Military Agreement between United States and Sri Lanka Could be politically tricky
(Courtesy of Asian Tribune)
Daya Gamage – US Bureau Asian Tribune
The Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement (ACSA) signed between the United States and Sri Lanka on March 5, which provides for among other things logistics supplies and re-fuelling facilities, has created uproar in opposition political parties in Sri Lanka.
To the proponents, it is a simple, transparent and straightforward agreement between the two countries to facilitate the exchange of non-lethal equipment, increase cooperation in the field and reduce the paperwork involved which explicitly prohibit the provision of weapons systems or ammunition.
To the opponents, the agreement opened the United States to have a foothold in Sri Lanka to open a military base or use ports and airports for its military endeavors as a major component of its foreign policy, and is a military deal loaded in Washington’s favor. Indian military writers have already pronounced it as good as acquiring a base in the Indian Ocean and at little or no cost.
Both the Sri Lankan and American governments are yet to release the agreement, and its delay has further caused suspicion among political parties in Sri Lanka and defense columnists in India.
The ‘Asian Tribune’ did some research to give its readers and other interested elements in Sri Lanka a glimpse of what an Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement is, what it means to the United States, what the policymakers of the United States attempt to achieve in signing an agreement of this nature and its impact on the country that enters into such an agreement with the U.S. and the regional impact.
Sri Lanka is the 90th country to sign an ACSA with the United States, and Washington was keen on such an agreement for many years. It is interesting to mention here that this keenness was shown during the Ranil Wickremasinghe administration in early 2002 whose political party, the United National Party, now views this agreement with suspicion.
In March 2002, a delegation of US officials, led by the then Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca and including US Brigadier General Timothy Ghormely, commander of the US Marine Expeditionary Brigade, visited Sri Lanka for talks with then prime minister Wickremasinghe, his Defense Minister Tilak Marapona and senior army officers at the Palaly army camp in the north. A four-member team of US military and legal experts visited Sri Lanka the following month. The latter visit was an unannounced one.
But the purpose of the visits did not escape the radar of “Sunday Times” defense analyst Iqbal Athas. This Sri Lanka’s leading Sunday English language newspaper in its defense column reported that the Wickremasinghe administration was covertly negotiating with the United States an agreement known as the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA). The paper reported that, under the agreement, the US would provide military training as well as equipment and spare parts for Sri Lanka. The “Sunday Times” further said “the training, which will encompass joint exercises with United States Armed Forces, will focus on counter terrorism and related activity”.
India’s opposition blocked the signing of the agreement.
The United States’ new strategic relationship with India paved the way for the current Mahinda Rajapaksa administration to revive the ACSA agreement which was signed on March 5, 2007, and a press release by the US Embassy said: “The agreement will increase interoperability between the two countries. This (the agreement) allows the United States and Sri Lanka to transfer and exchange logistics supplies, support, and re-fuelling services, either in kind or in cost, during peacekeeping missions, humanitarian operations and joint exercises.” The press release clarified that the agreement would allow exchange of food supplies, petroleum, and transportation services, but expressly prohibits the provision of weapons systems and ammunition.
“ACSA will facilitate the exchange of non-lethal equipment, increase cooperation in the field and reduce paperwork involved,” American Ambassador Blake said in a statement. The US Embassy further said that the logistic support allowed under this agreement cannot be transferred beyond the forces of the receiving party without the consent of the providing party. This clause is included in the US Congress passed laws connected with the execution of the ACSA.
The United States law that governs the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) is as follows:
U.S. Code Title 10 Section 2342. Cross-servicing agreements
(a)(1) Subject to section 2343 of this title and to the availability of appropriations, and after consultation with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense may enter into an agreement described in paragraph (2) with any of the following:
(A) The government of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization country
(B) A subsidiary body of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
(C) The United Nations Organization or any regional international organization of which the United States is a member.
(D) The government of a country not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization but which is designated by the Secretary of Defense, subject to the limitations prescribed in subsection (b), as a government with which the Secretary may enter into agreements under this section.
(2) An agreement referred to in paragraph (1) is an agreement under which the United States agrees to provide logistic support, supplies, and services to military forces of a country or organization referred to in paragraph (1) in return for the reciprocal provisions of logistic support, supplies, and services by such government or organization to elements of the armed forces.
(b) The Secretary of Defense may not designate a country for an agreement under this section unless –
(1) the Secretary, after consultation with the Secretary of State, determines that the designation of such country for such purpose is in the interest of the national security of the United States; and
(2) in the case of a country which is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Secretary submits to the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives notice of the intended designation at least 30 days before the date on which such country is designated by the Secretary under subsection (a).
An Indian writer on defense and security matters Muralidhar Reddy sees the agreement in a different perspective:
“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 favor. 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.
“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.”
In May 2004, Colonel Virgil S.L. Williams and Colonel Debbie Little, both of the United States Army, presented a position paper to the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania under the title “United States Security Strategy for the Asia-Pacific Region’. The paper was release as an unclassified document by the War College. “Asian Tribune” presents a relevant and interesting section of this position paper, without any editorial comment, for readers to grasp the overall objective of the United States when entering into agreements such as ACSA. However, the U.S. Army War College said at the time of its release that it does not represent the position of the U.S. Government or the US Department of Defense. Nevertheless, ‘Asian Tribune’ is in a position to safely opine that the sentiments expressed in this paper by two officers of the Army War College somewhat reflect the sentiments of those who encourage the signing and execution of ACSAs as sentiments similar to these has been aired in U.S. Senate and House committees when discussing this type of agreements.
The following is what the two U.S. military officers of the Army War College wrote in their position paper “United States Security Strategy for the Asia-Pacific Region”:
“Agreements (ACSA) formally establish terms and conditions for exchange of logistics support for joint training and exercises, peacekeeping operations, humanitarian and disaster relief operations and contingency operations. As United States reduce its forces in the region, ally support will become increasingly important. Negotiating more ACSAs with host nations can enhance operational readiness and reduce the logistic tail. In addition, ACSAs allow visiting military forces to receive logistic support in the form of supplies; petroleum; transportation; base operations support; use of repair and maintenance facilities; and access to airfields and ports.
“In addition to host nation supplies and services, ACSA can give U.S. access to basing and infrastructure necessary for force projection in and through the USPACOM (US Pacific Command) area of responsibility.
“Again ACSAs proved critical during Desert Storm/Desert Shield when a significant percentage of strategic aircraft, combat aircraft and naval vessels were staged from or through USPACOM’s area of responsibility in support of operations. Agreements of this nature continue to prove critical as countries in the USPACOM area of responsibility currently provide access in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraq Freedom.”
Sri Lanka is within the jurisdiction of the US Pacific Command area responsibility (USPACOM).
- Asian Tribune -