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Home  > Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom > International Frame of  the Tamil Struggle  > The Indian Ocean Region - A  Story Told with Pictures > Another U.S. base in the Indian Ocean? - Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement & the Indo Sri Lanka Accord > International Relations in an Asymmetric Multi Lateral World

The 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  and 3. US views Tamil Nadu as 'gateway state' connected both to the east and the west]


The ten year 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, particularly India.

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 for decades.

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 illustrate this.

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?

Curiously, the 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.

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