Non-lethal supplies and cargo transfers

n July 2017 the Sri Lankan government renewed, for another ten years, the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with the United States Department of Defense. ACSA allows the exchange of supply and services, training of staff and humanitarian aid in disaster situations between the two countries.

In a proposal to the Sri Lankan cabinet in 2017, President Maithripala Sirisena pointed out that the ACSA would help improve global ties, and given the global security situation, should be renewed. I would create an opportunity for the promotion of new technological, training and development opportunities, he added.

According to Lankan defense analysts, the US recently sought from Sri Lanka, an enlargement of the scope of ACSA to include more departments of the US government. Right now only the Department of Defense is involved.

The original ACSA was signed by in 2007 by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government during Eelam War IV, the final phase in the war against Tamil separatists.

On-Going Exercise

On January 21 this year, as part of ACSA, the U.S. Navy started performing a transfer operation to move cargo between planes at Bandaranaike International Airport. The operation will last till January 29.

A press release from the US embassy said on Wednesday, that this exercise is part of a larger temporary cargo transfer initiative “that promotes Sri Lanka’s efforts to become a regional hub for logistics and commerce.”

“The January transfers will contribute approximately 25 million Sri Lankan Rupees to the country’s economy.”

“ This is the third iteration of the temporary cargo transfer initiative. It follows two successful transfers that took place in August 2018 at Bandaranaike International Airport and Trincomalee and in December 2018 at Bandaranaike International Airport,” the release said.

Stressing the operation’s role in Sri Lanka’s development, U.S. Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz, said: “Sri Lanka’s leaders have outlined their vision for the country’s regional engagement that reflects its location at the nexus of the Indo-Pacific and seizes the opportunities that this unique position presents.”

“We are happy to support this vision through a range of mutually beneficial initiatives, such as contracting Sri Lankan services and goods to support U.S. military and commercial vessels that often transit the Indo-Pacific’s busy sea lanes,” she added.

Only Non-lethal Cargo

Under the initiative, several U.S. naval aircraft are scheduled to land and depart from the commercial airport, bringing in a variety of non-lethal supplies, the embassy release said.

“The supplies will be transferred between planes and then flown to the U.S.S. John C. Stennis at sea. Supplies may include personal mail for sailors, paper goods, spare parts and tools, and other items.”

“No cargo, military equipment, or personnel associated with this initiative will remain in Sri Lanka after the completion of the cargo transfer,” the embassy release clarified.

Security Cooperation

“U.S.-Sri Lanka security cooperation encompasses a variety of joint exercises and training that has developed the skills and interoperability of both countries. This cooperation was designed by both countries to address our mutual security interests, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and maritime domain awareness,” the release added.

Lankan Fears

However, critics of ACSA make three points against ACSA.

First, the US will be the principal beneficiary, or perhaps the only beneficiary, in an ACSA with a small and weak country like Sri Lanka.

Though the facilities offered are mutual, only the US will be using them, with Sri Lanka getting paid for the provision of services. Sri Lanka will have no opportunity to use reciprocal facilities in US ports.

Secondly, while ACSA talks of access only for non-lethal cargo, even access for non-lethal cargo can be useful in the case of an armed conflict. Further, the line between lethal and non-lethal cargo is very thin and almost indistinguishable.

Thirdly, Sri Lanka will, may willy nilly, be drawn into a military conflict between the US and an other country in the Indian Ocean or the Far East given the fact that the US, India, Australia and Japan are arming up to face a perceived threat from resurgent China.

Writing in Daily Mirror in 2017 (when ACSA was renewed by Sri Lanka) commentator Lasanda Kurukulasooriya quoted a 2004 Position Paper on ACSA by two US military officers to say that “in addition to host nation supplies and services, ACSA can give US access to basing and infrastructure necessary for force projection in and through the USPACOM (US Pacific Command) area of responsibility.”

Presented to the US War College in Pennsylvania, the Position Paper titled: “United States Security Strategy for the Asia-Pacific Region,” refers to the military benefits of ACSA that give vital access to other countries’ infrastructure and other facilities during a time of conflict.

Kurukulasooriya quotes Sri Lankan leftist leader Prof.Tissa Vitharana as saying: “The alliance which we are forming with the US endangers national sovereignty and independence.”

Apart from frequent visits by US warships, joint exercises with Sri Lankan naval personnel are taking place, Prof. Vitharana said and added that statements from US officials revealed their interest in setting up a base in Trincomalee.

Vitharana said further confirmation that the government is moving in the direction of making Sri Lanka “a part of the military machine formed by the US to control the world” could be seen in Premier Wickremesinghe’s statement in April 2016.

Addressing a commissioning parade at the Naval Academy in Trincomalee, Wickremesinghe said that the Sri Lankan armed forces would have to “protect the Indian Ocean from the Maldives to the Straits of Malacca.”

To make this possible, the Premier pledged to buy more ships and weapons.

Prof. Vitharana pointed to the irony of suggesting such a course of action at a time when the country was deeply indebted, having sought $1.5 billion from the IMF with the entire attendant conditions “for neo-liberal changes that would enable US exploitation of the Lankan economy.”

This situation is fraught with danger he said, though nobody is talking about it.

The Americans and Indians would be in Trincomalee, while the Chinese will be in Hambantota.

Although the Lankan government says ‘no military use’ of its ports would be allowed, Prof. Vitharana warned that if a military confrontation broke out in the South China Sea, for example, Sri Lanka could get unnecessarily caught up in a big power conflict. (

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