Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Giving Back Diego Garcia: Are You Out Of Your Bloody Mind?

     Aol Defense reports that the U.S. is in negoitations with the U.K. and Mauritius concerning returning Diego Garcia to the natives. Diego Garcia is home to a naval support facility, which includes 9 pre-positioned supply ships, along with numerous satellite monitoring and communication facilities. Read the article here:

During an era when the Pentagon has declared a pivot from Europe and the Atlantic to Asia and the Pacific, the prospect of handing over so many installations located in such a strategic spot -- or having them more accessible to a foreign government such as Mauritius -- must worry Pentagon officials.

So we asked a senior Pentagon official. Here's what he said: "Without commenting on discussions between other countries, the US military is the most flexible and agile in the world. We're nimble enough to deal with any scenario, especially as we move toward a rotational posture in much of the Asia-Pacific region. Of course, it's always preferable to have more options than fewer."

So one gets the impression the risk isn't considered very great, at least not yet.

But a change in status must have some implications, especially for operational security.

Under its current status as a British possession ceded to the United States, operational security is excellent for the simple reason that almost no one lives on the island unless they work for the U.S., Britain or an allied government. And the island is distant from almost anywhere else. Mauritius, at least publicly, says it wants the people who lived on the island to be able to return, something the British government has argued would not be feasible for security reasons, and because there really isn't much of an economy. A coconut plantation that was the island's mainstay has fallen largely to ruin.

Here's what the British Guardian newspaper, which has covered Diego Garcia much more closely and critically than most publications, said today about the talks:

"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."

It is not clear that the bases would have to be ceded to Mauritius or be closed. In fact, the Guardian said that Ramgoolam is coming here soon and is "likely to reassure the US that its base would remain on the island under Mauritian sovereignty." Whether the U.S. and its allies would have the same unfettered access and, perhaps most important, control of the island remains unanswered.

     The problem with giving Diego Garcia back to the natives is th fact that there are no real natives, or rather "islanders". The only islanders to inhabit Diego Garcia outside of stranded mariners, were marooned lepers, and the slaves (and their descendants) of a coconut plantation formerly located on the island. From 1968 to 1973 the "natives", were relocated to Mauritius, the Seychelles so as to make way for the U.S. Navy. Another problem is the fact that the U.K. purchased Diego Garcia and the rest of the Chagos archipelago for 3 million pounds from Mauritius.
     That only covers the political/social issues with giving back Diego Garcia. If the U.S. were to give up it's military facilities on Diego Garcia, we would lose an invaluable base with access to the Indian Ocean, and the Arabian Gulf, through which 17% of the U.S.'s, and most Asia's oil flows. Currently, the Navy has 9 pre-positioned ships in the anchorage at Diego Garcia, with enough supplies to supply a marine air-ground task force for 30 days, and also a base from which all types of U.S. fighters and bombers can operate from. In fact aircraft operating from Diego Garcia have provided air support for Operations Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom.    
     To give up Diego Garcia because of a bunch of political rhetoric, would be a military disaster as we would lose the ability to deploy aircraft from the island, and an anchorage capable of handling anything in the U.S. Navy. Unfortunately, with the current president, it just might happen. God help us if it does.

Photo Credit: USAF

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