The Failure of a Liberal Peace: Sri Lanka’s Counter-insurgency in Global Perspective

The victory by the Sri Lankan government over the LTTE in 2009?apparently ended over 25 years of civil war. However, the ramifications of the government’s counter-insurgency go far beyond Sri Lanka’s domestic politics. The military campaign against the LTTE poses a significant challenge to many of the liberal norms that inform contemporary models of international peace-building – the so-called ‘liberal peace’. This article suggests that Sri Lanka’s attempts to justify a shift from peaceful conflict resolution to counter-insurgency relied on three main factors: the flawed nature of the peace process, which highlighted wider concerns about the mechanisms and principles of international peace processes; the increased influence of Rising Powers, particularly China, in global governance mechanisms, and their impact on international norms related to conflict management; and the use by the government of a discourse of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency to limit international censure. The article concludes that the Sri Lankan case may suggest a growing contestation of international peace-building norms, and the emergence of a legitimated ‘illiberal peace’.

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