Why Has Sri Lanka Never Considered Demobilization?

By S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan

Aftermath of World War II

To consolidate the peace dividend, very high on the agenda of the principal warring nations was demobilization. The end of the War demanded it from early May 1945 and earnest steps were in motion by June, the same year. It would suffice to examine facts and figures of two nations which were allies in war and then partners in the peace process. They were USA & UK. What was the objective? To stop the drain of resources into unproductive channels; to give a fresh lease of life to war weary soldiers; integrate them into civil society and to convert them into productive resources. Demobilization was the formula and it was implemented. Such a step was treated as basic to bringing the needed balance to take the economy forward.

USA’s Record

The number serving in the US military in 1939 was 334,000. Compulsions of war on two fronts – Europe and East Asia – took the numbers 36 time higher to 12.209 million by early 1945. The military comprised; Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guards. The imperatives of peace called for relentless demobilization and the size of the forces was scaled down to 1.566 million, in just two years. This number by June 1947 was a mere 12.9% of what it was in June 1945.

images (4)US meant business. Not wasting time inordinately on war memories, never invoking material losses and the human cost for years on end, she set about rebuilding the nation’s economy. Neither did she venture on whipping up anti German hysteria nor anti Japan animosity to boost a vainglorious spirit of triumphalism. Demobilizing 10.7 million men and women, reorienting their skills for development challenges and converting manufacturing capacity from military hardware to meeting consumer needs. Several other efforts were launched to effect a sea change. They helped transform the American psyche and their economy. To the war torn economy dismantling excessive weight of the military machine was fundamental and this was done.

Compulsions for UK

Severe destruction of physical infrastructure, unprecedented loss of life, virtual disintegration of the social order and all the convulsions of war called for a massively transfigured UK with the advent of peace. Demobilization was inescapable to give the nation the wherewithal for this effort. The government refused to befuddle Britons of a prancing Nazi in every German home or the phantom of World War III looming in the horizon. Neither did it try to invoke fright of a deluge and to make a Noah’s Arc to stand in readiness for an invasion. With absolute honesty of purpose UK set out to have a rebuilt nation and a refurbished societal order.

Putting the scalpel on the spot of redundancy was the way to pare off excess fat. What best but to demobilize? From 100 to 16 was the result. In mid-1939, UK’s Armed Forces had 480.000 personnel. In June 1945 actual strength was 5,090,000. In June 1946 it was brought down to 2,030,000. End 1948 saw further scaling down to 810,000, which was 15.9%.

The British never saw such trimming as disregarding war heroes or as un-employing the employed. Nor was there a thought of keeping the cadres in the same strength because the economy couldn’t absorb them elsewhere. Neither did they provide 56% more finances in 1946, the very first year after war ended. This was what Sri Lanka did for 2010 by providing Rs 98 billion more soon after the war. The tempo has been maintained in ever spiraling mode since. For what purpose? Taking the Defence provision from Rs 175 billion to Rs 306 billion between 2009 and 2016 is Sri Lanka’s performance. Did the British carry the boat they used to cross and a borrowed one (loan funded) at that?

The UK Government’s concern was to give a respite to the weary and weather-beaten soldiers, to integrate them with their families and with society and to create for them meaningful avenues of employment. To mobilize finances, demobilization was the first choice or compulsion. Hence the reduction of the military to 1/7 it’s size, in three and a half years. American funding and Marshall Aid were to come later.

USSR’s Stance

The cast iron dictatorship of Stalin saw no wisdom in demobilization. Wanting to be despotic till eternity, the same strength of about 12 million in 1945 was continued. With no thought of extending the peace dividend to the people, the war machine continued to be primed without abatement. The Cold War was supposed to require it. The warm air let in by Gorbachev through Perestroika (party reform) and Glasnost (openness) withered the dictatorship and USSR ceased to be a monolith.

About the economic collapse of the Soviet Union, the proud boast of the capitalist West was that they had “spent the Soviet Union into the grave”. This price of Russian militarism matching the spending of the West, was based on an economy half its size.

Sri Lanka continues to enjoy her cold comfort, despite war’s end and regime change in January 2015 reinforced further in August. Maithripala’s Perestroika and Ranil’s Glasnost have little effect on spending pattern.

Sri Lanka’s Evasion through Avoidance

Elusive Demobilization has eluded the nation’s governance hierarchy for the 7th successive year now. The nation’s tryst with reality has been avoided for long. Has the military become too slippery to catch or to hold? The budget 2010 far from failing to reduce military spending, increased Rs175 Billion of 2009 to Rs 273 Billion in 2010. This figure is reported in the public domain as ‘Appropriated Endowment’.

The figure of Rs 285 Billion in 2015 has escalated to Rs 306 Billion for 2016. It must be noted however that Ministry of Defence allocation includes several Departments and Boards other than military. When they are excluded, defence proper may have around Rs 250 billion in 2015 and about Rs 265 billion in 2016. This amount is unwarranted. It is heart rending that there has been little change in government policy to rebalance priorities and to alter fund allocation.

Since all data for 2016 are not readily available, I take the 2015 figures for examination. Out of Rs 250 billion, votes for the armed forces for both Recurrent and Capital are as follows:

Army Rs 139.564 billion
Navy Rs 50.450 billion
Air Force Rs 38.416 billion
Total Rs 228.564 billion

May it be known that out of this total, Rs 150,398 billion or 65.8% is taken up by: Salaries Rs62.538 billion; Overtime& Holiday Pay 0.975 billion and Other Allowances Rs. 86.890 billion.

It is amazing to know that Allowances exceed Salaries by 40%. More astonishing is the fact that Rs 150.398 billion paid to an estimated 300,000 military personnel, works out to an average of Rs 500,000 per person per year? Is this what Milovan Djilas called New Class? At this cost, should an obese military be kept without any thought of downsizing?

Path of Least Resistance

Is it necessary at all to keep the military at the same level or in growing mode? Even if attrition of war heroes is made equal to superannuation, annual exit rate will be 10,000. This would have made 60,000 in 6 years. But none of it as policy or programme was ever considered.

What are the casualties? To take just two, Health and Education. Health had a provision of Rs 181.894 billion for Recurrent and Capital in 2015. This includes Health Activities of Provincial Councils at Rs 39.071 billion.

For Education, total allocation to the Ministry in 2015 was Rs 47.600 billion. For educational activities of Provincial Councils it was Rs 98.209 billion. Thus total for General Education Sector was Rs145.809 billion.

Who will not say that Health and Education have suffered discrimination contrasted to indiscriminate partiality towards Defence. What the country needs is radical readjustment. Path of least resistance leads but to the grave.