Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 01/2011

India and the Civil War in Sri Lanka: On the Failures of Regional Conflict Management in South Asia

Sandra Destradi

December 2010

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


The paper provides an assessment of India’s role in the final years of the civil war in Sri Lanka (2003-2009). In particular, it looks for explanations for India’s inability to act as a conflict manager in its own region, which is in contrast to predominant assumptions about the role of powerful regional states. It also seeks to explain the surprising turn in India’s approach to the conflict, when in 2007 New Delhi began to rather explicitly support the Sri Lankan government – in disregard of its traditional preference for a peaceful solution and its sensitivity for the fate of Sri Lankan Tamils. While historical and domestic pressures led to India’s indecisive approach during the years 2003-2007, starting from 2007 regional and international factors – most notably the skillful diplomacy of the Sri Lankan government and the growing Chinese presence there – induced New Delhi to support the government side in order to keep some leverage on Sri Lankan affairs. The analysis of the Sri Lankan case opens several avenues for further research in the fields of regional conflict management and foreign policy analysis.