SOFA — American Boots in Sri Lanka in ‘Soft Power’ Insertion

Daya Gamage, in Asian Tribune, 6 June 2018, with this title “U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy Report 2019: Military presence to secure ‘Homeland’.”

Coinciding the Asia Security Summit – the Shangri-la Dialogue – in Singapore in which US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was the major participant, on June 1 Washington released the 2019 the Trump-Defense Department-designed Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, labeling Asia the ‘priority Theater’, and explicitly declaring, the U.S. enhanced military presence in the region is to “protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life”.U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaks at the IISS Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, June 1, 2019 – All about Military and Defense issues..

Similarly, the first sentence of the report itself (“The Indo-Pacific is the single most consequential region for America’s future.”) could not be more explicit.

The report underscores Washington’s enduring commitment to the Asia-Pacific Region, which the Asian Tribune has been trying to explain since early this year highlighting America’s interest in the geo-strategically located South Asian nation – Sri Lanka. What the Asian Tribune has been interpreting ‘America’s Pivot to Asia’ in many well-researched-investigative analyses, the 2019 U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy Report lays out U.S. national interests and defense strategy based on its overall National Security Strategy.

Working with the long-time allies in the Asia-Pacific Region and ‘recruiting’ ‘partners’ in the region such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives etc., the Report unambiguously declares America’s military thrust as to:

  1. Protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life;
  2. Promote American prosperity through fair and reciprocal economic relationships to address trade imbalances;
  3. Preserve peace through strength by rebuilding our military so that it remains preeminent, and rely on allies and partners to shoulder a fair share of the burden of responsibility to protect against common threats; and,
  4. Advance American influence by competing and leading in multilateral organizations so that American interests and principles are protected. While these interests are global in nature, they assume a heightened significance in a region as strategically and economically consequential as the Indo-Pacific.

The report recalls that the 2018 National Defense Strategy guides the Department of Defense to support the National Security Strategy in order to:

  1. Defend the homeland;
  2. Remain the preeminent military power in the world;
  3. Ensure the balance of power in key regions remain in our favor; and
  4. Advance an international order that is most conducive to our security and prosperity.

Both the (US) National Security Strategy and the (US) National Defense Strategy affirm the Indo-Pacific as critical for America’s continued stability, security, and prosperity.The Asian Tribune in its arguments this year in many analytical reports underscored this  American strategy when discussing the Asia-Pa cific Region, and for what purpose Washington was endeavoring to rope smaller nations in the region to fulfil its ‘grand design’ using these South Asian nations targeting a strategically located nation such as Sri Lanka.

Hence the June1-released U.S. Department of Defense’s Indo-Pacific Strategy Report.

It says “the National Security Strategy calls on the United States to pursue cooperation and reciprocity together with our allies, partners, and aspiring partners.

To this end Within South Asia, we are working to operationalize our Major Defense Partnership with India, while pursuing emerging partnerships with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Nepal. While the region offers unprecedented opportunity, it is also confronting a myriad of security challenges, including terrorism, transnational crime, trafficking-in-persons, and illicit drugs. To combat these challenges, the United States seeks opportunities to broaden and strengthen partnerships with India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Nepal to respond to shared regional challenges”.

About Sri Lanka the report says: Since 2015, US Department of Defense (DoD) has strengthened its relationship with Sri Lanka and increased military engagements significantly, particularly with the Sri Lankan Navy. In 2017, we conducted the first port visit in 30 years by a U.S. aircraft carrier – the USS NIMITZ Carrier Strike Group – and the first ever bilateral Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Exercise. In 2019, we increased cooperation on mutual logistics arrangements in support of Indian Ocean security and disaster response.

Then it highlights: Sri Lanka, whose strategic location in the Indian Ocean through which 70 percent of maritime traffic passes, has outlined a vision to become a regional hub for logistics and commerce. Supporting this vision, the U.S. Navy recently initiated a series of temporary cargo transfer initiatives enabling non-lethal re-supply of passing naval vessels in Sri Lanka. These engagements serve as proof of principle for a range of initiatives that would benefit regional connectivity and security.

Declaring that Washington, by end of 2019, will have 12 ‘partnership’ nations in the Indo-Pacific the report confirms that the latest recruits are Nepal and Sri Lanka. The Asian Tribune previous reports disclosed how the United States used its strategy since the advent of the Sirisena-Wickremasinghe administration to transform the whole of Sri Lanka as a ‘US Military Hub’ as opposed to establishing a military base in an isolated port.

DoD’s Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) – Section 1263 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2016 – was originally established as a five-year authority focused on building partners’ maritime capacity. The NDAA for FY 2019 extended the authority through December 2025 and expanded the scope of the initiative – now designated the Indo-Pacific MSI – into South Asia. MSI authorizes the provision of training, equipment, supplies, and small-scale construction to the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh to enhance their ability to “sense, share, and contribute” to maritime security and MDA; to create a common Regional Maritime Picture; and to empower them to observe and control more effectively their own sovereign maritime spaces, both individually and jointly, notes the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy Report 2019.

Not Human Rights, National Security Foremost

The Trump White House’ systematic deprioritizing of human rights over the last two years, a major departure from the previous Obama administration with Secretary of State interfering into smaller nations such as Sri Lanka on issues of human rights and rule of law, is well reflected in the report. Elsewhere in the report it reveals the Trump administration’s reluctance to “impose our way of life on others” underscoring the enhanced military structure in the Indo-Pacific Region. It should be noted that the administration has pulled back from human rights, democracy promotion and multilateral engagement. The main thrust of the Trump administration, as reflected in the June First-released report, is building a coalition of both allies and partners to help Washington to safeguard the Homeland while establishing a hegemony in the Indo-Pacific Region as one strategy to face the Chinese economic-military expansion.

The report notes:

As China continues its economic and military ascendance, it seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and, ultimately global pre-eminence in the long-term. China is investing in a broad range of military programs and weapons, including those designed to improve power projection; modernize its nuclear forces; and conduct increasingly complex operations in domains such as cyberspace, space, and electronic warfare operations.

China is using economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to comply with its agenda.

China’s investments result in negative economic effects or costs to host country sovereignty. Chinese investment and project financing that bypasses regular market mechanisms results in lower standards and reduced opportunities for local companies and workers, and can result in significant debt accumulation. One-sided and opaque deals are inconsistent with the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific, and are causing concern in the region. For example, in 2018, Bangladesh was forced to ban one of China’s major state firms for attempted bribery, and in the same year, Maldives’ finance minister stated that China was building infrastructure projects in the country at significantly inflated prices compared to what was previously agreed. Furthermore, a Chinese state-owned enterprise purchased operational control of Hambantota Port for 99 years, taking advantage of Sri Lanka’s need for cash when its government faced daunting external debt repayment obligations.

The United States, however, has serious concerns with China’s potential to convert unsustainable debt burdens of recipient countries or sub-national groups into strategic and military access, including by taking possession of sovereign assets as collateral.

The Indo-Pacific region continues to experience a myriad of security challenges from a range of transnational threats, including [THE FOLLOWING]: terrorism; illicit arms; drug, human, and wildlife trafficking; and piracy, as well as dangerous pathogens, weapons proliferation, and natural disasters. Multiple terrorist organizations, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), operate in countries throughout the region.

The report noted: In South Asia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are also on a positive trajectory. In Sri Lanka, after 25 years of conflict, the government has transitioned to a constitutional, multiparty republic with a freely elected President and Parliament. The political system was challenged with a constitutional dispute in late 2018. Ultimately, however, all parties respected the Supreme Court ruling that returned democratic processes and norms, and the military remained uninvolved throughout the dispute.

That was one of the several references to Sri Lanka which the United States found easier – during the past 18 months – to transform this island-nation into a ‘military hub’.

With the arrival of America’s former ambassador Robert Blake in Colombo last month, reading between the lines of his major foreign-policy address, Washington seems to be aware of the imminent return of the Rajapaksas to ‘coach’ them to maintain the military thrust to the Asia-Pacific Region in which Sri Lanka has become an important ‘link’ to further American military design. At the conclusion of the Asia Security Summit – the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore -the Assistant Secretary of Political-Military Affairs in the State Department, who attended the summit with US Defense Secretary, is in Colombo to discuss the implementation of the ‘classified’ 83-page Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement (ACSA) which became effective in August 2017 legitimizing the American boots on Sri Lanka’s soil, and finalizing the modalities of the Strategic Forces Agreement (SOFA) which is expected to provide diplomatic cover to those ‘American Boots’ currently under negotiation between the diplomats of both nations.

The readers can access the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report (2019) at https://media.defense.gov/2019/May/31/2002139210/-1/-1/1/DOD_INDO_PACIFI…for further understanding of Washington’s strategic military designs which has roped sovereign nations in South Asia.

*****

ALSO NOTE

Daya Gamage; “U.S. Pol-Mil Affairs official visits Sri Lanka to streamline military presence,”  6 June 2019, http://www.asiantribune.com/node/92796

Daya Gamage: Gamage reveals USA’s Strategic Goals in the Indian Ocean and Sri Lanka’s Place via 2007 Robert Blake Cables,”  17 February 2019, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/02/17/gamage-reveals-usas-strategic-goals-in-the-indian-ocean-and-sri-lankas-place-via-2007-robert-blake-cables/

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Filed under american imperialism, centre-periphery relations, China and Chinese influences, economic processes, Indian Ocean politics, legal issues, military strategy, modernity & modernization, politIcal discourse, power politics, security, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, the imaginary and the real, transport and communications, truth as casualty of war, world events & processes

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