One of the thorniest questions in the talks has been what to do about American service personnel arrested on criminal charges in Singapore. For example, Singapore law authorizes the death penalty for those convicted of drug trafficking. Sources close to the negotiations said that the two sides recently worked out a compromise on the issue.
Singapore's original offer to host U.S. military personnel aroused concern in neighboring countries, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia, about a possible change in the balance of power in the region. Malaysia and Indonesia are members of the Nonaligned Movement and have been strongly committed to the goal of turning Southeast Asia into a nuclear-free zone.
But one knowledgeable Asian diplomatic source said that Singapore has eased the objections of the two countries by making clear that it is not giving the United States a military base and is merely offering the Americans access to Singaporean military facilities.
Singapore is a member of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional organization whose other members are Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
"We are talking about building defense relationships with the other nations of ASEAN," said one U.S. official. He noted that the United States already conducts military exercises with Thailand and is talking about stepping up defense activities with Malaysia and Indonesia.
A Defense Department white paper on U.S. military strategy in Asia released this spring asserted that "expanded access or new basing arrangements with ASEAN could help counterbalance a reduced military presence in the Philippines."
But the paper predicted that "most (Southeast Asian countries) are unlikely to enter into formal security alliances or basing arrangements with the United States."