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Opinion: US - Maldives military pact:

Camel’s ‘head’ is in South Asia tent

The United States strategy finally worked; the super power has been, for a considerably long time, pounding on the Republic of Maldives, an archipelago below Sri Lanka in South Asia in the Indian Ocean, for its alleged violation of democracy, rule of law and human rights. Significantly, the United States and its Western backers in recent times piped down on the so called democracy deficit in Maldives.


A US-Maldives joint military training exercise in Addu, Maldives from October 6-17, 2012

The democracy project well served the key purpose of exerting immense pressure on the Republic of Maldives to open up to Western patronage.

The military agreement, called the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Maldives, soon to be signed after more deliberations, will give the sole super power a foothold in the South Asian region.

As the headline says - the camel is about to put its head in the South Asia tent. ‘Democracy Project’, ‘Human Rights’, ‘Rule of Law’, ‘Accountability’ and even ‘Reconciliation’ can take this turn when the United States sees that some South Asian nations are ‘strategically located'.

As one columnist pointed out, it will be a tectonic shift in the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean region if the US secures a military presence in the Maldives.

Is this US move for India's benefit in the light of China's potential naval presence in the region? One critic noted, “The India-Maldives ties came under serious strain in the recent period following Delhi's ill-conceived move to push a democracy project in Maldives.

The US diplomacy has apparently cashed in on the resultant situation by filling in the crucial role that India traditionally occupied in Maldives' national security calculus”.

Draft agreement

When the draft SOFA agreement was leaked early the previous week, the Republic of Maldives on Thursday totally denied it.

Then this Tuesday, the State Department's South and Central Asia Assistant Secretary Robert Blake confirmed it, followed by the Maldives government.

Blake played down the importance of the SOFA. What he conveyed to the Press Trust of India (PTI) in a special briefing was that, “We do not have any plans to have a military presence in Maldives.”

He further said, “I want to reassure everybody that this SOFA does not imply some new up-tick in military co-operation or certainly does not apply any new military presence.

It would just be to support our ongoing activities.” He ruled out military bases or having permanent boots on the ground in Maldives.

Notwithstanding what Blake pronounced, the draft agreement “incorporates the principal provisions and necessary authorisations for the temporary presence and activities of United States forces in the Republic of Maldives and, in the specific situations indicated herein, the presence and activities of United States contractors in the Republic of Maldives.”

The draft SOFA says, “The Republic of the Maldives authorizes United States forces to exercise all rights and authorities with Agreed Facilities and Areas that are necessary for their use, operation, defense or control, including the right to undertake new construction works and make alterations and improvements.”

The draft SOFA envisages that the Maldives would “furnish, without charge” to the US unspecified “Agreed Facilities and Areas”, and “such other facilities and areas in the territory and territorial seas of the Republic of Maldives as may be provided by the Republic of Maldives in the future.”

Control entry

It further says, the US would be authorised “control entry” to areas provided for its “exclusive use,” and would be permitted to operate its own telecommunications system and use the radio spectrum “free of cost to the United States”. Among other provisions in the agreement, the US would gain access to “aerial ports, sea ports and agreed facilities for transit, support and related activities; bunkering of ships, refuelling of aircraft, maintenance of vessels, aircraft, vehicles and equipment, accommodation of personnel, communications, ship visits, training, exercises, humanitarian activities.”

What does the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) mean?

The SOFA is usually an integral part of the overall military bases agreement that allows US military forces to operate within the host country.

Each SOFA is negotiated separately with the host country (although the United States has a multilateral SOFA with NATO members). Generally speaking, SOFAs have no standard points of differences; some, however, may deal with particular circumstances unique to a particular country.

Negotiating a SOFA begins with the assumption that the presence of US military forces is in the interests of the host government as well as the US government.

A Status of Forces Agreement contains a complex package of treaties, protocol and executive agreements between the United States and the individual country involved.

It defines the rights and duties of US service personnel, civilian components, and their dependants while they are stationed in that foreign country. The agreements are by no means identical in all countries. To a large measure, the differences in agreements resulted from the contrasting political realities that faced the negotiators of different countries.

Some jurisdiction

The SOFAs say, in part, that the country the US is visiting will give up some jurisdiction to the visiting country in some criminal and civil cases. Some topics covered by the Status of Forces Agreements are as follows:

Freedom of troop movements within the host country; Passport requirements; Criminal jurisdiction; Taxes imposition of Customs duties; Regulations covering driver's licences; Exchange privileges.

The SOFA tries to regulate the relationship of the two countries in two ways. First, they guarantee the armed forces adequate legal protection without infringing on the authority of the military command. Second, they fully recognise the peacetime rights and responsibilities of the civilian authorities in the host countries. The United States must receive consent from the host country to station troops on that foreign soil. “We must also agree to the conditions under which our troops may remain.”

The original intent of the Status of Forces Agreements by the United States was to get the most favourable conditions from the host country for its own forces.

The agreements apply to personnel belonging to the land, sea and air armed forces, as well as civilian personnel accompanying an armed force.

Robert Blake, in his interview with the PTI, endeavoured to address Sri Lanka's concerns regarding the SOFA between the Governments of the United States and the Republic of Maldives.

“There are no plans to establish US naval bases in Maldives. So Sri Lanka should not be worried about that,” Blake said when asked about the reported Sri Lankan concerns on the SOFA with the Maldives.

“Not permanently. No,” he said when asked if he visualises any US boots on the ground in the Maldives. “As I said, we have exercise programs very frequently and we anticipate that those would continue. But we do not anticipate any permanent military presence. Absolutely no bases of any kind,” Blake said.

Courtesy: Asian Tribune

 

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