Americaâ€™s Indian Ocean Bases, US Geneva Resolution, British way of subverting justice and Cameronâ€™s Hypocrisy
Posted on April 29th, 2014
By Bandu de Silva
Â â€œSri Lankaâ€™s new port built at Hambantota figures very much in this discussion. If India, Japan or South Korea would have built the port infrastructure there as they have been engaging in neighbouring Iran, no questions could have arisen for the US or India over security threat in the Indian Ocean. It is precisely because it was China that built the infrastructure that the security issues have been raised both by US and India. The latter was quick enough to establish a Consulate-General at Hambantota even before the first ship arrived in the new harbor. It is then the adversarial position and a conceived military aggressiveness on the part of China which US and India see in China which is at the bottom of US/ Indian assessment of Chinaâ€™ infrastructure building activities in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistanâ€
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Considering how the designing of strategic relationships of nations with wide ranging strategic interests round the globe could take amazingly surprising directions, it should not surprise anyone if one were to suggest that the US sponsored Resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC seeking investigation into allegations of human rights and humanitarian law during the war against terrorism, has less to do with Sri Lanka but more to do with USâ€™s self interest in the Indian Ocean region. Until a few years back, Sri Lanka, in her heyday of diplomacy under Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike, became the torch bearer of the call to declare the Indian Ocean as a Peace Zone, a project which had wide ranged acceptance at the UN General Assembly and consequently, Sri Lanka was appointed with my former diplomatic colleague, Ambassador N.Balasubramanium, as the Chair to seek the implementation of the proposal.
That cut right across the interests of the two Super Powers at the time, more so at the US which was seen moving to establish military bases, both Air Force and Naval bases, in the Indian Ocean. With her near 30 years of internal war fighting Tamil terrorism, and its fallout since, Sri Lankaâ€™s lead role in the Indian Ocean Peace Zone proposal has been debilitated. Yet, it would be in the minds of affected nations like the US to see that no chance is allowed to this small island nation, after ending its debilitating internecine dispute, to rise to its former role as torch bearer of IOPZ it once was. The prospects of such a situation arising again could emerge now only with a combination of factors like visionary political leadership with rebuilding and revitaliasation of lost professionalism in the Sri Lankan Foreign Office caused under the present regime and a process of revitalasation of Indo- Sri Lankan joint diplomatic partnership as it was earlier. India was the less vocal partner earlier for her own reasons while Sri Lanka was the front country. As a corollary, it is natural that the parties which were bent on turning the Indian Ocean region into an area of hegemonic interest would want to keep India and Sri Lanka separated raising other issues to prevent an axis forming to revive the IOPZ idea.
The US Resolution in Geneva
For all ostensible reasons, the US sponsored Resolution on Sri Lanka might seem to arise from genuine concern of the sponsoring nation which seems to pretend it has an impeccable record in observing these accepted values in human rights and humanitarian law. That is how it has been presented to the world but it took not an easy time for US to convince other members of the UNHCR, not without exercising coercion, economic and political and military related pressures to build up an international public opinion in favour of its position. That is what this so called â€œcleanâ€ nation which like the proverbial crustacean has no shame to carry its night soil on the head to announce how clean it is inside, exerted to prevent other nations supporting the Rome Treaty after it had withdrawn its early sponsorship. US succeeded this time at Geneva to gain a bare majority of one vote in favour of the Resolution while others opposed it or abstained on. That US was a country disqualified to lead a campaign against Sri Lanka or any other for that matter, was demonstrated from USâ€™s record from WW II through Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the destablising of other regimes in the Balkan, and Maghreb and elsewhere. That is if one does not want to go further backwards into the days of grabbing of lands of native Indian. A suddenly discovered sense of Christian values of justice which did not come into focus when these numerous reprehensible and shameful actions against humankind were committed, is brought in to argue for action against Sri Lanka.
But if one takes a close look, the US is really not only on an endeavor to hide her many skeletons in the cupboard including the crime of dropping of the Atomic bombs on the largely populated civilian centres of Yokohama and Nagasaki in Japan even after Japanese war machine had been broken up, and unceasing bombing of Dresden City in Germany after the surrender, Mai Lai and others, not to speak of raining millions of napalm bombs on Vietnam, the atrocities committed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere including drone attacks on civilians, but also to forestall the issue of US Air and Naval base in the Indian Ocean, -Diego Garcia coming into focus when the 50 year lease of which it obtained from Britain is due to expire in 2016. Whether or not, such a nation as the US which has committed the many heinous crimes against mankind has any moral right whatsoever, to point to any otherâ€™s shortcomings in respect of human rights and non â€“observance of humanitarian law, even if it is several times born-again, is another matter. That has become Americaâ€™s privilege, unfortunately. It is not justice or the claimed Christian values that dominate but the sheer global power that US wields.
Relationship to Geneva
There have been no discussion so far on the prospects of US bases in the Indian Ocean having had any relationship to the USâ€™s Geneva Resolution issue over Sri Lanka. A few speculative writings have been in circulation that US was using the Resolution as a pressure point in order to gain a foothold on Sri Lanka because of the strategic importance of Trincomalee harbor but these writings did not argue how the equation was arrived at. There can be some substance behind this speculation if one observes that US is now seen looking for alternative base facilities to Diego Garcia which is USâ€™s largest military base outside US, for its air force and navy. This was seen in the interest shown in facilities in Maldives. The recent political changes there were seen having some relationship to this issue. For the time being, perhaps, due to other regional hands at work, the US initiative in Maldives appears to have taken a back seat. The other development is US interest shown two years back with the Labour government in Australia in developing facilities for US air and naval activities in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka has always remained in USâ€™s radar because of her strategic position in the India Ocean where international sea lanes traverse. Sri Lankaâ€™s near 30 years war itself can be seen as having had its root cause in the interest shown by US in gaining a foothold at Trincomalee during the J.R.Jayewardene Presidency, which, at that time, the Indian government with her pro-Soviet agenda was out to oppose.
What is Diego Garcia?
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Many may not know the significance, but this is the biggest strategist Air and Naval base outside US which is operative presently in the Indian Ocean south west of Sri Lanka. The sovereignty over the Atolls was sold to Britain by Government of Mauritius for a sum of Pound Sterling 300,000 (some sources say, 3 million Pound Stg) and other islands of the Chagos archipelago for a further sum, as a pre-condition to the grant of independence to the island. Thereafter, Diego Garcia was leased for 50 years by Britain to the US to build its air and naval base for joint strategic purposes after forcibly evicting its original inhabitants who were transferred to Mauritius. Many of them live in the shanties of Mauritius deprived of their human rights. Some have since been removed to Seychelles.
IN 2000, the Chagosians won a British High Court verdict in their favour confirming their right to return to homelands but the British government, through an Order â€“in-Council, an archaic prerogative of the Crown, countermanded the Court order and prohibited the return of the population. A further High Court verdict by the London High Court in May 2006, has confirmed their right to return to their homelands, but this time, not to Diego Garcia, but to the islands in the Chagos archipelago. The Court, nevertheless, offered a devastating assessment of the British conduct in the case, calling it â€œan outrageous, unlawful, and a breach of accepted moral standards.â€
The intention when the Atoll was selected to be developed as a US military base was to use the facility for launching US strategic designs to destablise the oil producing Middle East in order to gain a hegemonic control of the region and to monitor activities of the former Soviet Union in the Indian Ocean region.
Diego Garcia used for offensive purposes
The strategic air base used as a â€œcritically importantâ€œ one as a refueling base during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and during operation Desert Storm, served as a base for B 2 and B 52 bombers which on December 17 1998, launched nearly 100 long-range cruise missiles against targets in Iraq. Beginning from October 7 2001, the US again used Diego Garcia to launch attacks on Afghanistan.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The airbase is also used to launch drones to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Perhaps, it was from this base that the drone attack reported today (21 April 2014) in Ceylon Today against the Al Qaeda in rebels in mountains of Yemen was launched. That attack in Yemen, strangely, has brought about a verdict by US Courts to â€open upâ€ on drone attacks though it was supportive of such attacks earlier. This is because the lives of three American citizens were lost in the recent attack in Yemen. How strange!
The military base had by 2006, 40 British and 1000 US military personnel, and 2400 support workers of various nationalities (primarily Filipinos and Sri Lankans).
A suspected Detention Centre
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Though the US military has not confirmed it, it is strongly believed to be used also as detention centre or Al Queda suspects including Hambili, the leader of the Asian terrorist group Jemali Islamaiyah. The Libyan General of Moammar Gadhafi too was reported to have been taken there and tortured before finally he was returned from Malaysia.
The air and naval operations centred round Diego Garcia are then many-fold that the place is now considered cramped up . Both US and Britain want to cover up the ongoing activities using this base. A useful bogey to detract attention is to point to China as a potential threat to maritime safety in the Indian Ocean. For this US is exploiting the Sino-Indian cleavage to the maximum. The â€œString of Pearlsâ€ idea which the US security establishment has been projecting, for which there has been a ready audience in India, is reflected in the Lok Sabha debate from time to time and in the numerous media references.
British way of subverting High Court verdict/ Cameronâ€™s Hypocrisy
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Notwithstanding the success with which US has used the support of the British government to subvert the judgment by British Courts in favour of Chagosians returning to the Chagos archipelago, if not to Diego Garcia itself, as the 2006 London High Courtâ€™s judgment directed, by bringing political pressure on Britain not to accede to the Court Order, there appears to be some uncertainty about the continued use of the Atoll by the US for the purpose of a US base after the end of the 50 year lease in 2016. The manner in which the British Court Orders were subverted and what the Courts called â€œan outrageous, unlawful, and a breach of accepted moral standardsâ€ in evacuating the Chagosians from Diego Garcia and other Chagosian atolls, it is with this â€œshamefulâ€ record that the High Court earlier declared, were ignored, how Prime Minister David Cameron joined the US to preach morality to Sri Lanka over alleged violation of human rights and crying for justice for evacuation of people removed from the High Security Zone in the Jaffna peninsula and withdrawal of the military from the North of the island, which is now part of the Resolution adopted this year against Sri Lanka is hypocrisy of the highest order this nation which speaks of Christian values together with US and others is now engaging.
US Concerns over Diego Garcia
Â Â Â Â Â Â Meanwhile, a case filed in the International Court of Justice by Mauritius claiming that the Chagos group of islands were unjustly acquired by Britain when Mauritius was yet a colony, hangs over at a time when the lease by Britain is due to expire in 2016. This is considered as the reason why US is showing interest in looking for alternatives to Diego Garcia. If one of the causes which favoured US in thwarting any international efforts against itâ€™s continued retention of the Atoll besides getting the British government to subvert British justice, another factor favouring the US is the present emasculation of formerly vocal international forces – I mean especially, the mutation of the voice of the NAM after the demise of the former USSR and the resultant uni-polarisation with US in the sole hegemonic role, and the related silencing of former stalwarts in the NAM like Yugoslavia (destabilised and disintegrated), Algeria ( internal strife fostered), Egypt (preoccupied with internal problems), Libya (strongmanâ€™s power broken and the country reduced to chaos), Iraq (destroyed), Sri Lanka (through 30 years of terrorist war since made to be preoccupied herself with human rights/humanitarian law violation allegations), India (won over to US side) – yet, a verdict by the International Court in favour of Mauritius and return of Chagosians to the archipelago could become a formidable obstacle to the US to continue operating the base and retaining the Chagos archipelago free of people who are not approved by the US authorities. With the nearer atolls being only 100 miles away, and if Mauritius commences exploiting the rich Tuna grounds with other nation support (The Chinese cannot be excluded), could compromise the future security of the base and secrecy around Diego Garcia.Â Â
International Court of Justice intervention
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â A point that rises in my mind is if this whole affair of referring the case to the International Court of Justice is if it is a ploy, at the bottom of which one may find the hand of US itself. This proposition is made on the hypothesis that US would find it easy to deal with Mauritius in the future than with Britain where the Courts had not been looking at British action of evicting the population favourably and because of the continuing chance of drawing popular attention to US base. A parallel was seen recently in the attempt to negotiate an arrangement to operate bases in a Maldivian atoll which was sabotaged by the quick changes in political landscape there. If US could cite a defence arrangement as it now does to defend its right to support Japan militarily to defend Senkuku islands, a case built upon a future defence arrangement with Mauritius, could have a stronger justification.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Strangely enough, one of the co-sponsors of the Draft Resolution against Sri Lanka outside the E/U was Mauritius. How this came about has not been probed. I wonder if it was the Diego Garcia issue which brought the US and Mauritius into a partnership on the Geneva vote issue on Sri Lanka. This economically backward former sugarcane plantation colony, which sold its sovereign rights to Chagos territory for a mere several hundred thousand Sterling Pounds, of course under duress as a condition imposed on granting independence, had been seen calling for the restitution of her sovereign rights over Diego Garcia and other Chagos atolls, is an interesting development. The prospects of US doing a deal with Mauritius for the defence of the Attols, if not their permanent acquisition for US, is a situation which cannot be overlooked.
This suggestion of a future US design for Diego Garcia and other atolls through a defence deal with Mauritius in the event the island nation succeeds in getting an ICJ decision in favour the restitution of sovereignty of the atolls to her, may need to be watched closely.
Why Mauritius was thrown in?
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â I recognise the first sign towards a f US-Mauritius collusion when Mauritius, the country which offered to host the next session of CHOGM withdrew the offer. Some convincing ploy had to be worked out. It came first in the form of Mauritius absenting from the CHOGM session held in Colombo last year. The reason given by Mauritius coincided with what the US was saying over the Draft Resolution. Another reason for Mauritius to withdraw sponsorship of the next CHOGM was, I conceive, is the US fear that with so much international attention coming to be focused on Mauritius during the holding of CHOGM session with a large international media coming to cover the event, the situation around the Chagos archipelago and Diego Garcia military base could not have been kept under wraps. At a time when the lease agreement of Diego Garcia is due for renewal, that could have presented an unfavorable situation to US. Could the non-attendance of Mauritius at the Colombo Summit and withdrawal of the offer to hold the next CHOGM, then be linked to US interests in the Diego Garcia military basis?
A thought I presented earlier the prospects of the Indian hand in the affair of Mauritiusâ€™s absence in Colombo, if not of New Delhi, but of Tamil Nadu politicians with whom Mauritius is in contact, but there is no reason to see why India should be seen wanting to persuade her from not holding the CHOGM as agreed. If an India hand is to be seen in the Mauritiusâ€™s legal suit in the International Court, one has to argue that there is a relationship going beyond mere cultural ties with India, a hidden agenda in India working in an opposite direction to present day Indo-US security cooperation. Such evidence is not easy to come by, though the prospect of the Chagosian atolls coming under Indian influence would fit into the thesis of India wanting the Indian Ocean confined as an Indian lake. The valuable Tuna grounds in the Chagos archipelago, itself provides a useful economic attraction. Presently, the issue has to remain in the area of speculation, however.
More on future of Diego Garcia as US base
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â There seem to be some concern over the future of the US Air/Naval base in Diego Garcia as observed above. These could rise from several considerations. One is the international public opinion. It is not that US is a country which cares a dime for international opinion when it comes to clash with its global interests. Domestic compulsions are different especially with a flagging economy which has reached recession status in recent years. The high cost of maintaining a military base like Diego Garcia can be a problem in this respect in the context of diminishing importance of Middle East after the destabilization/disintegration of countries like Iraq, and Libya in the Maghreb and Yugoslavia in the Balkans. In East Africa, former trouble spots like Sudan remaining divided, Ethiopia and Somalia have become less focused. In Afghanistan, the US is poised to withdraw her troops and it might come sooner than expected in view of deteriorating relations with former President Karzai. It is only Iran and Syria where US focus is now directed. In Syria, the rebellion has not succeeded as fast as it was expected. Russian attitudes remain a stumbling block. Iranâ€™s situation has been somewhat diffused after Ahmadinejad was succeeded by a moderate President. It is then only Russian concern that US has to meet for which the military Diego Garcia would be relevant.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â It is in this context that USâ€™s growing shift of focus to Asia and Pacific during the last two years has to be seen. The shifting In 2012 US commenced paying attention to Asia â€“Pacific was seen with the expansion of ties with Australia which country was expected to provide US ships in the Indian Ocean with greater accessibility to Australiaâ€™s Sterling naval base near Perth. (Washington Post report). US already began stationing 2500 marines in Darwin, the following month. Though US officials have not singled out China, the shift towards the region has been widely seen as an attempt to protect vital trade and shipping routes, as The Telegraph of London of 20 April, 2012, observed in a report by Johnathan Pearlman, Professor Hugh White of Australian National University was not so evasive. He stated: â€œThis is all about China, of course.â€ Australia is in a very complicate position in this. None of us want to live in Asia dominated by China., but none wants have an adversarial relationship with China.â€ Stephen Smith former Labour Defence Minister said in November 2011, that â€œDown the track, there may well be some greater use of the Cocos Island by Australia and US forces. Cocos island has been used to launch Global Hawk Surveillance drones and manned surveillance planes. Australia and US have also conducted joint trials of drones which could be used for wide ranging ocean surveillance. (The Telegraph).Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Hilary Clinton, during her visits to South East Asia and the Pacific, was seen encouraging these countries to take up an adversarial position against China over their territorial disputes with her. The countries involved were Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan and Japan. The consequences could be seen in the aggressive attitudes taken up by these countries thereafter.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â In a worst case scenario, the competition between the priorities attached, on one hand, to the US 7th Fleet built up since 1943, interest in which is unlikely to recede even in a recession-filled world, and the maintenance of the costly military base at Diego Garcia, on the other hand, the former could demand priority consideration over the other. Strategically, attention could be devolved on the type of advance defence battleships of the 7th Fleet as located in Japan readily equipped for movement to crisis areas in given moment, in case US were to lose its hold on continuing the military base in Diego Garcia. This type of debate was present in military discourse earlier when the efficacy of missile firing submarines was presented as an alternative to military bases but that emphasis has since lost its ground in favour of Fleet operation combined with fixed military bases.Â Â
Bogey of Chinaâ€™s â€œString of Pearlsâ€Â Â Â Â Â Â
As observed earlier, counter propaganda to the US base issue is being built up by presenting the so called theory of â€œChinaâ€™s String of Pearls.â€ Actually, it post- dates the US base issue in Diego Garcia but has caught on in Asia more than the significance of the US base. The article published in Ceylon Today dated April 17th 2014, which is one of the genre of articles appearing in the Indian media which closely follows the US Goebbelsian type formula, focuses attention again on the issue of the so called â€œString of Pearlsâ€ bogy. If one were to follow the arguments closely, the counties where the so called â€œstring of pearlsâ€ is located, namely, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the indication is that, if intended for strategic purposes, it would pose a threat to India rather than to the US. That is geo-strategically speaking. That is good enough to rope in India. Yet, it can be seen as having a security dimension for the US because much of oil needed to sustain US industries and warm up US homes in Winter passes through the Indian Ocean.
Sri Lankaâ€™s new port built at Hamabantota figures very much in this discussion. If India, Japan or South Korea would have built the port infrastructure there as they have been engaging in neighbouring Iran, no questions could have arisen for the US or India over a security threat in the Indian Ocean. It is precisely because it was China that built the infrastructure that the security issues have been raised both by US and India. The latter was quick enough to establish a Consulate-General at Hambantota even before the first ship arrived in the new harbor. It is then the adversarial position and a conceived military aggressiveness on the part of China which US and India see in China which is at the bottom of US/ Indian assessment of Chinaâ€™ infrastructure building activities in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Understanding the US propaganda
To understand how this adversarial and conceived military aggressor image attributed to China reflected in the two positions, i.e., one of US already having operating military bases in the Indian Ocean, and the other of an imagined fear about China building up counter strategic positions in the same region, one needs to go back to post WWII situation when after the British withdrawal east of Suez, the US stepped in to fill the vacuum in the Indian Ocean region. This was, partly, to thwart any attempt by the cold was rival, the former Soviet Union making intrusions into the Indian Ocean region. Gaining warm water port- outlets had been one of Russiaâ€™s objectives from the days of the Tsarist Empire, and the three wars that the British in India fought in Afghanistan without the expected success, had as objective, the thwarting of Russian design. When my friend, the Swiss film director, Johnachy produced a documentary on the Non Aligned Movement in 1975/6 in which I assisted him, where he placed emphasis on the strategic situation round the Indian Ocean, I was amazed at the film footage he had collected on Soviet activities around the Indian Ocean, especially, in Arabian countries including Oman, Yemen where an insurgency was fought by the British armed forces, in Ethiopia and Somalia where the Soviets had built up heavily which the US was able to dislodge subsequently, in South Africa (What Johnachy named Fortress Africa) where he had captured on film, the unloading of Soviet arms, I realized how serious the confrontation was. Consequently, there was a role, as Johnachy summed up, for the NAM to play in working towards preserving world peace.
US and China partners previously
Â Â Â Â Â As far as China was concerned, US and China were close partners in the pre-WWII situation. US did not take part in the spoliation of China as Britain,France, Germany, Russia and Japan and others did. China fought on the side of allies with Chien â€“kai-sheck leading China. US split with China occurred with the establishment of the Communist regime in Beijing after the civil war. USâ€˜s support for former ally Chien â€“kai-Sheck continued with his shift to Taiwan after the defeat of Nationalist forces. This strategic relationship continues to this day with the Taiwanese regime though US has in the meanwhile modified its China policy to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing and cooperate in economic fields.
Sino-Indian Split fully exploited
The other factor which occurred in the region was the split between India and China after the border war between the two countries. The US did not utilize the opportunity initially and even refused to provide the air shield which Jawaharlal Nehru asked US to provide to continue the war. USâ€™s position was that India should accept the ceasefire offer by China which India did finally on persuasion by the NAM group. At the time, US could have even seen the potential of using China, in the context of widening chasm between China and the Soviets, against her bigger adversary, the Soviet Union.
US-India axis of recent times was largely conditioned by the collapse of the Soviet Union. India wanted a new partner on her side to replace the former ally, the Soviet Union, though relations with the new Russian Federation were not altogether relaxed. India will continue to need Russian arms support for replacement of her heavily Soviet built arms acquisition. India cannot, however depend on Russia to continue with the hostility that USSR earlier displayed towards China.
It is against this background that one should try to understand the new strategic relationships which have emerged in the India Ocean Region.
Does China offer a challenge?
I have argued in earlier writing that though China has heavily militarized itself in respect of building up all three forces, indications so far are that the concentration is on the defence of Chinese interests in the Pacific area including the South China Sea. This is a coastal defence strategy in the first place. This does not mean that China has no long term interests beyond the coastal seas, like the Indian Ocean where like the US and other Western powers, she has abiding interest as the oil for her expanding industries pass through the Indian Ocean. As one of the heaviest consumers of Middle East oil, It is natural to expect China to build up naval capacity to defend her sea lanes as much other powers do. When the Somali piratical activities increased over the East African coast, China too sent battle-equipped ships to protect her commercial fleets and tankers but US showed undue concern over Chinaâ€™s entry to the region while it had its own naval fleet providing cover to her shipping with Indian assistance. This is unacceptable logic arising from the concept of treating China in adversarial terms and a concept that the Indian Ocean region is singularly a US-interest region where she alone with her allies can move around.
From all accounts including Pentagon sources China has nothing close to the US in naval force or air force or even in missile capacity. US defence budget is still eight times higher than that of China and is expected to be so despite her economic woes and the aging population. Consequently, the super power of image of US as the â€˜800 pound Gorilla in the roomâ€ is likely to remain unchanged for the present and decades to come. There is nothing to compare in China even with USâ€™s 7th Fleet which is only part of US naval force but which is USâ€™s largest fleet with around 60,000 marines, 60 naval ships and 350 air crafts, with its 18 forward defence battleships centred close to China in Japan and South Korea, menacingly ready to move in to meet crisis situations, though not exactly poised against China.
Besides this heavy US build â€“up round China on the adjacent sea in the Pacific starting with Taiwan, South Korea, Japan (Okinawa) and Philippines. US is also encouraging these countries in their territorial disputes with China, the most recent being the encouragement given by former State Secretary, Hilary Clinton during her visits to them. Consequently, China has naturally to concentrate more on defence of the sea closer home both as a short and long term strategic option.
China as Adversary
It is against such an iron chain placed around China that, a perception is built up of her as a country which is not only a military threat to her neighbours arising from territorial claims, but would rise to challenge US militarily. This view, is also, perhaps, fortified by Chinaâ€™s more successful cooperative activities with countries of Africa, Asia and even Latin America like investments and infrastructural building. It is in this context that the US is propagating the idea of China building a â€œstring of pearlsâ€ round the Indian Ocean, a propaganda line which conceals US own Naval and air force build up encircling China as demonstrated by the presence of the 7th Fleet . So far the emphasis is on Chinaâ€™s port infrastructural development in four countries around India. That fits in well to bring India into the picture of US propaganda vortex. The article we have referred to above by an Indian journalist is one of many that have appeared in India and the neighbourhood. The subject has caught the interest of Indian law makers as well. In an earlier article, I referred to the issue of Chinaâ€™s infrastructural in countries around India being raised in Lok Sabha and External Ministerâ€™s reply which stated that the Indian government was watching the situation closely.Â Â Â Â
Blue Water Designs
The bogey one is presented with is that China has blue-water designs, in developing her naval forces. This is where the â€œstring of pearlsâ€ idea comes in. It is true that China has but a very limited capacity to operate beyond the coastal areas. This is not in such proportions as it is assumed/presented to be. She was years behind India in acquiring an Air Craft Career. Chinaâ€™s first Air Craft Career, a transformed old Soviet ship, was declared to be for purpose of training and not for combat use. The building of a second Career was reported but no details are available in public domain on progress. These developments have no parallel to the operation of the US 7th Fleet in the region.
Sri Lanka in re-focus: Biswal on Military cooperation
Assistant Secretary Biswalâ€™s more recent statement when addressing the Harvard Forum that US is ready to engage with Sri Lanka on military cooperation once the present issues raised by US over Sri Lanka are overcome, itself is food for thought. Even if one could envisage such an outpouring a considered opinion to be presented at a forum like Harvard which has not always treated US diplomats very kindly without critical application, the statement points to a latent strategic interest on the part of US in Sri Lanka as a place which could play a critical role in the defence of US maritime interests in the India Ocean. There was, in fact, prospects of such a partnership developing under the administration of President J.R.Jayewardene. That was countered by Indiaâ€™s far seeing intelligence work. It resulted in India wanting to destabilise Sri Lanka in order to thwart such developments. The net result was Sri Lanka having to concern herself with a thirty year terrorist war in creating which Indiaâ€™s hand has been seen as being at the bottom. Actually, India was taking steps to ensure that no foreign bases or facilities to forces which she did not approve of at the time, came near her door step. This is also presently, Indiaâ€™s concerns with Chinaâ€™s involvement in Sri Lanka though such a threat as the US fleetâ€™s presence in a place like Trincomalee is not in sight so far.Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The situation in Sri Lanka and particularly, in Trincomallee where the focus is bound to concentrate, is more complicated now because India has obtained assurances through Letters Exchanged with the JR-Rajiv Accord, of exclusive rights for her at this strategic port which the US may not be willing to upset at this time when she has developed a strategic partnership with India. Though several speculative writings were circulating recently suggesting that USâ€™s objective of bringing the Resolution against Sri Lanka was to put her under pressure to gain concessions at Trincomalee, any moves on the part of US to gain such a foothold at Trincomalee which had been one of USâ€™s long term objectives, (General Harikirat Singh, the first Commanding Officer of IPKF in Sri Lanka, confirms this in his book: Sri Lanka Interventionâ€) will have to be with Indiaâ€™s nod and as an Indo- US security plan.
The prospects of a joint security plan put in place over Trincomalee, however, is not to be discounted altogether. It depends on the extent to which Indo-US security apparatus could be advanced with China as the main adversarial party and as a country with aggressive military intention in the neighbourhood. That is working out an arrangement like what has been worked out with Japan and others in the Pacific and South China Sea to place Advance defence battleships in Trincomalee. It cannot come in the form of US ousting India from her present foothold she has gained on Trincomalle through agreement with the Sri Lankan government, but it could evolve through an understanding with India on a new strategic partnership aimed at protecting the Bay of Bengal area with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar in focus. The security strategy with japan includes placing a few advance defence battleships there capable of quick move to the crisis area, if such develops. The Trincomalee harbor is ideally (naturally) suited, as a future strategic spot for the purposes of the Bay of Bengal security region to meet what is being projected as the Chinese challenge to Indo-US strategic cooperation in in the region. Sri Lanka need not figure in such an overall plan. India did not consult the island nation when it included Trincomalee in its overall security plan. I was later endorsed through the JR-Rajiv Accord of July 1987. Sovereignty issues do not arise when big powers decide to act in self- interest. The presence of a friendly Local Provincial Council with maximum devolution will make matters easier. The interest shown in maximum devolution of power to the North and East Provincial Councils is understandable in this context.Â Â Â Â Â Â
The Modhi factor
Whatever the Congress government might have thought of Indo-US strategic arrangement even on the basis of a partitioned Sri Lanka, the prospects of a government led by contender Modhi in immediate future can complicate matters. That is because there is a question mark over Modhi wanting to follow a strict pro-US line in strategic and other relationships. Modhiâ€™s agenda is also changing as the Election progresses. Today he is said to distance himself from Hindu extremism. The situation is shifting. Finally, even a Modhi government may not become totally averse to the present Indo-US security partnership. No Indian political force can ignore Indiaâ€™s security machine which will have its big say in directing security policy.
The problem that has arisen in Rajastahan over the denial of nominations by the BJP to Jaswant Singh, former Foreign Minister of Vajpayeeâ€™s government, who was a founder member of the BJP, has made this stalwart fighting as an independent in his Rajasthan constituency where he is a formidable political force. His move away from BJP central politics could have a bearing on Indo-US relations. He was the architect of present Indo-US cooperation even before he was appointed Foreign Minister. Along with Strobe Talbott , the former US Assistant Secretary of States under President Bill Clinton, he crafted the path for India to join the US in partnership despite the fact India was no signatory to the Nuclear Non -Proliferation Treaty. His pro-Pakistani sentiments â€“ he commenced the dialogue with Pakistan â€“ was seen to alienate him from hardliners of BJP and his leadership has been under question from around when he made his new assessment of the role of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, in his new book, â€œJinnah, Partition & Independenceâ€, 2009.
(See Review by Bandu de Silva in Asian Tribune, 09/09/2009 â€“http://www.asiantribune,com/new/2009/09/08/jaswant).Â Â Â Â
The Task for Sri Lankan Foreign Office
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Under Mrs.Bandaranaikeâ€™s dispensation, the Sri Lankan Foreign Office was seen at one of its most productive phases taking policy initiatives of international significance. The most challenging enterprise undertaken by undertaken by the Foreign Office under her visionary direction was the promotion of the idea of the Indian Ocean as Zone of Peace (IOPZ) which she first introduced at the CHOGM held in Singapore and subsequently at the UN General Assembly to be accepted with wide support and Sri Lanka to be appointed as Chair of the Project for its implementation. That is if the holding of NAM Summit in Colombo itself by her amidst mounting economic difficulties and the new direction given to the Movement is not counted. These were possible because she was assisted by a very professional Foreign Service at the time, to build which she contributed heavily. Even under the JR Jayewardene led UNP administration, which followed Mrs Bandaranaikeâ€™s seven year rule, the IOPZ programme under Sri Lankan leadership, was continued uninterrupted.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The IOPZ, however, began to lose its spark with the collapse of the former Soviet Union and unipolarisation of global regime with US as the undisputed leader. An opportunity which presented itself to Sri Lanka when she accepted the leadership of CHOGM in November 2013, to rekindle interest in IOPZ, which Mrs Bandaranaike first took up at the CHOGM in Singapore, was lost in the midst of emphasis on the role of playing the â€˜good hotelierâ€™, and providing a â€˜spectacleâ€™ rather than anything in the form of substance which would have long term global consequence, as I remarked at the time. Otherwise, the attention was on investment, very little of which is heard since.
The question is would Sri Lanka get another such opportunity as CHOGM 2013 in Colombo offered. Besides, does the Sri Lankan Foreign Office, emasculated as it is now, of professional – resourcefulness with intellectual competence which one witnessed in the 1970s come down to almost zero with the present ranks of top grade career diplomats reaching almost extinction with the batch of Prasad Kariyawasam, present High Commissioner in India and K. Amunugama, former Secretary , Ministry of External Affairs, coming to an end, with as many as 64 outsiders without any diplomatic experience filling up senior and middle ranking diplomatic ranks in our Missions overseas, and more being added to the rank, have the intellectual resources and capacity to guide the future destiny in international relations, and more particularly, revitalize the IOPZ programme? Even more importantly, a visionary political leadership as the country had in the 1970s, is required including among the opposition, to lead the future direction towards initiatives having international bearing. Such leadership would be required for revitalization of NAM itself, a need which was emphasized by my former senior colleague, Izeth M.M.Hussain, who played a substantial role in adding intellectual content to Foreign Office deliberations in the 1970s including the MAM Summit, in a recent article published in The Island.
Even in a situation where political leadership is wanting, it is the professional Foreign Service which could have been expected to bear the burden of carrying on a countryâ€™s vision/initiatives in international relations but we are facing a situation today where both visionary leadership and a professional foreign service the country was proud of once, are missing.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Even with these handicaps, it is time to consider reviving both NAM and IOPZ. The success of reviving the IPOZ in which Sri Lanka and India were seen to be engaged in a close partnership in the past, will depend very much on future understanding between India and Sri Lanka on this issue. With a predicted political change in India after the on-going elections, how the fortunes will direct Indian foreign policy is difficult to assess at this stage. The support for IPOZ will also require greater commitment on the part of India and moving away from pro-US policy followed by Manmohan Singh government.