Trans-Pacific View | Diplomacy | South Asia

Mauritians Want to Reclaim the Chagos Islands. President Biden Should Support Them.

Only by acknowledging Mauritian sovereignty over the Chagos, including Diego Garcia, can the United States ensure that its military base is placed on a sustainable – and legal – footing.

Mauritians Want to Reclaim the Chagos Islands. President Biden Should Support Them.
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How, then, does the Pentagon justify its most important Indian Ocean base being located inside an illegal British colony?

The base in question is the military installation on Diego Garcia, the largest island of the Chagos Archipelago in the central Indian Ocean. The colony is the British Indian Ocean Territory, which is what the British government has called the Chagos Islands since detaching them from its Crown Colony of Mauritius in 1965.

In 2019, the International Court of Justice issued an that the colonial-era separation of Chagos from Mauritius was a violation of international law. The implication is that Mauritius should still be whole today, and that the British government has illegally occupied the Chagos Islands ever since Mauritian independence.

Last year, an international court constituted to decide a maritime boundary issue between Mauritius and the Maldives , holding (in a decision binding upon Port Louis and Malé) that the entire Chagos Archipelago should be considered an integral part of Mauritius.

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An of the world’s governments agree with this growing body of international case law: that Mauritius is still suffering the indignity of colonization in the 21st century, and that Britain should withdraw from the Chagos Islands without delay.

It is high time that the United States join this overwhelming international consensus and support the decolonization of Chagos.

Officials in Washington will have noticed the of Mauritian flags this week on the “Outer” Chagos islands of Peros Banhos and Salomon, around 100 miles north of Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia. These banners – provocations meant to assert Mauritian sovereignty – were planted by members of a including international lawyers, Mauritian diplomats, journalists, and indigenous Chagos Islanders.

, “Our vital interests and those of our closest partners require a free and open Indo-Pacific, where governments can make their own sovereign choices, consistent with their obligations under international law; and where seas, skies, and other shared domains are lawfully governed.”

All of this is correct – including as it relates to the Chagos Islands. It truly is in the best interests of the United States to abide by international law, and to have its allies and partners do the same.

This is why the time has come for the United States to politely inform London that its services as landlord of the Chagos Islands are no longer required. Only by acknowledging Mauritian sovereignty over the Chagos group, including Diego Garcia, can the United States ensure that its military base is placed on a sustainable – and legal – footing.

Nobody disputes that the military base on Diego Garcia is an important strategic asset, especially in the context of so-called “great power competition” with China. But there is for Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia in a world without continued British colonialism.

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Indeed, the government of Mauritius has the United States a 99-year lease to govern its future access to Diego Garcia. Biden should instruct his advisers to take “yes” for an answer.

Supporting the decolonization of the Chagos Islands is the only policy compatible with the United States’ strong interest in a rules-based order for the Indo-Pacific. Such a move would allow the United States to uphold international law, cement an important relationship with a democratic Indian Ocean state, and maintain the operability of a critical military base.

It would also permit officials in London to breathe a sigh of relief at no longer having to defend the indefensible – no small favor to a long-suffering friend.