The tools of international intervention included threats of further proscriptions of the LTTE (the Norwegian initiative coincided with the global 'war on terror'), making international aid for Tamil areas conditional on 'progress towards peace' as well as support for joint initiatives (eg reconstruction efforts) by the parties. Crucially, moreover, there was also robust international support for rearming and reconstituting the Sri Lankan military and revival of the country's economy – in effect reversing key factors of the stalemate that some argue led to the peace process.
Without international coordination or consensus on 'making peace' in Sri Lanka, save keeping the LTTE at the table, these tools formed an ad hoc bundle rather than a tight package. The bundle, moreover, broadly sought to deter the LTTE from 'returning to war' and compelling it to make specific concessions, such as giving up its demand for independence and ultimately disarming. This coercive approach underpinned the Sri Lankan government's often asserted confidence in what it termed an 'international safety net.'
This inherent asymmetry in the bundle can be illustrated, for example, by examining the use of conditionalities on aid for the northeast, the relative seriousness with which the parties' breaches of the CFA were taken and the preference for sanctions over incentives when applied to the LTTE. In June 2003 donors pledged US$4.5bn in reconstruction aid for the 'entire' country, but only the (unspecified) amount destined for the war-shattered northeast was made conditional on 'progress' in the peace process. Outside these pledges, bilateral and multilateral aid to the state continued. The state also benefited from economic assistance such as the EU's favorable import terms. Thus the primary impact of the aid conditionality was to block most humanitarian aid to the Tamil-dominated northeast while enabling the recovery of the south (at least until the catastrophic tsunami of December 2004, by which time the peace process was moribund).
With its military strengthened and economy recovering, there was little incentive for the state to make the concessions required for 'progress' at the table. LTTE concessions, meanwhile, did not result in tangible shifts in international attitudes. The LTTE's agreement to 'explore' federalism as a solution was met with cynicism, rather than support. Its agreement to drop its primary demand coming into the talks – an interim administration – was barely acknowledged. After the tsunami, amidst international encouragement, even insistence, the LTTE made several concessions to ensure agreement was reached with the state on an aid-sharing mechanism (PTOMS). However, after it was signed, donors turned away (the US cited its own ban on the LTTE).
Ceasefire breaches blamed on the LTTE drew significantly greater international scrutiny and criticism than those blamed on the government. For example, accusations of underage recruitment by the LTTE were meticulously recorded whilst the military's standing occupation of up to 30,000 Tamil civilian homes was ignored. The international community did not see the military's sinking of two LTTE merchant ships in international waters during the talks as unduly problematic.
By not recognising that rising violence was a cycle of retaliation between army-backed paramilitaries and the LTTE, international actors denounced the latter's 'intransigence' and saw the state as tolerant and applied sanctions and incentives accordingly. Indeed, LTTE protests that violence was sustained by ongoing state support for paramilitaries in contravention of the CFA was not taken seriously by the international community until late 2006, long after the shadow war had become open (if undeclared) war.
In general, there were few credible incentives offered to the LTTE, apart from a vague prospect of legitimacy. Despite rhetorical support for joint mechanisms, donors disbursed aid for LTTE-controlled areas (once it was approved by the state) through NGOs and state agencies, rather than the LTTE's civil administrative structures. On the other hand, the listing of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation by the EU and Canada in 2006 was supposed to 'encourage' the LTTE to return to the table (even though the new government was by then refusing to commit to the CFA). But there are no criteria for deproscription (the US and UK have always insisted, implausibly, that the LTTE must disarm first), obscuring any incentive for the LTTE to do so.