Small Indian Ocean base a big headache for Washington
Publish date: 11 March 2019
Issue Number: 814
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
The Diego Garcia military base may be 1 600km from the nearest continent, but it has all the trappings of a modern American town. Soldiers can dine on burgers at Jake's Place, enjoy a nine-hole golf course, go bowling or drink cold beer at one of several bars. And while cars drive on the right side of the road it is a remote remnant of the British Empire. In 1965, during the Cold War, the US signed a controversial, secret agreement with the British Government to lease one of the 60 or so Indian Ocean atolls that make up the Chagos Islands to construct a military base. According to witness testimony provided to CNN by former residents, the Chagosians were herded into the hold of two cargo ships, then dumped on the quayside in Mauritius or the Seychelles. The pets they left behind were rounded up by soldiers and gassed. Their houses were left to the jungle. The operation was secret because the UK was in the process of decolonsing Mauritius, of which the Chagos archipelago was a dependency. The islands were cleaved from Mauritius and renamed the British Indian Overseas Territory, a move that the UN’s highest court last month ruled was illegal under international law. The ruling, though non-binding, potentially creates a huge problem for Washington. Today, Diego Garcia is one of America's most important overseas assets. It helped to launch two invasions of Iraq, served as a vital landing spot for bombers that fly missions across Asia, including over the South China Sea, and has been linked to US rendition efforts. The US now operates about 800 military bases and logistical facilities outside its sovereign territory. ‘If you take all the other foreign bases owned by countries together there are only about 30,’ said Daniel Immerwahr, a professor of history at Northwestern University.