OPINION | Securitization: Producing Risk to Militarize Development in Post-War Sri Lanka

OPINION | Securitization: Producing Risk to Militarize Development in Post-War Sri Lanka

By Jennifer Hyndman


Fear is both a legitimate emotion and a powerful political resource. It is at once an expression of vulnerability to political threats (real and perceived), as well as a rationale for security measures against them. It is produced in myriad ways, through narratives of nationalism rooted in economic marginalization, loss of territory, and anxieties about invasions of home. The production of such anxieties gives rise to the securitization of fear used to underwrite the allocation of resources to fortify particular regions and manage risk (Hyndman 2007). The securitization of fear and its geopolitical uses and abuses in the context of post-war Sri Lanka are probed below.

OPINION | Securitization: Producing Risk to Militarize Development in Post-War Sri Lanka

Securitization is a concept with many progenitors and critics (Buzan, Waever, and de Wilde 1998; Hansen 2000; Bigo 2002; Williams 2003; Ciuta 2009). It was introduced by the Copenhagen School of Critical Security Studies, and analyses how a political or social problem becomes read through a ‘security prism’ (Campesi 2011: 2). It is a process of social construction that moves an area of regular politics into the area of security by employing a discursive rhetoric of emergency, threat, and danger aimed at justifying the adoption of extraordinary measures (Campesi 2011: 2). Three main elements are associated with ‘securitization’ (Buzan et al. 1998): an entity, such as a government or sovereign, makes the securing statement or assertion of threat; a referent object, normally the people or place being threatened and needing protection; and an audience, who are the target of securitization act who must be persuaded to accept the issue or security threat as genuine.

Analyzing securitization in the context of immigration and asylum, Huysmans argues that:

…the pursuit of freedom from existential threats institutes political communities of insecurity…. It is a peculiar process of constituting a political community of the established that seeks to secure unity and identity by instituting existential insecurity (2006: 47)

Huysmans is concerned with the ‘audience’ identified by Buzan et al. (1998), and the political process of how insecurity is produced and then defended against, even if the threat is only a potential one. This politics of potentiality is of interest in the Sri Lankan context: the risk of rebel return and ‘terrorist’ Tigers. Aradau and Van Munster (2008: 23) examine how decision-makers and those who govern try to ‘tame the future’ in a post-9/11 context of extreme uncertainty: ‘catastrophe has become once more the dominant political imaginary of the future.’ September 11, 2001 is a highly Amero-centric marker of such potential catastrophe, but the authors’ point is an important one: how does one govern through risk? Their Foucauldian approach:

… focuses on how presumably incalculable catastrophic risks such as terrorism are governed. Rather than ideological attempts to “feign control,” as intimated by [Ulrich] Beck, … different policies such as war, surveillance, injunctions to integration and drastic policies against antisocial behavior in fact function with a dispositif of precautionary risk (24).

It is the precautionary part that has given rise to new rationalities of government that ‘require that the catastrophic prospects of the future be tamed and managed’ (Aradau and Van Munster 2008: 24). The authors consider this a neoliberal rationality that at once depoliticizes policies and interventions and de-democratizes them.

The securitization of prosperity and of civilian life in post-war Sri Lanka affects development in myriad ways. Just as humanitarian aid can be diverted for conflict-related purposed during war (Culbert 2005), so too is there a risk that resources for social and economic development can be used in ways that control and offer no benefit to citizens.

The international financial institutions wield more power than the Government of Sri Lanka would like to admit, and yet the Rajapakse regime performed a ‘strong state’ persona in relation to its citizenry. The Rajapakse government was politically popular and autocratic, but economically precarious. As outlined above, evidence of economic growth, a curb on spending, and new revenue generation was key to keeping a line of credit open with the IFIs. Sri Lanka had to have robust growth, even if its fiscal house was not in order, in order to appear open for business.

Securitization plays into this goal by creating consent in civil society to this more centralized, consolidated state (Uyangoda 2010) and a militarised form of economic development that priorities infrastructure at the expense of reconciliation with minority groups. A salient focus of critical Sri Lankan scholarship is this emphasis and priority given to economic development and reconstruction in the North and East at the expense of political change, ‘reconciliation’ – however fraught – and community consultation (Thaheer, Peiris, and Pahiraja 2013):

… de facto military rule and various forms of government-sponsored ‘Sinhalisation’ of the Tamil-majority region are impeding international humanitarian efforts, reigniting a sense of grievance among Tamils, and weakening changes for a real political settlement…. (ICG 2012).

International Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst and Sri Lanka Project Director, Alan Keenan, stated that ‘[i]nstead of giving way to a process of inclusive, accountable development, the military is increasing its economic role, controlling land and seemingly establishing itself as a permanent presence’ (ICG 2012).

Goodhand (2012) too observes the slow pace of progress around political development (there may be no war, but there is no peace either) in contrast to the rapid response and pattern of new infrastructural development projects:

… reconstruction comes with a number of political strings attached. The rapid integration of the north and east is seen as a means of consolidating the unitary state and preventing the reemergence of Tamil militancy. In essence, it is viewed as a shortcut to security or as a means of obviating the need for a political settlement (133).

Infrastructural development, such as ‘carpet roads’ along the A9 and include the superhighways to Galle and Katunayake, occurs arguably at the expense of political solutions when only certain classes of Sri Lankans, from certain regions of the country, can partake in these luxuries. Like the shopping arcades in Colombo, one has to separate out pure capitalist development from contemporary understandings based on human development, and measured by the indicators that suggest a higher quality of life for all members of a society.

Wijedasa (2012) quotes a young social worker living in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province on the topic of road development: ‘Carpet roads is [sic] not development for us.’ Road infrastructure is welcomed by most people, and can be flagged as evidence of development in one sense, but such infrastructure is not neutral.

Smooth ‘carpet roads’ have replaced the impassable potholes of the past, and such infrastructure has become a development priority for the Rajapaksa government…. Infrastructure, like these roads, is the kind of ‘development’ that can be used to reinforce and reproduce a powerful Sinhala nationalism: look at the new houses built; look at the new roads that make travel easier; look at the new electrical grid. And yet, the carpet roads have a double meaning: many injustices such as lost land, lost family members, and other disappearances have been swept under these roads that are meant to demonstrate modernity and prosperity (Hyndman and Amarasingam 2014: 564).

For people still displaced by the war, or worse, by the new military camps that have sprung up since the war in the Vanni or Jaffna areas of Northern Sri Lanka, the development that new roads represent is overshadowed by a landscape of widespread displacement, loss, impoverishment, and in some cases, trauma. These roads are part of a quotidian geopolitics of development, targeted not at the residents of the North and East but at the potential investors and skeptics – both local and foreign - who might need to see to believe just how much has changed. They serve to consolidate a unitary state that has yet to show any plans to reconcile with alienated Tamils and Muslims. And as one respondent to a research project on reconciliation noted, roads allow passage out, but they also allow the military access to otherwise remote communities (Thakeer et al. 2013).

So much has been said about the Sri Lanka’s state’s ‘politics of patriotism’ (Wickramasinge 2009), patrimonial politics (Goodhand 2012), and neo-patrimonial oligarchy (Gunasekera 2013) under the Rajapakse regime that these arguments need not be rehearsed at length. The links between development, security, and militarization are, however, worth exploring in more detail as a precursor to understanding how ‘securitization’ can be both a powerful political tactic as well as conceptual rubric for understanding power in the context of post-war reconstruction and development. In Sri Lanka, where violence has not ceased despite the end of military conflict and where any sense of political inclusion for minority Tamils and Muslims seems elusive (Thiranagama 2011), precautionary measures are still taken in the name of national security.


The Sri Lankan state is per-formative in two ways: it performs prosperity through its carpet roads, new shopping arcades, and other visible markers of newfound prosperity apparent to many if not available to all, but it also produces threats of terrorism and a possible return to war, employing such risk to militarize formerly civilian spaces, like universities (Kadirgamar 2013), as preventative measures to push back against such risks. Militarized development in this economy of power is the best option for the Sri Lankan Government because (tacitly) it employs unemployed Sri Lankans, winning political popularity, and (explicitly) because it is constantly vigilant against the potential resurgence of the LTTE. This constant rehearsal of vigilance and concomitant rise of militarization against a non-existent enemy is politically popular and proven as a ‘constitutive outside’ (Mouffe 1993: 2), a way of defending the homeland against enemy forces, whether the LTTE or the Tamil diaspora. Securitization logic in this context suggests that a robust and ready military will guard newfound, if elusive, prosperity. 

About The Author:

Jennifer HyndmanProfessor and Director, Centre for Refugee Studies, York University, Toronto, Canada

Cite This Article:

Hyndman, J 2015 The Securitisation of Sri Lankan Tourism in the Absence of Peace. Stability: International Journal of Security & Development, 4(1): 14, pp. 1-16, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/sta.fa 

Publication Details:

This article is an extract retrieved from a research paper titled - The Securitisation of Sri Lankan Tourism in the Absence of Peace which was published at Stability: International Journal of Security & Development (a peer-reviewed open access journal published by Ubiquity Press)/ Download the Paper - LINK

2015 The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY 3.0), See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/. 
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