By Malinda Seneviratne –
A leaked draft MoU between the governments of the USA and the Maldives indicates that plans are afoot to set up a US military base in the Indian Ocean. While the US Embassy in Colombo has pooh-poohed the said document as a ‘Status of Forces Agreement’ (SOFA) of the kind that exists with respect to some 100 other countries, and that there is no intention of ‘setting up a military base’, the wording is more than adequate to sanction such designs at any given moment. The document, if signed, would allow arms bearing troops and the bringing in unspecified amounts of unspecified material, in effect everything that makes a ‘military base’ apart from the name; another critical piece of Obama’s ‘Asian Pivot’ strategy.
Maldivians should do what is in their best interest of course and by the same token if this latest move in the USA’s pretty consistent and relentless strategy of garrisoning the planet is seen as a threat, then other countries (like Sri Lanka) must likewise decide what’s best in their national interest.
In any event, Sri Lanka can but object in word but that’s about it. Sri Lanka doesn’t have the guns or the bucks to do much more. India can, but probably won’t.
As of now, what is proposed is a ‘Llily pad’; small, secretive, inaccessible facilities with limited troop presence, Spartan amenities and prepositioned weaponry, one of over 50 set up by the USA since 2000, from Djibouti to Hondurus, Mauritania to the Cocos Islands. Lily pads are easily transformed into comprehensive and pivotal military bases, like the approximately 1000 such US facilities in 150 countries, complementing of course the 11 aircraft career task forces (floating bases).
It all sits well with the strategic shift from full-scale invasion to special operations, proxy armies, militarization of spying and intelligence, drones, cyber-attacks and ‘joint operations’. Add to this long-range air and naval power; humanitarian and disaster relief missions that serve military intelligence, patrolling and ‘hearts and minds’ operations, and we have a global thug whose declining economic power can be swiftly mitigated by outright theft by way of sanctified resource extraction and market-fixing. All in the name of democracy, civilization, human rights and good governance, of course and yes, the media does the consent-manufacturing exercise well.
For decades now, the USA has tried to get a foothold in the Indian Ocean that’s a bit larger than Diego Garcia. Sri Lanka has a love-hate relationship with the USA, with the ‘love’ part probably being insignificant to wrest from the political leadership a Sri Lankan version of the Maldivian SOFA comfortable enough for the US Marines to recline upon. Perhaps this explains the ‘hate’ part evidenced by US moves in the UNHRC against Sri Lanka.
On the other hand a US-Maldive SOFA can be a lily pad from which something more potent than frogs can jump out, if deemed necessary. India is a strategic partner and is too complex a political riddle to untangle, a necessary precondition for setting up military bases in that country. Given global political realities, there is no way that the US would move in on the Maldives without the blessings of Manmohan Singh.
The USA will do what’s in its best interest. If invasion is necessary, we can expect invasion. It is far more cost-effective to purchase submission, with bucks or threats. If these don’t work then come the guns, but even guns work better when there are ‘friendly forces’ within the country. This is why there is a thing called ‘espionage’. This is why the US Embassy’s politicking must be checked and all movements of Embassy and other staff be closely monitored. Spies can operate in I/NGOs, disguise themselves as journalists or students like the ‘BBC’ team that went to North Korea, and often come dressed in local skin with local name.
The Government cannot do it alone. The citizenry must be vigilant too. Only the Government can obtain the citizen’s support but only a government that has the trust of the citizen can do so. The trust-gap is widening. It amounts to a window-of-opportunity for intervention. Regime-haters might salivate, but they are part of the citizenry that will have to pay the heavy price of intervention and accompanying anarchy. It is subjugation and not the source or name or national identity of the subjugator that counts. Either way, there’s a nation that is under threat. In the end, palming necessary battles to outsiders never bring relief. We have to fight our battles by ourselves and part of that battle is to keep outsiders outside. Vigilance is called for.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com