All You Need To Know About The US State Partnership Program
It has been barely four months since the Nepali parliament ratified the Millennial Challenge Corporation agreement with the US government. The MCC agreement was pushed through by the current government despite massive protests from all sides of the public and political spheres.
The biggest fear of the Nepali people was that, hidden somewhere in the complicated language of the agreement, there might be a military component. A small section or schedule that would allow US military personnel to stay in the country indefinitely.
Nothing of the sort has happened in the past four months. But in these months, high-level visits between the US and Nepal have been increasing steadily. People have even wondered aloud — what interest does a world power like the US have in a tiny country like ours?
As it turns out, all this hubbub was for a wholly different agreement between the two countries called the State Partnership Program, or the SPP. And what’s more, this agreement is actually administered by an organ of the US military!
Here is all you need to know about the US State Partnership Program, its history, and potential future in Nepal.
1. What Is The State Partnership Program?
The State Partnership Program by the United States of America goes farther back than either the MCC pact or the Indo-Pacific Strategy. It was formed as a way to help ally governments develop their military force. With this objective, countries signed onto SPP collaborate with the US government on sectors including disaster response, aviation safety, cyber defence, and more.
This program runs under the US Department Defense, and is managed by the National Guard — a part of the US military. Till date, a total of 86 countries have already signed onto this program.
2. Is The SPP A Part Of The Indo-Pacific Strategy?
It is not directly clear if SPP comes under the umbrella of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. But it appears that the US hopes to build a stronger relationship with Nepal through the SPP. The US Department of Defense released a report on the Indo-Pacific Strategy in 2019 which mentioned that Nepal was “recently added” to the US State Partnership Program in the Indo-Pacific.
The report also mentioned that the US seeks to further develop its defense relationship with Nepal under the SPP.
3. Did Nepal Already Sign Into The SPP?
No, Nepal hasn’t signed into the SPP yet. However, the US Embassy in Nepal has clarified some days back that by policy, the US government doesn’t request any country to join into this agreement. Rather, the process has to start on the end of the partner countries who wish to enter into the SPP.
The document published in some online outlets that purports to be a military deal between the United States and Nepal is fake. By policy, the United States does not ask countries to join the State Partnership Program and only responds to requests to do so. ++— U.S. Embassy Nepal (@USEmbassyNepal) June 14, 2022
The Nepal government apparently applied to be a part of SPP back in 2015, then once more in 2017. The US government finally accepted that application in 2019.
4. Is The American Army Going To Enter Nepal Under The SPP Agreement?
Some days back, a supposed draft of the State Partnership Program agreement was leaked to the press. The draft agreement was apparently shared by General Flynn to PM Deuba during his visit to Nepal earlier in June.
The six-page draft contained many damning points that appeared to detail the terms for the deployment of US military personnel in Nepal. Some of these points include:
a. Military training exercises taking place in higher altitudes of Nepal, in collaboration with US military forces.
b. US military to supply non-lethal military technology, such as communication technology, which Nepal government provides land for the deployment of US military forces.
c. Prohibition from seeking the help of any national or international tribunal in the case of any dispute regarding the terms of the agreement. This meant that Nepal had to agree to the US interpretation of all the points in the agreement.
Of course, this leaked draft caused much panic among Nepalis. However, the US Embassy in Nepal soon reacted to this news and clarified that this was a fake document.
SPP can be an effective means of facilitating this type of cooperation.— U.S. Embassy Nepal (@USEmbassyNepal) June 14, 2022
Through its official Twitter account, the US Embassy in Nepal clarified that the SPP is a very old program with over 80 partnerships. The series of tweets also shared that the SPP is designed to help share the expertise of the US National Guard in dealing with different kinds of natural disasters.
While the program is operated by a section of the US military, the Charge d'Affaires of US Embassy in Nepal, Manual P Micaller Jr has clarified that the SPP is not a military alliance.
5. Is The SPP Bad For Nepal?
Over the past week, the topic of the State Partnership Program has actually been raised in the Parliament, with lawmakers like Gagan Thapa raising questions on it. The issue at the moment, however, seems to be on the matter of transparency.
PM Deuba has contradicted his own words on this matter at least once. On June 15, Deuba said that there will be no SPP agreement without political consensus, and the very next day Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand, on the PM’s behalf, said that the government doesn’t have ANY plans to join the SPP.
Lawmakers from opposition parties were worried that Deuba might sneak around any governmental procedures and sign the SPP secretly.
6. What Are The Claimed Benefits Of Joining The SPP?
The main goal of the SPP program seems to be to help partner countries develop expertise in certain sectors including disaster management, cyber defense, aviation safety, and counter-terrorism. The agreement with Nepal, specifically, would have come with humanitarian aid too, directly from the US National Guard.
Besides that, correspondence between the two governments included a list of demands from Nepal Army as a condition for joining the SPP. The most notable of these demands are two sky trucks and some US-manufactured helicopters.
7. How Likely Are We To Join The SPP?
Members of the Nepal Congress Party have opined that joining the much debated SPP agreement with the US could be a political self-sabotage, since the parliamentary elections are so close. Perhaps sensing this to be the true call, Deuba has decided to stay away from this agreement after much hubbub in the public and political spheres.
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