Is Diego Garcia at Risk of Slipping from Washington’s Grasp?

    Mark A. Rosen

    Security, Asia

    A B-1 Lancer prepares to connect with a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling boom over the Indian Ocean on July 7. The B-1 was flying a close-air-support mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Wikimedia Commons

    Diego Garcia’s strategic importance cannot be overstated because the Defense Department has, in general, been gradually reducing its overseas presence throughout the world.

    On June 22, 2017, the UN General Assembly voted 94-15 (sixty-five abstentions) to ask the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on whether the UK had lawfully adhered to the process of decolonization when it detached the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in the 1960s. U.S. newspapers mostly ignored this news; hopefully Pentagon planners took note. The timing of this action—which could be viewed as delegitimating the U.S. presence on Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos Archipelago—is not good for the United States. The country has been deepening its defense relations with India and devoting more strategic attention to the Indian Ocean from a security and economic perspective. Approximately 70 percent of the world’s crude oil and 50 percent of the world’s container traffic moves through the Indian Ocean.

    The U.S. facility on the island of Diego Garcia is the strategic anchor for the U.S. defense presence in South Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific region, according to Andrew Erickson from the Naval War College. Diego Garcia could not be more strategically placed because of its unique geography and its relative isolation to areas of conflict. Since 1966, the island has been a secure venue for a number of very important U.S. defense activities.

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    The National Interest

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