Header image  
my general writings- 5  
Big Powers, Little Island







The United States Government has repeatedly said that "the Indian Ocean has become an area with the potential to produce major shifts in global power to balance over the next decade".

Deep Space Surveillance Station on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean

The little island of Diego Garcia - in the Chagos Archipelago - in the Indian Ocean, thus forms an important link in the long chain of American island bases stretching from pacific to the coast of south Africa. The Portuguese explored Diego Garcia in the 1500s (it is named for a Portuguese navigator). Between 1814 and 1965 it was a territory of Mauritius - but part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. In 1970, the island was leased to the United States, and developed as a refuelling and support station during the Cold War years.

Most of the littoral countries, including India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, have opposed the construction and presence of the base from the time the idea was first proposed.

At the 21st commonwealth Parliamentary Conference held in New Delhi in October 1976, agreement was reached that military bases in the Indian Ocean zome "constituted direct interference in the affairs of the region". This was reiterated in many meetings held later among the governments of the Indian Ocean littoral states.

By all accounts, it seems that the American military lobby has consistently misled the Congress on the Diego Garcia issue. In January 1976, the General Accounting Office of the US Congress issued a statement that the financial arrangements between the US and UK have violated US economic laws. State department officials have testified that the might of the Russian Navy (which was the reason given for constructing the base) in the Indian Ocean "is a Pentagon-raised spectre".

During the Commonwealth conference (of 1976), Mr Rauf Bundum, the delegate from Mauritius, said: "Britain twisted our arms" to get the island. And of the Pound 5 million which the British received from the US for the 50-year lease, Mauritius was given Pound 3 million. "Like good shopkeepers, they pocketed the Pound 2 million".

"Although Diego Garcia once had a small native population, the inhabitants, known as the Ilois, or the Chagossians, were forced to relocate (1967–1973) so that the island could be turned into the U.S. military base. Most of the roughly 1,500 displaced Chagossians were agricultural workers and fisherman. Uprooted and robbed of their livelihood, the Chagossians now live in poverty in Mauritius's urban slums, more than 1,000 miles from their homeland. A smaller number were deported to the Seychelles..." (http://www.infoplease.com/spot/dg.html)

The US government sanctioned $173million for the base complex alone and work began in December 1970. In March, 1976, Britain gave the final go-ahead to the US, disregarding the assurances given to India, Sri Lanka and Mauritius that they would be consulted. The base is now operational and played a major role during the Gulf War.

America has about 470 major overseas bases and 2900 minor centres.

There is no unanimity of opinion among the countries of the region. Australia then fully supported the US venture and continues to do so. China has maintained an enigmatic silence. It possibly believed then that the US base could offset the the Russian (and today the Indian) capability of showing it's naval presence in the Indian Ocean at short notice because of the Suez Canal.

Officers' quarters

The Canal to Russian ships means cutting down of a distance of nearly 8000 miles and sailing time by about 4 weeks. Iran wants to become a major power in the area. It has already built a string of basses along the straits of Hormuz, a naval-air base at Bundar Abbas on the Gulf and an American-aided base (during the Shah's reign) at Chahbhar on the Iran-Pakistan border. The French and the British have their bases in the Persian Gulf and on other islands Russian warships call constantly at Djibouti.

The Indian Ocean is a potential field for economic exploitation. It will not be long before each of the major powers turns its attention towards the vast estimated deposits of manganese and nickel (and possibly oil) on the ocean floor. Indian oceanographers have already charted vast tracts of the floor which contain such riches. It may all end then as a struggle for the future control of the natural resources in that area.

This article first appeared in the Illustrated Weekly of India, a publication of the Times of India group.





Powered by Phenomenon Graphics