Need for AKD and JVP/NPP to be educated on complex geopolitics
Posted on March 1st, 2024

by Daya Gamage Foreign Service National Political Specialist (rtd.) US Department of State Courtesy The Island

India’s security needs consolidate US manoeuvring strategy in Indo-Pacific:

Aware or unaware of the intricacies of big power play in the Indo-Pacific region to the emerging political entity in Sri Lanka, JVP-led National People’s Power (NPP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has declared that he and his political party are (now) alive to India’s security concerns after his return from India having had discourses with External Affairs Minister and other leading Modi administration officials needs serious scrutiny.

In an interview with Sri Lanka’s Sirasa TV on February 15, Dissanayake reiterated that the ‘incoming’ National People’s Power administration will not do anything that undermines Indian security”.

If Dissanayake had been aware that ‘India’s national security’ was somewhat beyond her ‘control’ and connected to the larger Indo-Pacific or Asia-Pacific region with ‘outside forces’ deeply embedded in, he would have made a ‘measured statement’ about India’s national security.

Before examining how India is tied to ‘a foreign military and technological force’ connected to the Asia-Pacific Region and that India’s national security cannot be isolated from ‘outside forces’ engaged in the region, it should be found out how Sri Lanka is connected to the overall regional security, an issue that Dissanayake doesn’t seem to have paid much attention to. The eight-page, 2007 (disclosed) US-Sri Lanka signed Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement (ACSA) and the 83-page, 2017 ACSA (still kept classified by both Washington and Colombo) have much relevance to the overall Indo-Pacific region.

US Code Title 10 Section 2342: Cross-Servicing Agreement, under which a long process of US government assessment takes effect, how useful a non-NATO country, such as Sri Lanka could be to the national interest of the United States is vital to the understanding of Sri Lankan policy.

The US Code declares (Quote) (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: (Among others)

(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. (End Quote)

Before scrutinising other Sub-Sections, Sub-Section (D) is well connected to a ‘declaration’ of a diplomatic cable that reached Washington from the American Embassy in Colombo: 20 February 2007 diplomatic cable sent under the signature of Ambassador Robert Blake made it very clear (Quote) Since this agreement primarily benefits US forces, we think there are strong arguments to proceed with the signing the agreement (End Quote) referring to the 2007 ACSA. It is not difficult to understand why the 2007 agreement was expanded to 83 pages in 2017 and why it is still kept a secret.

Now to Sub-Section (b) of the U.S. Code Title 10 Section 2342: Cross-Servicing Agreement:

(Quote) (b) (which is well connected to the signing of both the 2007 and 2017 ACSA) 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). (End Quote)

The Pentagon, the State Department and Armed Services and International Committees of the US Senate and House of Representatives are very much involved in the process of using feed backs and assessments from the US diplomatic post in the host nation.

This writer, who was knowledgeable about this process during his engagement with the State Department for more than two decades, was aware of the manner in which the US diplomatic mission in Sri Lanka played that role.

To enter into an ACSA treaty, the designated country – in this case, Sri Lanka, which entered into the agreement in March 2007 and 2017– Washington has to determine (Quote) the designation of such country for such purpose is in the interest of the national security of the United States . (End Quote)

Sri Lanka occupies some very important real estate in the Indo-Pacific region, and it’s a country of increasing strategic importance in the Indian Ocean region”, declared Alice Wells, US State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary addressing the foreign media at the department’s Washington Media Center on 24 January 2020—three weeks before she was in Colombo meeting newly-elected President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

The 2018 National Defense Strategy guides the Department of Defense to support the (US) National Security Strategy – the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018 – specifically calls for expanding cooperation with democratic partners in South Asia, including Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.”

This 2018 document – declassified in January 2021 – evinces a special interest in Sri Lanka’s survival in the Indo-Pacific region, the formulation of its foreign policy, and its relations with India, the United States and China.

It should be mentioned here that the writer along with another (retired) Senior Foreign Service/Intelligence Officer (American) is currently developing a manuscript (for publication) exploring Washington’s foreign policy manipulations and discharges toward Sri Lanka and India, and the manner in which Sri Lanka and India were (and are) playing their roles in response to Washington’s excessive and (almost) hegemonic role in the Indo-Pacific region.

It is in this context that India’s national security can in no way be isolated from Washington’s military/defense and intelligence approaches and activities in the Asia-Pacific region and its foreign policy discharges that this writer and his co-author discovered through their extensive research and investigations.

Some of the salient policy determinations and projections in the now-declassified 2018 National Security Strategy – the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act document of the US government are as follows:

· A strong India, in cooperation with like-minded countries, would act as a counterbalance to China.

· India remains preeminent in South Asia and takes the leading role in maintaining Indian Ocean security, increased engagement with Southeast Asia, and expands its economic, defense, and diplomatic cooperation with other US allies and partners in the region.

· US Objective: Accelerate India’s rise and capacity to serve as a net provider of security and Major Defense Partner; solidify an enduring strategic partnership with India underpinned by a strong Indian military able to effectively collaborate with the United States and her partners in the region to address shared interests.

· US Actions: Build a stronger foundation for defense cooperation and interoperability; expand US defense trade ability to transfer defense technology to enhance India’s status as a Major Defense Partner.

· US Objective: Strengthen the capacity of emerging partners in South Asia, including the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, to contribute to a free and open order. US Action: Establish a new initiative with South Asian partners modeled on the Maritime Security Initiative.

· National Security Challenges: How to maintain US strategic primacy in the Indo-Pacific region while preventing China from establishing new illiberal spheres of influence.

· US Action: Enhance combat-credible US military presence and posture in the Indo-Pacific region to uphold US interests and security commitments.

Now, let’s see how ‘Indian National Security’ that Anura Kumara Dissanayake has referred to, and aspires to safeguard under a JVP-led NPP government he is hoping to form, is tied to the Indo-Pacific Region that Washington is playing a dominant role in.

US-India Relationship: Critical to Indo-Pacific

A shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific bolsters the US-India relationship as the two countries continue to strengthen defense ties, a senior Pentagon official said on Sept. 19, 2023.

Siddharth Iyer, the Director for South Asia policy in the Office of (US) Secretary of Defense, said the defense partnership had experienced an incredible and unprecedented amount of momentum” as evidenced by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin twice traveling to India recently and the warmth and familiarity” between the two countries.

This relationship is one of the top priorities for the department,” Iyer said. Our belief is that getting the US and India relationship right is not just necessary, it’s essential to achieving our strategy in the Indo-Pacific.”

What he meant by our strategy” is the United States’ strategy.

I think one of the ways in which we think about the roadmap is really a manifestation of Secretary Austin’s commitment to accelerating India’s military modernization, and for him, putting the department on the hook to find targeted opportunities to propose to advance India’s indigenous defense production capabilities,” Iyer said during a discussion on furthering US-India security cooperation hosted by the Hudson Institute in Washington.

department on the hook”, meaning the United States on the hook.

India’s Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh and Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar engaged with (US) Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin for the fifth US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in New Delhi on November 10, 2023.

They reaffirmed the importance of the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership in ensuring international peace and security. The Ministers also underlined their strong commitment to safeguarding a free, open, and an inclusive Indo-Pacific.

The Joint Statement released November 10, 2023 on the Fifth Annual India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue reaffirmed the US-India”commitment to further deepen the multifaceted defense partnership through wide-ranging dialogues and military exercises of increasing complexity and sophistication, accelerated joint projects initiated under the June 2023 Roadmap for US-India Defense Industrial Cooperation and expanded collaboration in emerging domains, such as space and artificial intelligence. They expressed satisfaction with the pace of cooperation in Maritime Domain Awareness and looked forward to identifying pathways to promote stronger service-to-service ties and share technologies to address an array of maritime challenges, including in the undersea domain.”

These discourses, dialogues and rapport have prompted steps to deepen and diversify” the two countries’ so-called Major Defense Partnership.

The two (US and India) militaries signed their second Master Ship Repair Agreement, with the US Navy and Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd., in August 2023, recommitting themselves to advancing India’s emergence as a hub for the maintenance and repair of forward-deployed US Navy assets and other aircraft and vessels, according to the White House. The countries also made further commitments to the US companies investing more in India’s maintenance, repair and overhaul capabilities and facilities for aircraft.

In late September 2023, Ely Ratner, the US Department of Defense’s Assistant Secretary for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, Donald Lu, State Department’s assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Vani Rao, a secretary in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and Vishwesh Negi, the Joint Secretary of Indian Ministry of Defense engaged in a wide range of ambitious initiatives” dialogue between the two nations.

According to a US Defense Department statement The officials also discussed regional security developments and strategic priorities across the Indo-Pacific region. A strong US-India partnership is essential to upholding security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.”

India having entered into a military partnership with the United States, and Sri Lanka’s close proximity to India in political and economic spheres, Sri Lanka is at a crossroads surrounded by Washington, New Delhi and Beijing.

As an emerging leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake could have made a ‘measured statement’ on the official policy of the government he is planning to form towards ‘India’s security’ as data given above show the manner in which Washington has tied up with New Delhi, and the strategy the United States has adopted to forge a strong defense ties with India; contrary to what Dissanayake believes, India is not developing an ‘isolated national security policy’. New Delhi has been formulating her national security policy in collaboration with Washington, and that security policy – to which JVP-NPP has undertaken to protect and safeguard – provides for a dominant role for Washington in the Indo-Pacific (or Asia-Pacific) region. Sri Lanka is unable to escape Washington’s machinations in the Indo-Pacific region as noted at the outset.

Isn’t Dissanayake aware of the US-India defense collaboration? If so, is he concealing that fact, or if not so, isn’t he capable of strategic thinking?

As a footnote, it is necessary to refer to Dissanayake’s pronouncement about foreign nations and their diplomatic agents’ special interest in communicating with him and his political entity, according to him in an interview with SIRASA TV on February 15 (Quote) Anyone who can think logically can understand that states engage with political actors that have power. India, China, the US, and many others are now engaging with us because they think we will win elections (Unquote).

The writer finds it very unusual for the (US) Chief of Mission to entertain the notion that she should maintain close rapport and contact with a non-ruling political party leader. The US diplomats were expected to maintain contacts with (about) two national political parties that alternately exchanged power; they established contacts with ‘non-national’ political parties and their leaders to fulfill ‘diplomatic niceties’ and obtain alternative interpretations to that of what main political leaders and their national parties express.

In the case of JVP-NPP, undoubtedly, they are emerging as a national entity, and foreign diplomats, including the American ambassador Julie Chung, have taken note of the emerging political reality to maintain relations with it. Whether Ambassador Chung believes, in a confused political atmosphere, the JVP-NPP could form the next administration is another matter.

Two questions emerge from Dissanayake’s belief that foreign nations and their diplomats ‘suddenly’ reach out to his political alliance because they strongly believe that its rise to power is imminent: (1) Is it because the reconciliation between the JVP-NPP and India and Dissanayake’s undertaking not to obstruct that nation’s national security interests suits Washington and if JVP-NPP ever captures power or reaches the level of an influential and formidable opposition power Washington (and/or Julie Chung) will have tamed the once anti-American/anti-Indian JVP? (2) Shouldn’t JVP- NPP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake declare his policy towards the US; the defense collaboration between Washington and New Delhi; and that Ambassador Chung is aware that JVP-NPP has conveniently ignored India’s defence collaboration with the US? Is this a diplomatic achievement of Washington?

As much as JVP-NPP owes the Sri Lankan public an explanation, elucidating its undertaking to safeguard the national security interests, Sri Lankan policymakers and lawmakers need to have a comprehensive understanding of where Sri Lanka stands in this complex foreign policy issue.

(The writer is a retired Foreign Service National Political Specialist of the U.S. Department of State accredited to the Political Section of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Sri Lanka)

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