I was traveling and Machiavelli’s ‘Prince’ fit into my backpack. It’s addressed to a Medici, but it could just as well serve a Rajapakse. There are a few major lessons I got from it. Wage war, and wage war decisively. Maintain popular support and buy off the nobles. Do not be played or beguiled by foreign forces. Be bold and unapologetic. Machiavellianism is seen as evil, but it’s also realistic. There is a better way, but we have to at least acknowledge the fact.
I think the relevant points in the Sri Lanka context was the need to establish our own army, to give political support to war and to get the bloody and brutal part done thoroughly and fast.
The prince will be able to take care of himself if he has a sufficient supply of men or of money to put an adequate army in the field, capable of engaging anyone likely to attack him. (Chapter X)
As long as the Sri Lankan Army didn’t control the island or even Colombo, our prince’s power was never secure. For Machiavelli holding this power was the point and, in a cruel world, it ultimately is.
Mercenary and auxiliary [supplied by foreign power] forces are useless and dangerous… With mercenaries the danger lies in their cowardice; with auxiliaries, it lies in their capability… No state, unless it have its own arms, is secure. (Chapter XIII)
Auxiliary Indian troops (the IPKF) didn’t work out in Sri Lanka. Karuna and Pillayan never fielded a fighting force. In the end Mahinda greatly enlarged the Sri Lankan armed forces, mainly army. Hence the state, under its own arms, is secure (moreso). This required a steady focus from Mahinda.
A prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up any profession but that of war, its methods and its discipline, for that is the only art expected of a ruler. (Chapter XIV)
Machiavelli also counseled, in times of war, to effectively rip the bandage off at once. To push forward, regardless of human cost.
In seizing a state one ought to consider all the injuries he will be obliged to inflict and then proceed to inflict them all at once. (Chapter VIII)
The Romans very carefully observed this policy in the provinces they conquered. They sent out colonies; they protected the lesser powers without increasing their strength; they reduced those who were strong, and they did not permit powerful foreigners to gain a footing. (Chapter III)
Mahinda’s done all these things with the exception of politically toxic colonies. Instead he’s setting up military occupation, which Machiavelli regarded as more expensive and less secure. In the other regards, however, it was essential to co-opt the Eastern Province through Pillayan. It was also prudent to pit Pillayan and Karuna against each other and make the former largely impotent by not devolving powers to the provincial level. Furthermore, keeping India and international NGOs and orgs on the sidelines was also essential.
He’s also followed the basic instruction to kill the opposing ‘prince’ (Prabhakaran) and his line. That plus dispersing and dividing the population is generally considered enough to pacify the place.
There is more on almost every subject, from power to appearance to foreign relations. I could go through it more later. What I like about Machiavelli is not that I agree with him, but that he’s realistic. Princedom has actually fallen the world over and I think there is a better democratic, Barackian way to govern, but in many cases – especially in warlike or developing countries – to paraphrase, there are so many men that do evil that a man who does good comes to ruin. When it comes to the practical truths of governing these unruly provinces, Mahinda has hemmed pretty close to a Machiavellian ideal.
I think these are interesting ideas in general, but I think people would also be wise to consider who Machiavelli addressed them to. Unlike HRW and UN reports which are directed to some vague conscience or benevolent organization deity, The Prince is addressed to the prince. It’s main concern is preserving his life and power. I don’t agree with all the prescriptions, but I think any policy recommendations would be wise to consider that ultimate, practical aim. Morality and ethics are great, but they’re only followed insomuch as they enable greater power and better performance than the opposite.
Whatever’s said and done, any recommendations for change may be better addressed not to Mahinda’s better nature but to his self-interest, and the self-preserving interest of the state.