The United States recently signed a compact with Armenia making it possible to swap or buy military supplies and services through that country’s forces.

Armenia may ask the same of the Americans.

“It shows that we are increasing and cementing our relationship and that Armenia is a full participant on the war on terrorism,” said Gen. Charles F. Wald, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Europe, in a press statement.

In and of itself, the acquisition and cross-servicing agreement, or ACSA, may not seem unusual. The Defense Department has negotiated 77 of these; nearly 50 are with countries dealing with the U.S. European Command. But the Armenia deal cemented on April 26 means that U.S. forces can now operate with ready access to local supplies not only in Armenia, but throughout the strategically important Caucuses region: U.S. defense officials reached a similar agreement with Georgia two years ago and with Azerbaijan last year.

The Caucuses region is important because the region is rich in oil and, as beginning of the ancient Silk Road, is a doorway to the East directly bordering Russia and Iran. And whatever the merits of having military-to-military chumminess in that neighborhood, it also highlights the U.S. push to have such agreements anywhere in the world where a friendly government holds power.

The arrangements were hatched in 1979 via the Mutual Support Act, a mechanism for the United States and other NATO members to help one another without going through the usual contracting hoops. More recently, Congress expanded the concept so that the U.S. government could negotiate such arrangements with any friendly nation.

Since then, America has vigorously sought to clinch such arrangements.

“With this country and all 93 countries in our area of responsibility, we have a responsibility to cooperate with most of them, if they’re a friendly and willing member,” said Lt. Col. Charles Sherwin of the Logistics and Security Assistance Directorate at the U.S. European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. “There are certain agreements you’d like to have in place to work with them.”

The deals take time. The chatting up of Armenia began in March of 2002 when both the State Department and Defense Department signed off on the idea.

“Here, two years later, we were able to conclude,” Sherwin said. “We can’t just go willy-nilly to negotiate these things.”

No one actually gives anything to anyone under the agreements; each country buys, swaps or returns in kind whatever it needs from the other military.

As for signing such deals with nations eastward, it could provide obvious benefits for operations in Afghanistan or Iraq. And, Sherwin said, were U.S. forces to push on to new bases in Eastern Europe, it would advance that effort, too.

However, Lt. Col. Bill Bigelow, a spokesman for the Stuttgart headquarters, was quick to say that the Armenian news does not equate to a final decision to build eastern bases.

More broadly, “It enhances operability throughout the theater,” Bigelow said.

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