There are several factors behind this weak, confused and sometime contradictory international response. First is the wide variety of political and organisational agendas and the pressure aid organisations feel to disburse committed funds regardless of conflict trends – in some western countries' cases buttressed by domestic political demand from immigrant Sri Lankan constituencies in support of reconstruction. Diplomatically, many actors are reluctant to further involve themselves in a country of modest strategic importance: despite their verbal support for a renewed peace process in Sri Lanka, they are distracted by numerous other concerns much higher on their priority lists.
Secondly, most international actors have not sufficiently analysed the factors driving the conflict and have generally neglected to ask themselves how their carrots or sticks would impact on the political interests of the main protagonists. As a result, the incentives or disincentives they have proposed are often of little relevance to those concerned. For example, the assumption that offering considerable sums to reconstruct the north-east would be sufficient to lure the LTTE back to the table has failed to take into account that the civil conflict in Sri Lanka has always been, above all, a political beast, where economic incentives matter only insofar as they impact on core political interests. The 2002 ceasefire agreement was only signed because of both sides' perception of the relative probability of medium-term gains with regard to their political aims. The promise of pledges in Tokyo was largely irrelevant to the LTTE, which saw itself being relegated to second tier political status by the April 2003 Washington conference that excluded them.
In practice the perverse impact of the incentives has often been not to cause protagonists to re-evaluate their position but to reinforce it. For example, the reconstruction funds intended as an incentive to bring the north-east (and the LTTE) back into the mainstream were brandished by Sinhalese nationalist groups as proof that 'outsiders' were attempting to reinforce the LTTE and split the country. Simultaneously, the gap between the funds that were believed to have been promised and what actually arrived in the north-east was used by LTTE hardliners to justify their scepticism about any negotiated settlement.
Thirdly, given the conflicting international agendas referred to above, most aid and diplomatic actors (albeit not all) have been unwilling to seriously engage in a discussion of how their own interests could be reframed within a wider, more concerted approach, in which the carrots and sticks might be complementary and thus mutually reinforcing. The notion of strategic complementarity has occupied a marginal place in discussions about the role of international actors.
Fourthly, many international actors have until recently failed to fully appreciate – and incorporate in their positions – the idea that responsibility for the current state of the conflict lies with both the LTTE and a succession of Sri Lankan governments. This has resulted in a clear lack of even-handedness in defining incentives and a lack of seriousness in holding the government accountable. Given widespread condemnation of the LTTE's responsibility for numerous appalling actions, ranging from assassinations to the recruitment of child soldiers to the suppression of democracy in the north-east, and donor organisations' frequent inherent bias towards governments, the general tendency was to publicly condemn the LTTE as the 'bad guys' and treat the government as the (comparatively) 'good guys.' This bias has driven the LTTE even further to the margins of a debate where they consider that they will never be treated fairly.