Blog: Diego Garcia, Going Native?
The tiny Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia might be best known as the butt of jokes about its status as a particularly tiny rump of the British Empire. But it’s also a key strategic asset for the United States (now, more than ever), and its status may be under threat, thanks to new trilateral negotiations with Mauritius, which claims the territory under international law — and the Obamian affection for the international community might let these conversations run on longer than they should.
But this week, the U.K. and the U.S. have re-opened talks with Mauritius about sovereignty over the islands, making the possibility of their being opened or surrendered, at the very least, somewhat more likely, and that’s a huge problem. AOL Defense explains:
After meeting David Cameron in Downing Street, the Mauritian prime minister, Navinchandra Ramgoolam, told the Guardian that the aim of talks with the UK and US was to reassert Mauritian sovereignty over the islands. If Mauritius achieves its longstanding aim – supported, it says, in international law – it will mean the end of the British Indian Ocean territory. The territory was established in 1965 when Britain expelled the islanders and allowed the US to set up a large base in a deal that included cutting the cost of Polaris missiles for the UK’s nuclear submarines.
One Defense Department official explained:
Unfortunately, this rather sounds like the U.S. is already worried about losing some of, or all, of the Indian Ocean territory — even limited concessions to Mauritius or a partial return of native inhabitants would compromise much of the island’s usefulness. The island is essential to maintaining U.S. reach in the region, a key part of any attempt to pivot to Asia, and even more important when the U.S. needs airbases as near as possible to Iran that it can use without restriction (which isn’t the case for, say, our friendly bases in the Persian Gulf). The cause of the Chagossians is something of a (minor) pet cause among global leftists, who’ve never met a stateless people they didn’t like (well, besides the Kurds, the Jews, Sudan’s Christians . . .). One hopes that the Obama administration doesn’t sympathize with any of these appeals, since the conversation has obviously begun, and DOD seems to consider it at least a possibility.
One writer in the Guardian suggested that “the US could use the Chagos Islands to bomb Iran is another good reason why the UK must restore them to Mauritius.” Rather, this is a very good reason why the U.K. should never do so.