In a rare announcement, the United States said its ballistic missile submarine, USS West Virginia, visited its Indian Ocean military base at Diego Garcia. Before it visited the base at Diego Garcia, the submarine had surfaced in the Arabian Sea and participated in a joint, US Strategic Command-directed communications exercise to validate emerging and innovative tactics in the Indian Ocean.
About The Submarine:
One of the 14 Ohio-class SSBNs in service with the US Navy, the boat is capable of carrying up to 20 Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles with multiple, independently targeted warheads. The submarine also conducted a complete crew exchange in Diego Garcia and a subsequent replenishment at sea, highlighting the SSBN force’s readiness and flexibility to remain on patrol for an extended period of time.
About Diego Garcia:
Diego Garcia is a part of the Chagos Archipelago, which the UK identifies as British Indian Ocean Territory or BIOT. In 1965, the archipelago was separated from Mauritius, then a British colony, and made part of the UK’s overseas territory. Later, the UK evicted the entire population of the archipelago and leased Diego Garcia to the United States for its Indian Ocean military base.
What is the Chagos Islands dispute:
- Mauritius has argued that the Chagos Islands has been a part of its territory since at least the 18th century, till the United Kingdom broke the archipelago away from Mauritius in 1965 and the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar, and Desroches from Seychelles in the region to form British Indian Ocean Territory.
- In June 1976, after Seychelles gained independence from the United Kingdom, the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar, and Desroches were returned by the UK.
- The UK declared these islands as an overseas territory in November 1965.
- After Mauritius gained independence from the UK in 1968, the United Kingdom refused to return the Chagos Islands to Mauritius claiming in petitions submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration that the island was required to “accommodate the United States’ desire to use certain islands in the Indian Ocean for defence purposes”.
- The largest island on the Chagos Islands archipelago, Diego Garcia, is where the US and the UK operate a large military base and was also used as a US military base for the US-led attacks against Afghanistan and Iraq in the 2000s.
- For decades there was no litigation concerning the violation of human rights and sovereignty in the Chagos Islands.
- However, in 2015, Mauritius initiated legal proceedings in these matters against the United Kingdom in the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands.
- The UK made several attempts to resist Mauritius’ attempts to take the matter to international court by claiming that the issue was a bilateral matter.
India’s Contradictory Stance:
- India was among nations to vote in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution that demanded the UK withdraw its “colonial administration” from the Chagos Archipelago unconditionally, supporting Mauritius in its quest for the restoration of sovereignty over the island chain in the Indian Ocean.
- However, given the increasing Chinese footprint in the Indian Ocean, India also wants the US to retain its presence in Diego Garcia. New Delhi is believed to have nudged Mauritius to offer to renew the lease of Diego Garcia to the US if it is able to wrest back sovereignty from the UK.