In the past days, we’ve been hearing several media reports on SOFA, which rather than proffering cushy prospects is actually an agreement, which if signed, will entail ceding part of our hard-earned sovereignty to the US.

A Status Of Forces Agreement has been on the US’s wish list for decades and no amount of closed doors from successive Maltese leaders has stopped it from trying again now… at a time when the international spotlight is focussed on the island’s anti-money laundering efforts as it awaits Moneyval’s litmus test.

This agreement would, in essence, mean that Malta would have to relinquish criminal jurisdiction on American military personnel who commit crimes in Malta to the US. This is a deal that Malta is rightly allergic to after obtaining independence in 1964, and completely closing down the British Services in 1979.

Top government officials have said they will not go against Malta’s constitutional obligations and The Sunday Times of Malta has just reported that this controversial deal is being shelved after the US rejected Malta’s watered-down SOFA proposal.

The people deserve to know the truth. The government should come clean on what sort of an agreement was discussed, whether a SOFA or a watered-down version of it.

One of the narratives being peddled is that if we care about our economic interests, we cannot continue to ignore America’s request for a US-Malta agreement. Others have said that allowing US military personnel in Malta would bring a tide of trade. What absurdities!

Discussing a SOFA, or a watered-down version of it, is all about an agreement between a host country and a foreign nation having military forces stationed in that country. SOFAs, of which the US has struck many, including EU member states, often include other types of military agreements as part of a comprehensive military arrangement. It establishes the rights and privileges of foreign military personnel present in a host country. There are no other versions of a SOFA!

A military presence will never guarantee peace and prosperity. It just breeds conflict and war- Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca

I have a pertinent question for the propagandists: do they genuinely believe that by disowning the tireless, courageous efforts of our political forefathers in securing Malta’s independence, and achieving full freedom from military bases and personnel, and by completely reversing our position and allowing foreign military to once again set foot on our soil and in our surrounding waters, that this will eventually strengthen our relationship and friendship with our neighbours and beyond? Do they genuinely think that acceding to military relationships ensures our peace and prosperity?

I, and many, many others, think not! It’s not rocket science to see why. Just a short trip down the annals of our history is enough evidence to show that we have fought other nations’ wars because of their military presence on our soils and waters. 

A military presence opens all possibilities of contentiousness between nations. Do we, as a peace-loving people, really want this? 

Over the past decades, we have endeavoured to place our neutrality as the pretext of any potential relationship; we have managed to be perceived as a friendly country; we  have established positive, sustainable, peaceful and prosperous relationships with whomever we want; and we have established ourselves as a country where dialogue can take place. 

Nearly 31 years ago, this country served as a catalyst to end the cold war between the US and the USSR, when US president George H. W. Bush and Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met in Maltese waters. Why did they choose Malta? Surely not because of some SOFA agreement or a watered-down version of it.

A military presence will never guarantee peace and prosperity. It just breeds conflict and war, which in turn, deprives people of their deserved peace and prosperity. Is this the Malta we want to live in? Is this the country we want to leave to future generations? Is this the way to foster friendships with other nations?

I certainly believe it isn’t. This does not mean that we should not have an agreement with the US, to safeguard the welfare of our significant Maltese diaspora, or to secure a visa liberalisation agreement to make it easier for Maltese to visit their relatives; or to work on a health agreement, similar to the one we have with the UK; or secure trade agreements, among many others.

Such agreements would truly define a positive relationship and a genuine mutual interest in a peaceful and prosperous future for the peoples of Malta and the US. A SOFA does not!

Marie-Louise Coleiro is a former president of the Republic and a former Labour Party general secretary and minister.

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