“The prolongation of military commands made Rome a servile state”.
Machiavelli (The Discourses)
| by Tisaranee Gunasekara
( February 26, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Stratospheric defence costs constitute Lankan economy’s deadliest ticking time-bomb.
|Demilitarisation thus is an urgent necessity not just for the North but also for the South.
Militarization is menacing Southern (and Lankan) economic wellbeing as much as it is impeding Northern democracy. The fundamentally weak Lankan economy can ill afford the huge amounts of money spent annually on maintaining a mammoth military, purchasing/upgrading military hardware and setting up new military camps/cantonments.
The Rajapaksa megalomania for exhibitionism, their unending love affair with tall towers and long expressways, is further exacerbating the nation’s financial woes.
The galloping militarization unleashed by the Ruling Siblings is exacting a heavy toll politically. The military is being transformed from a politically non-partisan entity into the praetorian guard of the Ruling Family – a force which will kill and die to safeguard Rajapaksa Rule. Concomitantly, civilian institutions are compelled into subservience to this Rajapaksaised military. The organisation of a military workshop for all ministers and government parliamentarians marks another unprecedented giant-leap in this anti-democratic transformation. The keynote address in this two-day workshop is to be delivered, reportedly, by Defence Secretary Rajapaksa. According to an ‘unnamed senior minister’, “we do not have a clear idea about the objective since it will be addressed by military officers” (Daily Mirror – 22.2.2012). Though unhappy about being shanghaied, the unwilling invitees are likely to comply. The invitation, which is a de facto order, thus devalues the parliament, degrades parliamentarians and erodes democracy, still further.
The economic costs of militarization are no less devastating. The estimated defence expenditure for 2012 marks an almost 7 percent increase over 2011; it also accounts for 20 percent of total national expenditure. This massive financial black-hole is worsening both budgetary deficit and debt burden, even as it drains resources away from peace time socio-economic necessities.
For instance, the regime is to spend “US$ 6 million (around Rs. 684 million) to overhaul three…combat aircrafts as part of modernisation plans for the…Air Force” (The Sunday Times – 22.1.2012). This same government is unable to afford the counterpart funds for a project to modernise the Sapugaskanda oil refinery. Iran, which offered to fund 70 percent of the project, pulled out because of Colombo’s unwillingness to fund the balance 30 percent. This is despite the vital necessity of the project; an expanded refinery will enable Sri Lanka to manufacture her ‘total requirement of refined petroleum products’ nationally, resulting in an annual saving of “US$ 300 million (Rs. 34.5 billion)… At present, CPC is hampered by capacity inadequacy of its refinery and has to import 50 percent or nearly 50,000 barrels a day…at very exorbitant prices…” (Island – 16.9.2011). That this economically necessary and financially advantages project is in a state of flux is indicative of the developmental costs of Rajapaksa priorities.
Though defence expenditure can increase growth rates initially, due to the opportunity-cost factor, their effect on the economy turns negative in the medium term. Military Keynesianism thus leads not to sustainable development but to new crises. A 2007 study by the Centre of Economic Policy Research in Washington states, “It is often believed that wars and military spending increases are good for the economy. In fact, most economic models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment, and ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment” (The Economic Impact of the Iraq War and Higher Military Spending). Ballooning military expenditure has been pinpointed by many economists (such as Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz) as a major causative factor of the current American economic crisis.
The still unabated price-hike tsunami (milk powder, bread and gas prices, water rates and train fares are expected to increase soon) is a timely reminder that Colombo must make a choice between guns and rice. Since economic sense seems totally alien to the Rajapaksas, the regime will try to maintain its extravagant governance via increased borrowing. For instance, Colombo is reportedly holding discussions with the infamous Goldman Sachs “to obtain a US$ 1 billion loan facility to finance Ceylon Petroleum Corporation… It is widely speculated that the loan facility will be taken at commercial rates” (Ceylon Today – 19.2.2012). But borrowing, especially commercial borrowing, can only postpone the evil day of reckoning by a few years. Eventually that path will lead to a debt crisis of Grecian proportions, with its attendant socio-economic and political devastation.
Demilitarisation thus is an urgent necessity not just for the North but also for the South.
The Patriotic Swindle
As the country was reeling from the price-shocks, Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal came up with one of his signature vacuities: “The increase in fuel prices would only have a minimal impact on the public and even the increase in the electricity tariff would not have a major shock on the consumers’ monthly bills” (News.lk – 20.2.2012). This inanely insensitive statement is a searing example of the abysmal gulf between Sri Lanka’s rulers and her people. Sri Lanka is burdened by a political caste which is totally divorced from the economic realities of the country. Politicians do not pay taxes; and ruling party politicians are largely cushioned from the deleterious effects of price hikes thanks to generous state subsidises. In Sri Lanka, the real welfare kings and queens are the country’s governing caste, the President downwards.
What would a politician, whose rent, electricity, water and fuel bills are paid by the state, know about the inflationary angst of the average citizen? Sri Lanka’s governing caste leads a cocooned existence in a differently-real world, somewhat like those Wall Street executives who profited and partied, even as they helped push the US economy over the precipice with their ‘culture of greed’ and criminal irresponsibility.
As the economy festers, the Rajapaksas will try to prevent the Sinhala South from seeing the nexus between militarization and economic ill-health and perceiving the yawning gulf between the rulers and the ruled. Patriotic rhetoric will be used to achieve both purposes. The Rajapaksa brand of necromantic politics, which seeks to convince the South that the dead Tiger remains its main enemy and most urgent problem, is aimed at preserving the connecting threads between the Ruling Family and the Sinhala majority. Fear of the undead Tiger is expected to keep the Sinhalese dependent on the Rajapaksas for safety and security, despite harsh economic conditions. The patriotic rhetoric and the faux Tiger threat is also expected to prevent the South from understanding that a military, accustomed to abuse and impunity, will make every citizen more unsafe.
Brazilian urban guerrilla leader Carlos Marighela wrote of the need to turn a ‘political crisis into an armed conflict’ (For the Liberation of Brazil). The Rajapaksas are likely to use a similar approach to prevent the economic crisis from spawning any politico-electoral threat to their rule. The Siblings have dominated the North (through force) while hegemonising the South via consent bolstered by selective repression – until now. As the economic crisis escalates, resorting to generalised repression in the South will become unavoidable. To explain this anti-popular shift, the Rajapaksas will manufacture national threats, making imaginary connections between the pro-Tiger Diaspora and Southern economic dissidents. This sleight-of-hand will enable the Ruling Siblings to equate democratic dissent with terrorism and justify military responses to political crises created by economic despair.