies set out by the civilian leadership. The constitution, Army Act, etc, are all created by the civil government, not by the military. So if you disagree with the policy, you need to address that issue with the policy makers. There’s no pint condemning a hammer if a carpenter uses it to smash pumpkins; you need to talk to the carpenter.

        “Conversely, we certainly would be having a discussion in the event the RDA broadened its mandate and started giving leadership training to university students and having a whale of a time (even if they were brilliant at building roads and filling pot holes)!”

        Sure, but you wouldn’t be having the discussion with the RDA; you’d be having the discussion with the minister of education, reconstruction, or whatever.

        “Are you knowledgeable with how policy making happens in Sri Lanka? Can you explain how come in the 2012 post-war budget there has been about a 7% increase in military expenditures? Let me guess the answer, “elected members of Parliament legislated this and the military is merely executing ministerial policies”. Yeah right! There are many ways to influence national policy making and if the opposition got their hands out of their shorts for a minute they might be able to counter some of this regressive policy making.”

        In every democracy, the armed services will lobby for increases in budget. If you think that happens just in SL, you’re very naive. The same is true for universities, health, or whatever. Everyone wants a bigger piece of the pie. They do this primarily through the civil servants in the various ministries and departments, and the politicians then make a call based on this advice. But the ultimate decision is by the political leadership of the country. Without a doubt, the amount of influence applicable by the sectors will vary according to the national situation, but there is nothing sinister about it.

        “I think your example of the army making the road to the Parliament for the SAARC Summit is a classic example of the military engaging in national policy making: they literarily and metaphorically paved the way for the 18th Amendment : )”

        If you wish to play with words rather than have an adult conversation, have a go at President Dunce over there; that’s about all he’s capable of. Personally, I don’t share your opinion that laying a road is policy making. So unless you can show real examples of the military doing the latter, you don’t have an argument.

      • georgethebushpig

        Dear David,

        The problem with your argument is that it assumes that there is a clear seperation between government and military. In a country with functioning institutions, and checks and balances that argument would hold.

        When the military budget for 2012 (in a post-war situation) exceeds the combined total of health and education then you have to wonder what’s going on? Obviously there is a convergence in “government” and military interests and national policy is favouring the interests of the military over other sectors.

        You are right that there is no point talking to the military because they are not the scribes of policy but there is a point talking to the government because they are the military’s scribes of policy.

      • “The problem with your argument is that it assumes that there is a clear seperation between government and military.”

        And the problem with yours is that you have assumed that there is no such separation. Why not assume neither, and consider the facts? You are looking at the convergence of interests and assuming that because it favours the military as an institution, it is therefore driven by the military. This is fallacy. There is no doubt that defence and the military is by far the GoSL’s priority; but that is the prerogative of a government. It is often said that Israel has no foreign policy; just a defence policy. But to therefore assume that Israel has a military government couldn’t be further from the truth. The military is the execution arm of defence policy, but policy is still in the hands of the civil administration, and favours the rulers, not the military.

        There is definitely an issue with governance in SL, but to therefore make a gonibillah of the military is to miss the whole problem.

      • georgethebushpig

        Dear David,

        “The military is the execution arm of defence policy, but policy is still in the hands of the civil administration, and favours the rulers, not the military.”

        I would cast it a little differently: if the policies disfavoured the military the rulers will be out of favour. This is the dilemma that has faced all emperors throughout the ages. In our case, instead of reigning in the military they are becoming ubiquitous in all spheres of life. Is it the military or the government that is driving this? You contend that it is the government and that we should be addressing our concerns to them. I don’t disagree with that. The problem however lies in our inability to draw the hand out of the glove.

      • ” if the policies disfavoured the military the rulers will be out of favour.”

        This couldn’t be further from the truth, George. Is your meaning is that the GoSL has allowed the military to grow too powerful for it to control if it doesn’t appease it? If so, that is disproven by the fact that the GoSL was able to jail the most popular Army officer in the country’s history, a man regarded by the population as a true national hero, with just a sham trial on trumped up charges. Or is your meaning that the population will not stand for the military being disfavoured? Again, how come the GoSL could jail SF with no loss of its own popularity? Also, why is the GoSL able to use soldiers to sell vegetables and give foot massages with no sign of discontent?

        Aren’t you guys scrabbling to find evidence to fit a theory that isn’t accurate? I saw similar attempts some time ago to justify the theory that SL was in danger of a military coup, and it comes from a lack of understanding of the military as a whole, and of the SL Army in particular.

      • georgethebushpig

        Dear David,

        As I see it there are a number of dynamics at play and many have elaborated on these on GV over the course of the last couple of years.

        First, the most powerful decision makers in government are brothers.

        Second, the Defense Secy’s history with the military provides him the ability to draw on resources within the military to advance the ruling Family’s agenda (and neutralize dissent – as with SF).

        Third, the broad outlines of national policy are largely determined around the Family dinner table and the role of the military in buttressing the Family’s aspirations is a part of the policy equation.

        Fourth, there is no opposition to the consolidation of power by The Family and its co-option of the military into its dynastic project (the vast majority of legislators are too busy gorging themselves at the trough while the remaining few are fearful).

        The current expansion of the military into civilian spheres is not necessarily being driven by the military themselves – although they are not averse to this turn of events – but that the ruling Family and vested interests are facilitating the militarization of civilian space. This allows for maintaining a large force at the Family’s ready disposal by keeping the military engaged in innocuous activities that are justified on the grounds that it contributes to national development. The eagerness with which the military is taking up new economic ventures is an indication that it finds the new configuration quite agreeable and hence the lack of discontent.

        The big problem in the future however will be convincing the military to give up its new found and increasing economic and political power and to return to its circumscribed role defined by the constitution.

        When the people begin to agitate for change then we will see, as we have in the past, how the military will be deployed. They will engage with relish in putting down any opposition because now they have interests themselves that they would not want to lose. The best way to get someone to commit a crime is to make him a partner.

        I hope to whatever higher entity that exists that I am completely wrong.

      • George, I don’t disagree with your first four points; which underline what I am saying myself. Ie: the problem is with the ruling set (the Rajapakses) and not the use of the military per se. The fact that the public has no issue with this style is also important; that the public backs this form of governance, making it therefore in fact democratic. My disagreement therefore is with the theory that the military is the problem; that downsizing the military, reigning it in, etc, is the solution. It is not. The military is simply one tool of the governors. Changing the tool will do nothing. As Pirsig says in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence, there is no point destroying a factory if the thinking and systems that created that factory are not first removed. If not, the factory (or another structure) will simply be reconstructed in its place to serve the same purpose.

        The fact that a large military is beneficial to the Rajapakses alone is to assume that this large military will be absolutely loyal even in the face of public revolt. I am not sure that assumption is accurate. If you look at what happened in Egypt, a military that was regularly purged and controlled by the civil leader still took the side of the people at the crucial moment. So size has nothing to do with it. It is the form of dissent that is important. A large military only ensures that armed revolt will fail; not that revolt itself will fail.

        Whether the military is eager to take up its new role is also an assumption. It is following the orders given. And whether this new role thereby gives the military an increased economic and political power is a further assumption; one that in fact is contrary to your earlier assertion that the military’s new role benefits the civil leadership, in which is seated the actual economic and political power. It certainly maintains the country’s dependence on the military in peacetime, but this can be maintained only if the GoSL continues to neglect the state sector’s efficiency in the years to come, creating that dependency.

        The relish with which the military has put down the rebellions in the north and south in the past proves that it never needed any other role outside its military one in order to do so. All of this compounds my view that in focusing our concern on controlling the military is to lose sight of the trues problem.

      • georgethebushpig

        Dear David, 

        Ok, so we are in agreement on a number of core issues.  

        If I am to take a slightly different tack, the questions that remain to be examined are whether having a large military in peace time, ubiquitous in civilian space, is justified, and whether drawing attention to this broadened mandate is relevant to addressing the deeper rooted problem of misgovernment, which you have flagged.  

        I don’t think you are a supporter of a large military in peace time, so we can dispense with that (unless you believe otherwise).  

        On the 2nd question, while I agree with you that we need to address the root cause of the problem, I believe that we shouldn’t allow the symptoms to get out of hand. You argue that the military’s abandonment of Mubarak in Egypt is an example of its alignment with civil interests. Others argue that it was a way of the military writing off a bad debt so that they may continue unhindered with their business.  

        While we have wait to see what happens over the next few years to be able to judge the final outcome in Egypt, the current situation doesn’t bode well for democratic evolution, as many are complaining that the military is running interference as they do not want to lose the privileges that they have become accustomed to. This is the scenario that concerns me with relation to Sri Lanka. Are my concerns misplaced? I hope so.

        Since you brought up Pirsig it is worth quoting him, “Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.” Up to this point Pirsig supports your view that we need to address the root causes of the problem.

        Then he goes on to say, “Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle.” I understand this to mean that while we agitate for transformational change we should continue to address those that pose barriers to transformation.

        That’s all from me on this topic. 


      • George, I am not against maintaining a relatively large military in peacetime per se; it depends on what the government’s defence policies are, what the perceived threat levels are, etc. However, I think maintaining a large professional military may be a needless expenditure. The alternative is to reduce the number of full-time career/professional servicemen and augment them with conscription/national service, as is done in Germany. A smaller force will have to be proportionately more reliant on technology, which requires a substantial investment in both hardware, maintenance, and training.

        And, as already pointed out, large scale demobilisation can also burden the economy with reparations, early pensions, retraining budgets, etc, as well as the possible destabilisation effect of the cutting loose of a large number of young unemployed men.

        Nations coming out of long wars have often relied on the military to undertake civil services, often for many years after the cessation of hostilities. Whether this is to be a long-term measure or not is important in deciding whether it’s a good or bad thing. In the context of SL, would it be any different if servicemen from the engineering units were to be transferred from the military to the UDA, CMC, SLEB, RDA, etc, given that these are all state sectors? Wouldn’t your comfort in that option be only superficial?

        My example of Egypt was simply to show that vesting power in the military will not guarantee a repressive regime its loyalty, and if your concern is that the military will be the ultimate tool of the regime’s repression, then you must see that empowering it will in fact give it more reason to be disloyal when the chips are down. Therefore, is it then more likely that a smaller military, more dependent on the regime, will be more loyal? I think by now you must understand that these are not the things that we need worry about.

        I don’t think the military is particularly more privileged because it is providing the manpower for civil projects. Certain people within the military may be privileged because of this, but that is always the case, regardless of the military’s role.

        To fix Pirsig’s motorcycle one must go about finding the fault in a systematic manner (as he instructs), and I’m not sure if simply assuming that the part making the most noise is the faulty bit is quite the way to do it.

      • georgethebushpig

        I just came across this; it speaks of things to come in Sri Lanka.

        The Militarization of Pakistan’s Economy

      • That’s just another assumption, George. There are glaring differences between SL and Pakistani societies. In addition, the Pakistani military has a long history of overthrowing its government, establishing military dictatorships, and otherwise interfering with civil society. We haven’t had anything like that in SL, so its fairly premature to cry wolf.

  • SAM

    This artical is only shows one side of the coin(no out of the box thinking at all), and it reflcts the standard thinking of a professional layer(cos it has show the effects based on some narrowly selected samples of data). What we must understand is that we are talking about Sri Lanka, hence you cant compare with USA or any other westrn country.

    Its a transformation from the military to get involved with the peace time activities and get closer to the general public and getting away from war memories, agression etc.. As a country we still cant reduce the size of the military considering the fact that most of the pro LTTE parties still exist and trying to put their failed ideas up agin.

    As far as the efficency is concered, yes its good to utilize 150000+ military for development and construction work,. People will not fear military personel if they do not have any connections wihe the distruvtiv forces.

    • @georgethebushpig

      You said, “The problem however lies in our inability to draw the hand out of the glove.”
      Absolutely incorrect my dear george. The problem actually lies in most of our people not being able to draw their heads out of their posteriors for the past 63 years. They day they are able to do that, they will realise what has been happening to their country. After that they will be able to mobilise and and do what the Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans did. They will take steps to regain their country from the despots who have been oppressing them for all these years. 😀

    • @georgethebushpig

      You said in your last line, “I hope to whatever higher entity that exists that I am completely wrong.”

      NO. You are not wrong. You hit the nail on the head. The Brothers & Sons are learning from China and Pakistan, and they have also seen what happened in Tunisia, Eqypt and Libya. They know that one fine day when push comes to shove, they will need the backing of the armed forces to save their sorry posteriors. So with that in mind, they are strengthening the military.

      Everything you said in your post is known to David. But he tends to ignore those facts due to obvious reasons (pronounced as sycophancy).

      Sadly one fine day when people finally start to mobilise, the only higher entity that might come to our rescue might be the US and NATO Forces. Either that, or there should be a “Miracle of Asia” where the Brothers & Sons relinquish power and go into hibernation. 😀

  • B de S

    I would not rush to a conclusion that armed forces shd. be reduced at once. The country paid dearly for not having sufficient defence forces and took over 20 years to build that up. The end of the war does not mean that things have returned to normal.Tens of thousands of ‘fishing’ crafts are presently robbing our maritime resources and the danger it poses to security cannot be overlooked. The country is living in a hostile environment. Foreign policy alone cannot take care of that. That is where we failed with non-alignment. There are other details which cannot be discussed here.

    At a historical research studies Conference organized by the Royal Asiatic Society/Open University two years back, I raised the very question. I protested against the armed forces being used for what they called in America taking kids to the kindergarten’.There is the danger of the army patronising with the public and involving themselves with the common attraction like private business and vices of the society. Isn’t that already happening like timber racketing, sand mining, gem mining. etc, not excluding contract killing, to some extent though sporadically? In a society seething with corruption and prone to making quick money and thuggery of worst kinds, prospects offered are frightning. these have to be kept under control as far as defence forces are concerned.
    This is one of the aspects to watch.

  • Don Sarath

    After a War any government has to pay the salaries, keep the troops well fed and meet all the other related expenses. With all these expenses instead of keeping the Troops idle it is better to keep them engaged in development work of the country for the benefit of the people.

    The only people who are opposed to it are the LTTE backers and the Opposaition politicians who want to project the 10% negative side of this operation,at the expense of 90% benefit to the people, purely for their own political benefit. These are the enimies of Sri Lanka. [Edited out]

    • Dear Don Sarath.
      Well said.In the Northern Governor’s office, now all are from the armed forces. Even the drivers and office assistants. Still they have not made such changes in the Divisional Secretariats, Secretariats,RDA, and all the other government departments.
      I think, the best way is to make ‘National Service’for 5 years compulsory for the Sinhala Buddhists so that we can protect our Sinhala Buddhist country and Govern the country with loyal and patriotic Sinhala Buddhist armed forces.
      We must introduce a new law that makes ‘National Service'(5 years) compulsory for all those who contest the local and Parliamentary elections.This will eliminate non Sinhala Buddhists from gaining seats in the local government bodies and Parliament. By this, voice of the Sinhala Buddhists will only heard.
      Whu do not you suggest this to His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka?

  • P.Riyad

    Peace, Military and People: Are non-military engagements of the military valid? …yes it is valid. This country was forced to militarise to destroy a cancer. Now use these trained personnel to develope the country.

  • gunadasagamage

    SRI LANKA SHOULD NEVER CONSIDER DEMOBILISING OF IT,S ARMED FORCES,INSTEAD SHOULD GIVE THEM CONTINEUOS ALLROUND TRAINING IN SERVING A CIVILIAN SOCIETY. it has to be converted to a caring and a copassionate forc armed with knowledge capabilities to help enhance our country socialy and cannot compare sri lanka with european or american standards and it is very foolish and selfdestructive to apply those standards to us .what is important is the forces should generate economic wealth and be self sustainable without being a burden to poor masses.allready a large community of politicos in parliament and pradeshiya sabhas belonging to all political parties who do the minimum to the country and get the maximum from the country have driven poor masses from frying pan to the oven .we soon have to go back to soulbury style parliament with a very small cabinet and divest regional development tasks to government agents and disolve all pradeshiya sabhas.we connot go on eating lotus petals.

  • Nihal Perera

    Although I am in support of demobilization, the question arises as to what (legitimate) occupation the former soldiers would take up. Firstly, the scale of the downsizing. The present size of the army is about 200,000. Sri Lanka faces no internal or external threats; therefore, the number could be cut down to 20,000. That means 180,000 young men would potentially be unemployed. Clearly, such a large number, along with the arms they carry, has the potential to cause social unrest. The involvement of SLA personnel in the “grease yaka” incidents, as well as the large number of SLA deserters in the underworld, is well-known; these issues would simply be compounded. The Rajapakses have put themselves into a real dilemma here: on the one hand, such a big military will eat away at the national budget; on the other hand, unemployment and youth unrest can easily result from demobilization done incorrectly.

    • georgethebushpig

      If we hadn’t screwed up our relations with the UN we could put up about 30 000 for UN peace operations. It pays well and the country benefits from being a contributor to global peace!!! This is just one option; if someone were to actually sit and think about it I’m sure you could come up with a whole rucksack full!

  • In the not too distant future we will have retired Generals heading the SEC and maybe as supreme court judges and heads of business entities taken over by the regime due to so called non performance.

    When Sri Lanka loses the next world cup, we will have a new cricket coach from the armed forces and who knows…maybe even a cricket captain from one of the 3 armed forces.

    As Alice said in ‘Alice in Wonderland’…“Things are getting Curiouser and curiouser.” The goings on in Asschariyaland have become sooo curious in the past few years that nothing surprises people anymore.

    Who knows someday David might me made Ambassador of Antarctica by the regime for their gratitude to his vociferous support of anything and everything done by them and the armed forces. 😀

  • Rohini Hensman

    An excellent article – I couldn’t agree more. The only intelligent objection is by Nihal Perera, who has correctly pointed out the dangers of having tens of thousands of demobilised soldiers who are unemployed. One solution to this problem is for the government to employ them AS CIVILIANS in infrastructure projects etc. If there is sufficient support for the development of private industry, that would also provide employment. The point is not that these individuals should not be selling vegetables, etc., but that they should not be in the armed forces and selling vegetables. Let them sell vegetables by all means, but after they have been demobilised.

    • wijayapala

      Dear Rohini

      Let them sell vegetables by all means, but after they have been demobilised.

      Interesting idea, but the problem is that many of these young men explicitly rejected a farmer’s life in favor of being soldiers. If they have to sell vegetables, they’d rather do it in uniform and not as another anonymous figure in the masses.

  • wijayapala


    Can you explain how come in the 2012 post-war budget there has been about a 7% increase in military expenditures?

    Is that in real or nominal terms?