7 June, 2023


Not The Americans, It’s Our Fellows Who Lack Transparency; A Simple Guide To SOFA & ACSA

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

There’s much chest thumping and hair pulling about Sri Lanka signing ACSA in 2007 and now pursuing a SOFA proposal. I am of the view that neither is justified but curious why Mahinda-Gota signed-on and why the Sirisena-Ranil outfit now seeks to enhance it. What these deals include is not widely known and ignorance, the root of trepidation, offers journalists an opportunity to run a good story or bask in much-watched interviews. I will use a three-step approach; first an adumbration of what these agreements with the US include, second my guess for Mahinda-Gota and Sirisena-Ranil involvement (reasons not the same) and finally why they are detrimental to Lanka’s interests. The defence pact Sirisena secretly contracted with China in June is also damaging but not examined here.  


Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreements are negotiated on a bilateral basis by the US for use in combined exercises, training, operations, or deployments and allow its forces to obtain food, fuel, transport, ammunition, and equipment, collectively termed logistical supplies.  Reimbursement is in cash, or rarely, replacement in kind. The 2007 deal signed by Gota also contains the words “and for unforeseen circumstances or exigencies when one of the parties may have a need of logistic support, supplies, and services”. It is now late in the day to raise hackles that a door has been opened for the US to use Sri Lanka as a logistical base if it gets embroiled in a fracas with China or in the Middle East. This is not true; ASCA is not a defence treaty, makes no provision for stationing personnel (no boots on the ground) and permits no host-based military action. 

ASCA is all about pricing, reimbursement and dispute resolution. I will not bore you with painful elaboration of obvious detail; the dozen or so pages of every ASCA reads like a commercial contract. ACSA is not a military agreement and can be terminated by either party with 180 days’ notice. In any case the 2007 agreement (which followed a scrappy deal signed by the Chandrika government in 1995) ran out in 10 years on March 2017; hence the proposal by Ranil to renew it. It is not clear what amendments were/will be incorporated. The state of play is nebulous; will the 2007 deal be (or has it been) renewed with or without amendment? I can’t make it out but it seems it will be replaced by the more significant SOFA. The Diplomatic Editor of the Sunday Times says on 19 May: “While the 2007 ACSA permits US military vessels to anchor in Sri Lanka ports on a one-off basis, the 2017 ACSA appears to be open-ended” (sic!). I cannot find a copy of a 2017 updated ACSA, but Diplomatic Editors no doubt have access to sources not accessible to minor sods like me.


Status of Forces Agreements are more far reaching since they are not confined to purchase of goods and services. They include rules governing boots on the ground – that is US military personnel in a foreign country. In preparation for this piece I examined the SOFA agreements that the US has contracted with the Philippines, Seychelles, Chad, Romania and Surinam before I stopped out of sheer boredom; they are all much the same with small variations to suit each case. SOFA-Japan is more complex because Japan’s relationship with the US is historically and militarily complex.

Before outlining the main provisions, I need to point out that SOFA too is not a pact or treaty and does not authorise the entry of American troops into a host country without explicit case by case permission. I can’t see where the aforementioned Diplomatic Editor found his “open end”! Philippine SOFA for example in Article VIII, Clause 1 (2), says “Aircraft (vessels) operated by the United States armed forces may enter the Philippines upon approval of the Government of the Philippines”. It is palpable that US ground forces cannot be stationed in a host country unless a US base already exists or by specific invitation. 

The content of all SOFA contracts is much the same. I am taking material from many to give readers good coverage. The scope spreads over; Entry & Exit, Criminal Jurisdiction, Custody-Access-Confinement-Visitation, Discipline, Security, Tax Exemptions and customs-free Imports. The underlying assumption is that US military personnel can be present in a host country – that is boots on the ground, this is the big difference from ASCA. 

Let me keep it as brief as possible. SOFA allows US forces, dependents and associated civilians (non-military staff and contractors) to enter and leave a host country as conveniently as diplomats; US documents will be adequate therefor. In the event of a criminal act the host country will not have jurisdiction, the accused will be handed to US authorities to be tried under US law. Income from US sources will not be liable to personal tax; import of food (and good bourbon no doubt) and personal goods will be free of customs duty. The US military will ensure discipline of its troops but the host country will provide a secure environment. Nothing very exciting; if a host takes the political decision to enter into a ‘forces agreement’, the rest follows.

A little more worrying is that the host is required to recognise that the U.S. Armed forces will use the radio spectrum free of charge and operate its own telecommunication system. However, the issues that have caused GoSL greatest discomfort and are being renegotiated are the diplomatic-like entry and exit provisions and the exclusion of domestic criminal jurisdiction. Aren’t hosts being asked to forego rights of a sovereign state?

Why did our governments sign on?

Both SOFA and ACSA are reciprocal, meaning that if a Sri Lanka naval gunboat drifts across the Pacific it can limp into San Diego naval port and demand first-aid, repair and drinking water. Reciprocity between a monkey and a mouse racing up tree-tops into the canopy! No; there is no way Lanka’s armed forces will be in a position to call upon SOFA for logistical support. Then there must be other reasons that motivated Gota in 2007 and Ranil today. It is not difficult to decipher.

Though Ambassador Robert Blake made it plain that the US was not prepared to get involved in the ant-LTTE civil war, the then government realised that there were plenty of intangible and semi-tangible benefits to be had. Militarily, India and America helped locate LTTE arms ships which the navy sank, and I think other useful intelligence was passed on. Broadly the government reckoned, correctly, that having the US on-side would be beneficial in economic, political and IMF related matters. It didn’t go as far as Geneva where the US came under intense pressure from international and diaspora human rights lobbies. Overall did it pay off? Well, nothing has been lost by Lanka because to the best of my knowledge the US military did not lay claim to any (or negligible) ACSA services in the ten-year period 2007-2017.

And what about Ranil, what does he want? Like the previous government he hankers to keep on the good side of the US. However, I suspect there is more in the mind of UNP strategists. Lanka is not politically stable now; the President is erratic and unhinged; there may have been a hidden-hand and power grabbers behind the recent chaos; the UNP does not trust the democratic credentials of the opposition or its presidential candidate; the military must not be allowed to get ambitious. Is Ranil thinking, win or lose elections the presence of a restraining shadow-power will be beneficial? It seems a likely line of thought and a few friends I bounced it off replied “Maybe you have a point”.

Why am I against ACSA and SOFA?

There is simply not enough good reason to sign on. US military power is cast far and wide across the globe and one cannot foresee in what theatre it may unexpectedly need logistical facilities or hard support. Hence it makes sense for the US to have ACSA or SOFA. It does not cost anything; you pay only when you use it or if you move manpower into a host country. Notwithstanding what Gota saw and Ranil now sees, I believe that in our case the disadvantages outweigh potential benefits. I am too much a realist to be swayed by emotional sovereignty-type nationalist bleating. What sovereignty for a small country buffeted this way and that by great powers except to intelligently balance between them? The tributes on offer are Hambantota cum economic servitude for China, obedience for India and the offer of SOFA for America. Is it common sense or is it triangulated whoredom? The only lasting guarantee of democracy in Sri Lanka is that India remains secular and democratic.

The other danger that some see is that SOFA may be a prologue to unwanted involvement in a regional conflict involving the US, say against China, or an imbroglio in the Middle East. I take this less seriously than my earnest interlocutors. Sino-American war won’t happen and a huge explosion in the Middle East is unlikely though skirmishes will erupt out from time to time. In any case the world will be a safer place once the Americans dump Trump.

I don’t get hot under the collar about an eight-page version submitted to Cabinet and an 83-page version which Ranil and/or Sirisena are said to be concealing. I am familiar with people crying-wolf; most likely the 75 pages are a bunch of annexures and appendices. All SOFA documents I have looked up are between eight and ten pages. Of course, it goes without saying that this is no excuse for a lack of transparency. The eight pages or the 83 pages, it should all be released to the public. The US puts a lot more stuff on the web.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Only the content of the penultimate para is what is sensitive; at least to me.

    “Regional conflict involving the US and say, China…..” That is the whole point. If there is a war between the U.S and China, China will definitely use the Hambantota Port and air-port. Thats when the Yanks will be compelled to do whatever it takes to terminate that threat.

    So, whether we have ACSA or not, lets hope and pray that there will be no war between these two giants.

    • 3

      KD please read this report on the US Special Operations forces,– the New face of the US war machine.

      It seem that after being in denial about Sri Lanka’s geostrategic location and US and other big power interests and meddling in the internal political culture of the country, you have has suddenly woken up and become an authority on SOFA!

      But The most dangerous of these agreements is the Millennium Challenge Corporation *MCC) plan to land grab – already legislation has been passed that foreign companies listed in the stock market can buy land and this will turn Sri lanka into a land of paupers – Haiti in the Indian ocean.
      This MCC project must be stopped at all costs. Sri Lanka does not need MCC even if it payed 400 billion USD!!
      $480 is just paltry beyond belief.

  • 3

    Prof. David.
    “SOFA allows US forces, dependents and associated civilians (non-military staff and contractors) to enter and leave a host country as conveniently as diplomats; US documents will be adequate therefor.”
    Diplomats, dependants and officials enter with US Passports (dpl and non-dpl) stamped with visas issued by GoSL Their entry and exit are recorded by Immigration authorities. According to SOFA agreements, US military personnel enter countries with military IDs and not subjected to scrutiny and record keeping by local immigration. Diplomats do not carry arms whereas troops entering under SOFA can bear arms. Therefore how can you equate the two scenarios?
    “Most likely, the 75 pages are a bunch of annexures and appendices. All SOFA Agreements I have looked up are between eight and ten pages.”
    Why would SOFA with SL have annexures and appendices that similar agreements with other countries do not have?

    • 3

      Have you got a brain?! Have you heard of Diego Garcia CIA black site and military base now green washed into a massive green house gas and carbon emitting Indian Ocean ‘marine reserve”! Ha ha ha!
      Who is fooling whom in this Miracle of Modayas!

      Sri Lanka will be the next Chagos Islands or Haiti, Dis inherited in their own land. Have you hear of Chagos Islands and the CIA black site military base – have you heard of Diego Garcia and how the Chagossians were booted out and gassed by US marines. Why do you think that UNGS voted 116 to 6 that US and UK occupation of Chagos Islands was illegal under international law.
      If you have a brain please use it!

  • 3

    With morons like these you can justify selling your own mother……..! Why does Sri Lanka needs American boots on the ground? What does empirical evidence where American boots were allowed on the ground say to us? This is why we call RW a traitor to the nation.

  • 4

    There are many versions of the American Trojan Horse.
    ACSA & SOFA are crude versions which when detected cam be opposed by the public or on behalf of national interests.
    There are others that operate in the name of democracy, human rights, charity and aid.
    Transparency is necessary on any foreign involvement, desirably before it is allowed.

  • 5

    There are lots of insights in the article. Well articulated too. One thing that is clear from my understanding of US involvement globally, is that they will never be sympathetic to any host that provides them logistical support or territory to operate on. On the contrary, they will set their ugly imprint and exploit the resources with impunity. No SOFA or ACSA etc will be welcome in Sri Lanka.

  • 2

    The question of USA that Military presence in our soil are discussed between of War and Peace in
    Sri lanka.
    Well that criminal System of USA Imperialism has brought upon the people of the world numerous wars after end of second world War. This a an Unjust wars by USA have caused for People hevery suffering of their lives and properties masses of People of nations. While US policy of an invaded, expansion and grab wealth of other nation natural resources and lost of million people lives have been displaces in internally and world wide as Refugees .
    Last decades nature of USA-policies has recognized that 20tah and 21st century as sources of Wars, Chaos, ad Aggressions that came to understating of that. To be defend of Peace,Stability and Sovereignty Rule of democracy is be UNITED by depend on Hands of Sri lankan. By and large an irrespective and regardless their differences political parties, classes, ethnicity and religious as citizens of Sri lankan… an opposed USA military forcefully occupy island. That is why we an opposed between USA and Sri Lanka of that ACSA and SOFA is working towards of surrendering that nation salvation of Sri lanka…. to USA?

    Indeed that USA Military troops alternatives use a deceptive policy of Nation PEACE, STABILITY,SECURITY and ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT by current regime and a policy of WAR….by USA.
    The lives of victims of countries Vietnam, Korean, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, Liyiba, Yemen, Syria. Serbia and many African nation by US invading as goes back to 75 years; many nationalities has bring unprecedented chaos and civil wars has by fought for the National salvation of struggle many countries that man -made disasters to People of all over world by US hegemonism .
    This is a Lenin said ” pay lip services and justice ,but in fact wage annexationist and predatory wars.”
    Undenidabbly USA apply similar policies in Lanka by ACSA and SOFA….incoming process of that USA military troops of island against WILL of Citizens of Sri lankan.

  • 3

    Even the signing of ACSA in 2007 may be to stop USA providing weapons and support to LTTE. Because, USA had done lot of hostile acts just before signing the ACSA.

  • 1

    In the pre-independence era, CP & LSSP at personal risk educated us, workers, on how we are being exploited. We in turn gave our support which they richly deserved. During the cold-war era CP & LSSP alerted us about the possibility of US boots. But soon the allure of cabinet positions made the CP & LSP change stance.
    The much travelled Kumar David coerced into a mildness notes the much chest thumping and hair pulling about Sri Lanka signing ACSA in 2007 and now pursuing a SOFA proposal pontificates {“….I am of the view that neither is justified”}
    Explains why never a word about BBS-Buddhism or the founder/Leader Gnanasara Thera.

    • 1

      The Cold War was on well into the 1980s.
      The LSSP & CP sold out lock stock and barrel in 1970.
      AKD is no defender of the LSSP & CP now, really for a long while.
      It seems that, to you, AKD cannot be right even if he agrees with you!

  • 1

    Yes, US is scratching its head on how to handle the China situation via idomatic Sri Lankan expressionialism.

  • 1

    “In any case the world will be a safer place once the Americans dump Trump.”

    Let me clarify at the outset that I am not a fan of Trump, however, there is a good chance Trump might be re-elected. Secondly, most wars were started by Establishment American Presidents, from Vietnam to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

  • 0

    Professor David has some good points …….. but what matters is not what’s written in a document but how these things transpire in reality.

    Foreign boots on the ground or not …….. India, China and the US have already started meddling in our affairs, especially in our elections – the way Russia meddled in the US elections by more sophisticate means. We have already lost our sovereignty (whatever it means/meant) and democratic process (whatever it means/meant.) ………. The puppet-ification of SL has already begun aided and abetted by our own Einsteinian politicians/”leaders”.

    It was moronic for Mahinda to build a commercially unviable seaport and an airport with high-interest borrowings just to stick his name on them for his foolish vanity. And it was idiotic of Ranil to offer the seaport to the Chinese for short-term budgetary/economic expediency (like JR writing a constitution for the 12 years of his reign without thinking of the far-reaching long-term consequences.) And when Ranil realised the danger, as an afterthought, offering the airport to the Indians to counterbalance the Chinese.

    Please please please …….. this is not about Mahinda, Ranil …… UNP/SLFP …. Sinhala/Tamils/Muslims …… Left/Right/Centre ………. but just think if ye are able to ……… we wouldn’t be in this pickle if the damn idiotic seaport and the airport were not build.

    The simple reason ……. in SL, it’s always best not to have a major problem – in this case the unproductive seaport and the airport – because our “leaders” are renowned for their brilliant solutions ……. starting from the guy who suggested to knock off the goat’s head to save the pot ……….. or whatever ……….

    India, China and the US have already meddled in our elections …….. the subjugation of SL is already well on its way; big time ………. and the balkanization will follow ……… thanks to our own “leaders” and the voters who vote with their emotions ……….. and think by their emotions ……

  • 1

    There is nothing more pathetic than an ex Marxist apologist for the Tamil diaspora, attempting to paint the ongoing American political expansion into the Indian Ocean as inconsequential. KD even says Gota did it too, so it is OK if Ranil does it.

    If SOFA & ACSA are so inconsequential, why is USA doing it ?

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