Diego Garcia: London and Mauritius negotiate Chagos Archipelago – Politics
As a world power, the United States claims a global network of military bases. Since the Second World War, Washington has systematically built and expanded such strategic bridgeheads and supply stations in many places. Few bases have such a complicated history as the tropical atoll of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which is part of the Chagos Archipelago. Negotiations on the future of the archipelago have now begun, as confirmed by Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth at the beginning of the new year.
In Diego Garcia, the West’s imperial claims are combined with the abysses of delayed decolonization. Great Britain is mainly to blame for this toxic mixture. In the 1960s, London simply continued to claim the so-called Chagos Archipelago including Diego Garcia for itself, while Mauritius, which was connected to the Chagos Islands as a colonial territory, was granted independence.
The reason: Washington was then looking for a suitable base in the Indian Ocean. The military strategists’ eyes fell on the remote atoll of Diego Garcia – and London rushed to help. A deal was sealed, the US leased the area for their armed forces. Locals on the islands were then shipped off in the bellies of old barges that otherwise carried bird droppings for fertilizer. They were taken to the Seychelles and Mauritius.
The number of those disenfranchised seemed to the imperialists to be manageable enough to hardly attract attention – which did not reduce the individual suffering of the approximately 1,000 people affected. Poverty and misery determined the lives of many uprooted people. And no one else seemed to care much.
“It feels like history is repeating itself”
To this day, those affected and their families who are still alive feel a deep distrust. Some have the feeling that – then as now – they have no say in their own future. Rosy Leveque from the Chagos Islanders lobby group complained in the British press that her family was being taken away like freight even then – and that negotiations are now being resumed without those affected. “It feels like history is repeating itself”, she told him Daily Express.
The fact that the British government now wants to conduct “constructive negotiations” with Mauritius about the future of Chagos, as it is said in London, could still have far-reaching consequences. On the one hand for the families of former residents who want to return to their homeland. But also for the plans of the USA, which have a huge interest in keeping Diego Garcia as a base. As security experts emphasize, it is the only relevant US post in the Indian Ocean. From a strategic point of view, he is considered difficult to replace.
In November 2022, Great Britain had signaled its initial willingness to talk. Former residents of Diego Garcia had previously caused quite a stir with a Mauritius-sponsored expedition to their former homeland, complete with a – albeit very brief – landing. At that time they were not allowed to stay.
For a long time, forced resettlement was a taboo subject in London, but times have changed. As early as 2019, an opinion by the International Court of Justice found that Great Britain’s claim to Chagos violated international law. This indirectly increased the pressure on the tenant, the USA. Both London and Washington often stress that they support a “rules-based world order” when political manipulation and delayed decolonization do not fit into the picture.
India is getting nervous
In Indian security circles, meanwhile, concerns have been raised that Mauritius could open the Chagos Islands to Beijing in the future, for example to get rid of part of the Chinese debt with such a deal. The specter of Chinese expansion south of India also appears to be haunting some British Tory MPs. Political scientist Peter Harris from Colorado State University in the USA does not yet see any reliable evidence for these assumptions, especially since Mauritius has offered to fix Diego Garcia’s lease to the USA for 99 years in the future.
Some call the atoll the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” of the United States. The planes that bombed Afghanistan after 9/11 and later served in the Gulf War took off from here. The atoll is also an important supply station for the American submarine fleet.
The US has officially stated that it regards the Chagos dispute as a bilateral matter between Mauritius and London. But of course everyone knows that the United States has the greatest weight in these negotiations, even though they are not formally at the table.