Indian Ocean Region
Another U.S. base in the Indian Ocean?
B. Muralidhar Reddy in the Hindu, 9 March 2007
" The provisions of the Acquisition and
Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) cannot be described as being
detrimental to New Delhi's interests in the current phase of its
relations with Washington. However, in a possible new context India has
every reason to be concerned about the pact. A brief summary of the
nature of the agreement will illustrate this. India, from a long-term
perspective, has every reason to be concerned about the ACSA between the
U.S. and Sri Lanka.. The fact it took so long for Colombo to join the
ACSA club is illuminating. "
[see also 1.Video-Interview
with Dharmaretnam D. Sivaram on the strategic interests of the big
powers in Sri Lanka.
Sivaram was silenced by his enemies on 28th of April 2005 2.
India's Project Seabird and the Indian Ocean's Balance of Power
US views Tamil Nadu
as 'gateway state' connected both to the east and the west]
Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) signed by the United States
and Sri Lanka on March 5, which provides for among other things logistics
supplies and re-fuelling facilities, has major ramifications for the region,
However, New Delhi's silence on the development is a reflection of the changed
geo-political environment in the post-Cold War era with the emergence of the
U.S. as the sole superpower. The new dynamics in India-U.S. ties could be
another reason for South Block's silence.
For all the sophistry and spin by the Americans, the ACSA is a military deal
and, on the face of it, is loaded in Washington's favour. For the U.S., it is as
good as acquiring a base in the Indian Ocean and at little or no cost. In the
immediate context, the ACSA suits the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government as an
advertisement of its influence with the superpower in general and in its fight
against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in particular.
Just a few years ago, such an agreement would have been inconceivable given the
sensitivities of India in view of the geographical proximity of Sri Lanka. For
example, the grant of permission by Colombo to Voice of America to establish its
transmitter in the island and the leasing of oil tanks in Trincomalee port to
pro-American firms were major bones of contention between India and Sri Lanka
Both the subjects were covered elaborately in the
exchange of letters between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lanka's
President J.R. Jayawardene as part of the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The key
element in the letters was the agreement that given
"the importance of nurturing this traditional friendship, it
is imperative that both Sri Lanka and India reaffirm the decision not to
allow our respective territories to be used for activities prejudicial to
each other's unity, territorial integrity and security."
The provisions of the ACSA cannot be described as being
detrimental to New Delhi's interests in the current phase of its relations with
Washington. However, in a possible new context India has every reason to be
concerned about the pact. A brief summary of the nature of the agreement will
Sri Lanka is the 90th country to sign an ACSA with the U.S.; Washington
had been keen on such an agreement for years. The fact it took so long for
Colombo to join the ACSA club is illuminating. The agreement provides a
framework for increased inter-operability to transfer and exchange logistics
supplies, and support and re-fuelling services during peacekeeping missions,
humanitarian operations, and joint exercises.
The U.S. is engaged in
these operations in different parts of the globe. Sri Lanka, a nation of 20
million saddled with an ethnic conflict, does not have the capabilities or
infrastructure for such ventures even if it desired. The definition of some of
the operations under the ASCA could be politically tricky. Iraq and Afghanistan
are a case in point. Are the U.S. and its allies engaged in peacekeeping
operations or waging a war in Iraq and Afghanistan? The answer will depend on
who is posing the question to whom.
The categories of allowable goods
and services include food, petroleum, and transportation. Of course, the
provision of weapons systems or ammunition is expressly prohibited under the
agreement. There are examples galore where food and fuel have been used as
weapons. Indeed, there are safeguards in the pact that logistics support allowed
under it cannot be transferred beyond the forces of the receiving party without
consent of the providing party. And all transactions must be mutually agreed
upon before any transfer is made.
However, is a foolproof mechanism
possible to ensure compliance in letter and spirit of such accords particularly
for smaller countries in dealing with a superpower?
signatory to the document from the Sri Lankan side was Gothabaya Rajapaksa,
Defence Secretary and brother of the President. The American side was
represented by its envoy in Colombo, Robert Blake. The ACSA comes under the
Pentagon's jurisdiction. Though the signing ceremony took place in Colombo, the
Sri Lankan Government did not deem it necessary to issue any statement on the
subject. The Ministries of Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Information merely
circulated the press release issued by the U.S. Embassy in Colombo on the deal.