Posted on November 14th, 2017


Yahapalana government   has   decided to move away from Sri Lanka’s much respected policy of ‘non-alignment’ and is showing a very clear pro-American tilt in its international relations. There have been three rounds of American influence in Sri Lanka, each more powerful than the one before, climaxing in today’s US-Sri Lanka relationship. Critics say that the Yahapalana government is a ‘fully pro-Washington regime’.

When Sri Lanka re-gained independence in 1948,   the UNP government shunned the socialist countries, like Russia and China and   maintained close relations with the west including USA.  In 1961  a deal was made with US to relay Voice of America progamme over Radio Ceylon which was then a popular radio station in the Indian subcontinent, in return for getting new and modern broadcasting equipment from the US for Radio Ceylon.VOA used this facility to broadcast to all of Asia including central Asia. USA did not like the Rubber-Rice agreement with China and made this known to Sri Lanka. That is the first round.

The second round came with the UNP government of 1977, under President J.R Jayewardene (1977-1989). JR was very pro-America and was known as Yankee Dickey.  JR followed an openly pro -US foreign policy. He paid an official visit to USA in 1984. An agreement was signed in 1984 between Voice of America and   the Government of Sri Lanka to establish a new relay station in Iranawila. US navy ships were allowed to enter Trincomalee for ‘rest and recreation’. The Colombo port was visited by ‘all types of US naval craft’ on a regular basis   during this period. USS Kitty Hawk, America’s primary aircraft carrier at the time, accompanied by other ships of the 7th fleet made a port call to Colombo in 1985.

USA is the only country in the world which has built a military empire, without first creating a territorial empire observed analysts. Instead of conquering countries, US    entered into military agreements with them. Presently US has military agreements with 130 countries and more than 20 Central Commands all over the world.   Similarly, in 2007, Sri Lanka    entered into a ten year Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement (ACSA) with the US. It provided inter alia, for logistics, supplies and re-fuelling facilities.

The regime change of 2015 saw the arrival of USA, in its third round of influence, more powerful than before. John Kerry, US Secretary of State visited soon after the change of government to show that America was now in control of Sri Lanka.  US involvement in Sri Lanka increased. There were various government to government partnerships such as House Democracy Partnership, the U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation compact and US- Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue.

The first round of the US- Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue was in February 2016.   The second was during the one day visit by Ambassador Shannon in November 2017. They discussed the need for economic, social, and military collaboration.  They examined the grave threats posed by terrorist groups like the Islamic State and North Korea’s ‘unlawful’ nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The two countries agreed that the security, stability, and prosperity of the Indian Ocean region should be safeguarded and that further cooperation and exchanges in maritime security and safety, were needed.

Yahapalana is now establishing military links with USA unlike anything ever seen before. There are regular military contacts between the US armed forces and Sri Lanka armed forces. Most of it is directed towards Sri Lanka navy but the Air forces of US and Sri Lanka conducted the Pacific Airlift Rally.    Several senior US naval commanders   have visited Colombo, including Head of the US Pacific Command Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr. Ships of the US 7th Fleet have been arriving in Sri Lanka. They include USS Blue Ridge, USS New Orleans, USS Frank Cable, USS Hopper, USS Comstoc, USNS Fall River, climaxing in the arrival of   nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz with its 5,000 personnel and its strike force. Before this, Sri Lanka did not permit naval vessels with nuclear weapons into its ports. There have been joint exercises between the US Navy and the Sri Lanka navy. Sri Lanka was inducted to Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise (CARAT) involving US and Sri Lankan naval elements. There were other joint exercises too, such as the Field Training Exercise (FTX), conducted jointly by the US Marines Forces, Pacific Command (MARFORPAC) and the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) at the Welisara Naval Complex in 2017.

USA has made its future military plans clear to Sri Lanka. United States will continue to be an Indo-Pacific power, said Alice G. Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs speaking at the Indian Ocean Conference 2017 in Colombo. ‘This has been a long standing part of U.S. foreign policy and it will not change in the decades to come.’ This ‘Indo Pacific’ region was known earlier as ‘Asia Pacific’.   It combines Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean.

Major General James Eifet of the USA speaking at the Colombo Air Symposium in October 2017 drew attention to US concerns in East Asia. The most urgent threat was North Korea’s intermediate and intercontinental ballistic missiles.  He pointed out that other countries in the region were also at risk from these missiles, only the US, South Korea and Japan. North Korea’s missile tests indicate that Sri Lanka too was in range of a possible attack by from North Korea.

Eifet also criticized China over its claims in the South China Sea. He said that the US considered China’s maritime claims as excessive and that it affected the ‘freedom of navigation in the ocean’. The US is watching China carefully and urges it not to continue to build, reclaim and militarize disputed territories,”

North Korea retaliated. ‘The entire U.S. mainland is within our firing range and if the U.S. dares to invade our sacred territory even an inch it will not escape our severe punishment in any part of the globe,’ said North Korea  North Korea issued a statement at the United Nations, in October 2017, warning states about joining USA against North Korea. We have no intention of using nuclear weapons against any other country, as long as that country does not take part in the U.S. military actions against North Korea, said North Korea.

US has made it clear that it expects Sri Lanka to join if US wages war against China and North Korea. Major General James Eifet said that as US flexed its muscles in the air and at sea it asked for support from its partner nations. ’Strong partnerships enable us to advance collective interest including security’.

Sri Lanka has responded positively. The US and Sri Lanka will stand together against the threats of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme said Sri Lanka in a joint statement issued in November 2017. We are strong partners and today our relations are at an all-time high,” US under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon said. Some said that Sri Lanka had no need to get involved in the politics of North Korea. North Korea is far away from Sri Lanka.   But others pointed out that is best to swing with the US. ‘US combine versus little Lanka?’ they asked.

Tamara Kunanayagam observed that Sri Lanka   today faces a determined United States, ready to coerce Sri Lanka to join the US in its confrontations with China in the Indian Ocean. US needs Sri Lanka to complete its defense ring around the Indian Ocean said other analysts. Sri Lanka ‘s  location is the cause for the  convergence in Sri Lanka  of the five powers, China, India, USA, Japan and Singapore, observed  Ladduwahetty. Sri Lanka is important because of its strategic location in the Indian Ocean. Also there is Trincomalee. Sri Lanka’s unique geographic position makes it a natural aircraft carrier as well.

Plans are afoot to set up a US base in Trincomalee harbor, said Tissa Vitarana in 2016. A bilateral agreement in this regard has been signed secretly between Sri Lanka and America, he said in 2017. Very soon the US 7th fleet will be in our waters, he warned. G.L .Pieris said that the government was planning to hand over Sri Lankan airspace to foreign powers. These growing military ties to the US are a threat to Sri Lanka said critics.  If military cooperation of this nature continues, and an American military base   is set up in Sri Lanka , Sri Lanka would become a puppet country of the US like Philippine’s, said Vitarana.  US interests will take precedence over the concerns of Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka’s military will be transformed from a force protecting Sri Lanka’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity to one defending US global interests.  (CONTINUED)

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