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August 2008

Diego Garcia’s Strategic Past, Present, and Future:

Implications for Indian Ocean Security

Andrew S. Erickson Walter C. Ladwig III Justin D. Mikolay

U.S. Naval War College Merton College, Oxford U.S. Naval Academy
andrew.erickson@nwc.navy.mil walter.ladwig@politics.ox.ac.uk mikolay@usna.edu

A paper prepared for

American Political Science Association Annual Conference

28-31 August 2008

***Opinions and conclusions are solely those of the authors and in no way reflect the
policies or estimates of the U.S. military or any other element of the U.S. government***
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Although often decried, American military primacy underwrites the current economic
globalization by safeguarding the flow of international commerce and energy as well as
the security architecture that protects the existing international system.1 To do this, the
U.S. and its allies must have the ability to project power around the globe in a manner
that is sufficiently strong and broad-based to deter regional threats, yet sustained and
carefully calibrated to avoid provoking local opposition.
It has been widely argued that the world is undergoing a significant geopolitical
realignment as the global “center of gravity” shifts from the Euro-Atlantic to the Asia-
Pacific region.2 Sustained economic growth at home and increasing assertiveness abroad
will likely return China and India to the positions of international prominence that they
held prior to the 19th century.3 In such a dynamic international environment, the United
States will have to adapt its geostrategic focus if it hopes to retain its position of global
primacy in the 21st century.
One region that has long been considered peripheral to American national security
but deserves far greater attention is the Indian Ocean. A critical conduit for the transport
of trade goods and oil, its littoral is awash with weak states that are characterized by
poverty, inequality, and ethno-sectarian tensions. Unlike in other critical sub-regions of
Asia, in the Indian Ocean littoral the U.S. lacks reliable host-nation bases and is unlikely
to acquire them. For that reason, the British territory of Diego Garcia, whose location and
political reliability give it significant utility for both routine operations and crisis
response, is central to American power projection in the Indian Ocean. In its current state,
Diego Garcia fulfills an important regional support role for logistics and operations.
However, planned construction on the island presages a significantly expanded role for
the island as a primary hub for U.S. power projection in the region.
This work draws on interviews with U.S. government officials and archival
documents, as well as academic and media sources in multiple languages. It argues that

The authors acknowledge with appreciation the constructive comments of Timothy Hoyt, Matthew
Jenkinson, William Murray, Michael O’Hanlon, Andrew Winner, and Toshi Yoshihara.
The original argument that a single power is required to provide the leadership necessary to make the
liberal international economic system work was made by Charles P. Kindleberger, The World in
Depression (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973). Similarly, Robert Gilpin argues that the logic
of existing international institutions, rules and order are the product of a hierarchical political system led by
a powerful state in War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).
More recently, the link between U.S. preponderance and globalization has been addressed in Thomas L.
Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization (London: HarperCollins, 1999) and
Niall Ferguson, “A World Without Power,” Foreign Policy (July/August 2004).
The emergence of the economies of the Asia-Pacific has been termed “the most striking event in the
economic history of the late twentieth [century.]” Eric Jones, Lionel Frost, and Colin Whit, Coming Full
Circle (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993), p. ix. Also see, Henry A. Kissinger, “Center of Gravity Shifts
in International Affairs,” San Diego Union-Tribune, July 4, 2004 and Jeffrey D. Sachs, “Welcome To The
Asian Century,” Fortune, January 12, 2004.
In the 18th century, India’s share of world GDP was 24.4% while China’s was 22.3%. Angus Maddison,
The World Economy: Historical Statistics (Paris: OECD, 2003), p. 261. The potential impact of the
emergence of India and China on regional and global politics has been compared to the rise of Germany in
the 19th century and the U.S. in the 20th century. “Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National
Intelligence Council’s 2020 Project,” (Washington, D.C.: National Intelligence Council, December 2004),
p. 9.

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the U.S. needs a clear strategic vision for the use of Diego Garcia, the under-studied
linchpin of U.S. force projection and influence in the strategically vital Indian Ocean. The
U.S. military’s present division of theaters of operation risks undermining the
development and evolution of a coherent Indian Ocean security strategy. This article
consists of six sections. It begins by placing Diego Garcia in a theoretical context by
assessing the contribution of America’s overseas basing structure to the dominant
position of the U.S. in world politics. The second section explores the emerging geo-
strategic importance of the Indian Ocean and identifies America’s economic and security
interests in the region. Section three surveys the history and development of the U.S.
facility at Diego Garcia. This is followed by a discussion of Diego Garcia’s present status
and the U.S. military’s plans for expanding its use of the island. Section five explores the
interests of two major regional actors, India and China, in the Indian Ocean as well as
their perceptions of the U.S. presence at Diego Garcia. The article concludes with a
discussion of Diego Garcia’s strategic future and offers relevant policy recommendations.

Basing, Power Projection and American Primacy

Scholars of international politics are divided concerning the evolving configuration of the
international system and the sustainability of America’s paramount position in world
affairs.4 However, as Barry Posen argues cogently, this dominant position is likely to
persist in the medium term due to America’s ability to command the global commons.5
The ability of the U.S. military to dominate and exploit the sea, space and air for military
purposes provides “the foundation of U.S. political preeminence.”6
Sustaining this position depends in large part on America’s ability to project
power around the globe. While the oceanic boundaries surrounding the United States
provided an important buffer from other great powers during its rise, these same oceans
are also a barrier that must be surmounted for America to exercise its military might
abroad. The issue of power projection plays a significant role in John Mearsheimer’s
theory of offensive realism. Specifically, he argues that the “stopping power of water”
will prevent any great power from achieving global hegemony.7 In contrast, Christopher
Layne argues that the world’s oceans actually facilitate a bid for hegemony by a maritime

For differing views, see Christopher Layne, “The Unipolar Illusion: Why New Great Powers Will Rise,”
International Security, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Spring 1993), William C. Wohlforth, “The Stability of a Unipolar
World,” International Security, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Summer 1999), and Samuel P. Huntington, “The Lonely
Superpower,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 78, No. 2 (March/April 1999).
Barry R. Posen, “Command of the Commons: The Military Foundation of U. S. Hegemony,”
International Security, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Summer 2003).
Ibid., p. 21.
John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001),
p. 40-42. While not explicitly focused on the “stopping power of water,” Kenneth Boulding’s “loss of
strength gradient” supports the notion that the amount of a nation’s military power that can be brought
to bear in any part of the world depends on geographic distance. Kenneth Boulding, Conflict and Defense
(New York and London: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 262.
Christopher Layne, “The Poster Child for Offensive Realism: America as a Global Hegemon,” Security
Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Winter 2002/3), pp. 126-32.

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The U.S. overcame “the stopping power of water” after World War II, Layne
notes, by “maintaining large numbers of forward deployed troops and pre-positioned
material in Europe and northeast Asia, creating an elaborate network of bases in those
regions, and creating a logistical infrastructure that can support the rapid projection of
additional U.S. power to these regions.” As a result, the United States would have a
harder time projecting power into South America, a region regarded as part of its
traditional sphere of influence, but where such basing infrastructure does not exist, than it
would into two of the “most critical regions of the world.”9 America’s command of the
commons is facilitated by the U.S. military’s network of overseas bases.10 In Posen’s
words, these military facilities abroad are “the crucial stepping stones for U.S. power to
transit the globe.”11
Gaining and maintaining access to the overseas bases necessary to project power
globally is an increasing challenge in a dynamic international environment. While the
traditional conventional and irregular military threats to overseas bases remain, political
constraints on access have become a more serious challenge in the past decade.12
Regardless of whether or not one believes that the international system will remain
unipolar or is in transition to a multipolar or “uni-multipolar” structure, it is clear that
with the rise of new powers, key regions of the world, particularly Asia, are undergoing
transitions in their regional order. Balance of power politics, where short-term national
interests drive alignment, could become the rule in interstate relations in these dynamic
regions. However, shifting alliances are not a strong foundation for a global basing
During the Cold War, a group of ideologically aligned allies and client states
provided the U.S. with a world-wide system of ports, airbases and other facilities in
return for security guarantees against the Soviet Union or China. In the contemporary
security environment, the threats and challenges are far more ambiguous. Individual
states perceive different levels of risk from the rise of new great powers, WMD
proliferation and international terrorism. As a result, even formal alliance partners may be
less reliable sources of access to the overseas facilities on which the U.S. relies if they
lack a shared threat perception. They may even fear that a U.S. presence might increase
their exposure to the abovementioned threats, or at least pose domestic political
There is therefore an increasing risk that in a crisis a host nation government may
constrain or reject the use of facilities in its sovereign territory. (Turkey provided a

Layne, “The Poster Child for Offensive Realism,” p. 131-32.
As of late 2004, the U.S. possessed 860 overseas military instillations in 46 locations. Two-thirds of
these are located in Germany, South Korea and Japan. Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense
(Installations & Environment), “Base Structure Report: Fiscal Year 2004 Baseline” (Washington, DC:
Department of Defense, 2004.)
Posen, “Command of the Commons,” p. 44. This parallels Boulding’s argument that forward positioning
of forces allows a state to bring greater strength to bear on a distant opponent. Boulding, Conflict and
Defense, p. 262.
For a discussion of the military threats to overseas facilities, see Christopher J. Bowie, “The Anti-Access
Threat and Theater Air Bases,” (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2002).
The strategy and politics of American overseas bases are explored in Kent Calder, Embattled Garrisons:
Comparative Base Politics and American Globalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton: 2008) and Alexander A.
Cooley, Base Politics: Democratic Change and the U.S. Military Overseas (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
Press: 2008).

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tangible example of this phenomenon in 2003 when it denied permission for the U.S. 4th
Infantry Division to invade Iraq from its territory.) When differing threat perceptions
among allies are compounded by a dynamic international system and pervasive anti-
American sentiments, securing reliable access to overseas bases may be a more
significant challenge than in the past.13 As a result, America could find it significantly
more difficult to command the commons, which provides it with a foundation for its
world-wide political primacy. In the contemporary security environment, therefore,
strategically located facilities in politically reliable locations will be at a premium for the
United States.14 While U.S. power and influence in the Asia-Pacific today and in the
future is assured by major sovereign bases (Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam), the same cannot
be said for the strategically vital but politically restive Indian Ocean region. The
following section explores the increasing geostrategic importance of the Indian Ocean
littoral and identifies key U.S. regional interests.

Geographical Pivot of the 21st Century

Stretching from the Persian Gulf and the coast of East Africa on one side to the Malay
Archipelago and the shores of Australia on the other, the Indian Ocean comprises an area
of over 28 million square miles. The thirty nations that constitute the ocean’s littoral
region contain one-third of the world’s population. Rich in natural resources, this
geographical space contains more than half of the world’s proven oil reserves. In
addition, a host of important minerals such as iron, titanium, chromate, and manganese,
as well as such raw materials as rubber and tin, are found in abundance in various parts of
the littoral region. 15 The Indian Ocean is also a vital conduit for bringing those materials
to market. Most notably, it is a key transit route for oil making its way from the Persian
Gulf to consumers in Europe and Asia. Seventeen-million barrels of oil a day (20% of the
world’s oil supply and 93% of oil exported from the Gulf) transits by tanker through the
Strait of Hormuz and into the western reaches of the Indian Ocean.16 While large amounts
of oil make their way to Europe and the Americas via the Suez Canal and the Cape of
Good Hope, the more important route is eastward, as twelve of the fourteen countries in
East and South-East Asia are highly dependent on Gulf oil.17 Roughly $70 billion worth
of oil annually crosses the Indian Ocean from the Strait of Hormuz to the Strait of
Malacca, bound for markets in Japan, China and Korea, while another $16 billion worth

For a survey of global attitudes towards the United States, see Tom Baldwin, “World Crisis of
Confidence in Bush,” The Times (London) June 28, 2007.
cf. Calder, Embattled Garrisons and Cooley, Base Politics.
Mihir Roy, “Maritime Security in South West Asia,” Institute for International Policy Studies 2002,
http://www.iips.org/Roy-paper.pdf.; and “Indian Ocean,” CIA World Factbook (Washington, DC: Central
Intelligence Agency, 2007), https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/xo.html.
“Persian Gulf Oil and Gas Exports Fact Sheet,” Energy Information Administration Country Analysis
Brief (Washington, DC: EIA, June 2007), http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/pgulf.html.
In 2006, oil from the Persian Gulf region accounted for 17% of total net oil imports in the U.S. and 31%
in Western Europe. Ibid. Of the Asian nations in question, only Burma and Laos do not receive a high
percentage of oil imports from the Middle East. Kohei Hashimoto, “Japanese Energy Security and
Changing Global Energy Markets” (Houston, TX: James A. Baker III Institute of Public Policy, May 2000)

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flows to India.18 Such is the importance of this route that some commentators have
termed it the “new silk road.”19
Japan’s economy is almost totally dependent on Gulf oil, with 83% of its
imported oil shipped via the Indian Ocean. Asia’s two rising powers, China and India, are
also increasingly reliant on oil transiting the region.20 At present, more than 40% of
China’s oil imports come from the Middle East, while Gulf oil accounts for 65% of
India’s imports.21 In terms of global trade, the Indian Ocean is a major conduit linking
manufacturers in East Asia with markets in Europe, Africa and the Persian Gulf. Half of
the world’s containerized cargo travels the ocean’s busy sea lanes annually, with one-
third of world trade transiting the straits linking the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean to
the eastern Indian Ocean.22
Continued economic growth in both the developed and developing world
depends, in part, on an uninterrupted access to the oil and mineral resources of the Indian
Ocean littoral. This causes the region to assume a strategic significance for many nations;
political and military developments which adversely affect the flow of oil, raw materials
or trade goods could impact major economies. Consequently, the security of Indian
Ocean sea lanes is of vital interest for the countries of the immediate littoral region and
In 1904, British geographer Halford Makinder famously described the Eastern
Europe/Central Asia region as the “geographical pivot” on which the control of the
Eurasian landmass, and potentially global hegemony, turned.23 While this formulation
accurately described the patterns of geopolitical conflict during the twentieth century, it is
not an exaggeration to suggest that the Indian Ocean littoral could be the 21st century’s
pivot, with the potential to influence the global balance of power.24 As Hanson Baldwin,
former military editor of the New York Times, argued, “the Indian Ocean…offers, to the
power that dominates it, potential control over the rimlands of Africa, the Middle East
and the Indian subcontinent....”25 Any country that were to dominate the Indian Ocean
would command the oil and trade routes from the Middle East to Europe and Asia—

Sureesh Mehta, “Shaping India’s Maritime Strategy—Opportunities & Challenges,” Speech presented at
Indian National Defense College November 2005; Anand Mathur, “Growing Importance of the Indian
Ocean in Post-Cold War Era and Its Implication for India,” Strategic Analysis, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Oct-Dec
2002), p. 556.
C. Uday Bhaskar, “Regional Naval Cooperation,” Strategic Analysis, Vol. 15, No. 8 (November 1992), p.
“Persian Gulf Oil and Gas Exports Fact Sheet.”
G.S. Khurana, “Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean: Convergence Plus Cooperation Equals
Resonance,” Strategic Analysis, Vol. 28, No. 3 (July-September 2004), p. 413; David Walgreen, “China in
the Indian Ocean: Lessons in PRC Grand Strategy,” Comparative Strategy, Vol. 25, No. 1 (2006), p. 61.
Nazery Khalid, “The Role Of The Indian Ocean In Facilitating Global Maritime Trade,” paper presented
to the 3rd Indian Ocean Research Group (IORG) Annual Conference on “Sealane Security in the Indian
Ocean,” Kuala Lumpur, July 11-14, 2005, p. 2.
Halford J. Makinder, “The Geographical Pivot of History,” The Geographical Journal, Vol. 23, No. 4
(April 1904).
For an affirmation of the relevance of Mackinder’s ideas, see Colin S. Gray, “In Defence of the
Heartland: Sir Halford Mackinder and His Critics a Hundred Years On,” Comparative Strategy, Vol. 23,
No. 1 (2004). For a Cold War era appraisal that the Indian Ocean is the new “heartland of the world,” see
Rocco M. Paone, “The Soviet Threat in the Indian Ocean,” Military Review, Vol. 50, No. 12 (December
1970), p. 49.
Hanson W. Baldwin, Strategy for Tomorrow (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), p. 231.

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thereby gaining the potential to exercise considerable influence over the industrialized
world. As the world’s strategic center of gravity shifts from the Euro-Atlantic region to
Asia, therefore, the Indian Ocean is increasingly seen as “the ocean of destiny in the 21st

American Interests in the Indian Ocean

American interests in the Indian Ocean littoral are driven by a mixture of economics and
security. Among the most significant concerns are the need to secure the sea lines of
communication that transit the region, the desire to prevent a hostile power from
dominating the littoral, and the presence of numerous nations in the region plagued by
instability and religious fundamentalism. Underpinning all of this is recognition that the
Indian Ocean littoral is a fragile part of the world, spanning a great proportion of what
Thomas Barnett has termed “the Non-Integrating Gap.”27 The potential for inter-state
conflict remains high, as many states in the area have unresolved maritime or territorial
disputes in a region that lacks substantial collective security arrangements. In addition to
conventional security challenges, the littoral region is plagued by a host of irregular
security threats such as terrorism, insurgency and the trafficking of arms and drugs.
As the world’s largest economy, the United States has a strong interest in the
security of the ships that transit the Indian Ocean to bring goods and energy to market.
The energy resources of the Persian Gulf are only accessible via the Indian Ocean’s sea
lanes. Not only does twenty-two percent of America’s oil imports reach their market in
this way, over fifty strategic minerals that the U.S. relies on come from or transit through
the littoral region. Because the market for hydrocarbons is a global one, a supply
disruption anywhere will affect the world price for oil and gas. The requirements of trade
and energy thus make the continued free passage of shipping through the Indian Ocean of
supreme importance for the United States.
In addition to its interest in protecting the freedom of navigation in the Indian
Ocean, the U.S. hopes to prevent a hostile power from holding the littoral hostage to gain
political leverage by threatening the flow of commodities in the region. From Southeast
Asia to the coasts of East Africa, China has been securing energy supplies and increasing
its political influence across the region. There is even speculation that with its economic
ties influencing local governments, an informal set of access rights may ultimately
increase the ability of the Chinese navy to project power into the littoral.28 In the western
portion of the region, an increasingly assertive Iran sits astride the Straits of Hormuz, the
world’s most important maritime chokepoint. Iran’s ability to employ sea mines, anti-
ship cruise missiles, and attack submarines has provoked concern from the U.S. Navy
about potential threats to navigation in the Arabian Sea.29 As former Commander of the
U.S. Central Command Admiral William Fallon has noted, “Iran maintains the capability

Mihir Roy, “India’s Place in the ‘Ocean of Destiny’,” Indian Express June 9, 1996.
Thomas P.M. Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century (New
York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004), p. 4.
Brahma Chellaney, “Forestalling Strategic Conflict in Asia,” Far Eastern Economic Review, Vol. 169,
No. 9 (November 2006), pp. 29-33; Sudha Ramachandran, “China Moves into India’s Back Yard,” Asia
Times, March 13, 2007; Anthony Paul, “Asian Giants’ Game of Chess in Indian Ocean,” The Straits Times,
May 16, 2007; Gurpreet S. Khurana, “China’s ‘String of Pearls’ in the Indian Ocean and Its Security
Implications,” Strategic Analysis, Vol. 32, No. 1 (January 2008), pp. 1-39.
Posen, “Command of the Commons,” p. 41.

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to interdict sea lanes of communication throughout the Arabian Gulf… Given Iran’s
current naval forces capability, Iran could attempt to temporarily close the Strait of
Hormuz for a short period, principally using naval mines and coastal defense forces.”30
Should one or both of these nations achieve a dominant role in the littoral, U.S. interests
could be threatened.
U.S. interests in the region are also conditioned by the fact that the Indian Ocean
littoral encompasses a large portion of the “arc of instability” that stretches from South-
East Asia through Central Asia to the Middle East and Eastern Africa. This region has a
high potential for producing failed states: Foreign Policy magazine’s 2007 index of failed
states included eight littoral states in its top 25.31 Furthermore, the Indian Ocean is located
at an intersection of two main reservoirs of Islamic extremism, leading one commentator
to brand it a “lake of Jihadi terrorism.”32 Prior to September 11th, the United States was
the victim of Al-Qaeda-backed terrorist attacks in Kenya, Tanzania, and Yemen. Today,
the U.S. and its allies are conducting military operations against Islamic extremists in the
East African, Central Asian, and Southeast Asian sub-regions that abut the Indian Ocean.
The Indian Ocean littoral is an increasingly dynamic part of the world.
Developments in this region affect American interests ranging from energy to security to
economics, yet the geographic space is characterized by a lack of U.S. allies with
favorable domestic politics. The U.S. does not require a major military commitment to
the Indian Ocean on an ongoing basis; rather, regular military deployments, coupled with
the ability to surge forces into the area during a crisis, would provide the ability to deter
most threats to American interests in the region. As a result, the centrally positioned
island of Diego Garcia is “one of the most strategic American bases in the world.”33 The
subsequent section surveys the history and development of the American presence on
Diego Garcia.

U.S. Indian Ocean Strategy in Historical Perspective

Despite being a maritime power with a long sea-going tradition, for the first 150 years of
its existence the United States did not give sustained attention to the Indian Ocean. Great
Britain’s dominance at sea, combined with its imperial role in South Asia, led the U.S. to
regard the Indian Ocean as a British preserve.34 Reliance on British power to “police” the
region extended into the early decades of the Cold War.
Throughout the 1950s, the Indian Ocean was largely a backwater in American
strategic planning. Post-war strategy concentrated on the Atlantic, the Pacific Basin and,
to a lesser extent, the Mediterranean, because Western Europe and Japan were viewed as

Admiral William J. Fallon, testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, January 30, 2007, p.148,
www.fas.org/irp/congress/2007_hr/sasc.pdf. For a recent open-source assessment of Iran’s ability to
interdict the strait, see Caitlin Talmadge, “Closing Time: Assessing the Iranian Threat to the Strait of
Hormuz,” International Security, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Summer 2008), pp. 82-117.
“The Failed States Index 2007,” Foreign Policy, No. 161 (July/August 2007), pp. 54-63.
Khurana, “Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean,” p. 414.
Calder, Embattled Garrisons, p. 11.
Gary Sick, “The Evolution of U.S. Strategy Towards the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf Regions,” in
Alvin Z. Rubinstein, ed., The Great Game: Rivalry in the Persian Gulf and South Asia (New York: Praeger,
1983), p. 49-50.

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essential territory in the struggle against global Communism.35 U.S. involvement in the
Indian Ocean littoral consisted primarily of economic and military aid, rather than the
deployment of military forces. A token U.S. naval presence in the region consisted of
three obsolete destroyers of the Middle East Force based in Bahrain. U.S. regional
interests were narrowly conceived and focused exclusively on securing access to Gulf oil.
Given Britain’s naval and political dominance in the region, many American policy-
makers believed that security in the Indian Ocean and adjacent Persian Gulf was Britain’s
However, some elements within the U.S. Navy recognized the need to acquire an
Indian Ocean logistics base to facilitate local contingency operations. Ideally, this base
would possess a communications station for ships and aircraft in the area, an airfield
capable of hosting long-range reconnaissance aircraft, and a supply depot that could
sustain a U.S. naval presence. Such a facility would have to be strategically located on a
site that was not heavily populated, and be free from political restrictions on its use.36 As
Third World nationalism swept through the Indian Ocean region in the wake of
decolonization, the Navy became increasingly aware of the vulnerability of shore-based
facilities to popular opinion in the host nation.37 Lightly populated islands, on the other
hand, could be relatively free of coups and political protests, especially against the
presence of foreign bases. As part of the “strategic island concept,” therefore, naval
planners advocated securing basing rights on strategically located and “sparsely
populated islands.”38

The Malta of the Indian Ocean

Among the foremost “strategic islands” identified by naval analysts was the British-held
territory of Diego Garcia. Named after the Portuguese navigator who discovered it in
1532, Diego Garcia is the largest of seven islands that constitute the Chagos archipelago.
Located in the center of the Indian Ocean, Diego Garcia is approximately 1,000 miles
south of India, 700 miles south-west of Sri Lanka, and 2,500 miles south-east of the Strait
of Hormuz. More significantly, the atoll has access to all the major shipping lanes that
reticulate the Indian Ocean. As Admiral John McCain noted, “as Malta is to the
Mediterranean, Diego Garcia is to the Indian Ocean—equidistant from all points.”39 The
island itself consists of a wishbone-shaped coral atoll, fourteen miles long and four miles
wide, that surrounds “one of the finest natural harbors in the world.”40
For a map of the Indian Ocean region and Diego Garcia’s position therein, see
Figure 1 (below).


Rais, The Indian Ocean and the Superpowers, p. 37.
Paul Ryan, “Diego Garcia,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 110, No. 9 (September 1984), p. 133.
Rais, The Indian Ocean and the Superpowers, p. 77; Sick, “The Evolution of U.S. Strategy Towards the
Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf Regions,” p. 53.
Vytautas B. Bandjunis, Diego Garcia: Creation of the Indian Ocean Base (San Jose: Writer’s Showcase,
2001), pp. 2-3; “U.S. Overseas Bases,” Memorandum, Box 27, Records of the Office of the Secretary of
Defense, OASD/ISA Files 680.1, RG 330, National Archives at College Park, MD (NACP).
Quoted in Rais, The Indian Ocean and the Superpowers, p. 76.
K.S. Jawatkar, Diego Garcia in International Diplomacy (London: Sangam Books, 1983), p. 3 and
Bandjunis, Diego Garcia, p. 4.

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In the early 1960s, concerns about the potentially destabilizing effect of Britain’s
withdrawal from “East of Suez” compelled the U.S. to initiate talks with Great Britain
about the establishment of a shared Anglo-American defense facility on Diego Garcia.41
As Britain’s Indian Ocean colonies moved towards independence, London persuaded the
government of Mauritius to surrender its claim to the Chagos Archipelago, for which it
was compensated $8.4 million.42 In November 1965, this island chain was subsequently
combined with three islands that had been detached from the Seychelles to form the new
crown colony of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), which was expressly created
for defense purposes.43
An Exchange of Notes between the United States and the United Kingdom in
December of the following year made the entire BIOT available “for the defense
purposes of both governments as they may arise.”44 Although the agreement made the
territories available to the U.S. “without charge,” the United States entered into a
confidential agreement to compensate the United Kingdom for half of the costs of
establishing the colony.45
Diego Garcia’s position as an ideal base in the Indian Ocean was weakened by the
fact that the atoll was already inhabited. In 1964, there was a population of 483 men,
women and children, all but seven of whom were employees of or dependents on the
copra plantations owned by the Seychelles-based Chagos-Agalega Company.46 Both the
British and American governments believed that establishing defense facilities on the
island would require closing the existing copra plantations and resettling the workers and

Sick, “The Evolution of U.S. Strategy Towards the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf Regions,” p. 54. See
also, Komer (National Security Council) memorandum to President Kennedy, 19 June 1963 in Foreign
Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Vol. XIX (Washington, DC: GPO, 1996), pp. 614-5. Diego
Garcia was also seen as a potential base for British military presence in the Indian Ocean should London
lose access to Aden or Singapore. Defence Planning Staff, “Brief on US/UK Discussions on United States
Defence Interests in the Indian Ocean,” 6 March 1964, CAB 21/5418, TNA, p. 5. Early discussions
explored the idea of creating additional shared facilities at Aldabra in the Seychelles and on the Australian
owned Cocos Islands to create a “strategic triangle” in the Indian Ocean. See, Rusk to President Johnson,
“Indian Ocean Island Facilities,” 15 July 1964 in FRUS, 1964-1968, Vol. XXI (Washington, DC: GPO,
2000), p. 92.
Joel Larus, “Diego Garcia: The Military and Legal Limitations of America’s Pivotal Base in the Indian
Ocean,” in William L. Dowdy and Russell B. Trood, ed., The Indian Ocean: Perspectives on a Strategic
Arena, (Durham: Duke University Press, 1985), pp. 437-38.
As the Colonial Secretary told the House of Commons in announcing the formation of the new colony,
“the islands will be available for the construction of defense facilities by the British and United States
governments.” 720 H.C. Deb. 10 November 1965, col. 2.
U.S. Department of State, “Agreement on the Availability of Certain Indian Ocean Islands for Defense
Purposes, 30 December 1966,” in United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (Washington,
DC: GPO, 1967), p. 28.
Costs included payments to Mauritius and the Seychelles, purchase of privately held land on Diego
Garcia and the resettlement of inhabitants. Rather than making a direct payment, the U.S. credited the UK
with $14 million toward its share of the research and development costs of the Polaris Missile program.
David Bruce, U.S. Ambassador to Britain, to George Brown, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 30
December 1966, letter marked ‘secret’ appended to “Exchange of Notes and Agreed Minutes concerning
Defence Co-operation in the British Indian Ocean Territory,” FO 93/8/401, TNA.
At the time, the population of the Chagos Archipelago as a whole was roughly one-thousand.
Memorandum, D.F. Milton to Woodham, “Diego Garcia: Further Research,” October 2, 1975, FCO 40/696,
TNA; Bandjunis, Diego Garcia, p. 8.

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their families.47 After the formation of the BIOT, the government of Mauritius informed
its nationals working in the Chagos Archipelago that they should seek alternate
employment.48 Between 1965 and 1971, under the direction of the British government,
the Chagos-Agalega Company ceased renewing work contracts for existing employees.
This natural attrition took its toll; by the time the plantations stopped operating in 1971,
only 359 inhabitants remained on the atoll.49 In preparation for the start of construction on
a joint communications facility, the Chagos-Agalega Company evacuated the remaining
civilian population of Diego Garcia by ship to Mauritius.50 The British government paid
the government of Mauritius $1.4 million to cover the costs of resettlement.51
Construction commenced on an austere communications facility and an 8,000 foot
runway in March 1971. This was quickly followed by a second Anglo-American
agreement on Diego Garcia in October 1972 that formally approved the construction
plans for the communications facility, as well as “an anchorage, airfield, associated
logistics support and supply and personnel accommodations.”52 The development of
military facilities on Diego Garcia occurred at a dynamic time for the Indian Ocean
littoral. In January 1968, the Labour Government of Harold Wilson surprised the world
by announcing its intention to withdraw all British forces from the Far East and Persian
Gulf by 1971.53 From a Western perspective, Wilson’s decision could not have come at a
worse time: The United States’ involvement in Vietnam constrained its ability to assume
military commitments in other parts of the globe in order to fill the void left by the
British departure. At the same time, the Soviet Union and China appeared to be

Bruce (London) to Rusk (State), embtel 12335, 4 September 1968, DEF 15 IND-US, Central Files 1967-
69, RG 59, NACP; Telegram from Secretary of State for the Colonies to the Governor of Mauritius, “U.S.
Defence Interests in Indian Ocean,” March 6, 1964, CAB 21/5418, TNA.
Bandjunis, Diego Garcia, p. 15.
Milton, “Diego Garcia: Further Research.”
It was not an exceptional practice to close plantations and transfer workers. The copra plantations on
three other islands in the Chagos Archipelago were closed during the inter-war period and their workers
were relocated. “House of Lords Question by Baroness Lee—Oral Answer on 27 October 1975,”
memorandum, October 23, 1975, FCO 40/696, TNA. The majority of the workers were Mauritian citizens
either by birth or by Mauritian nationality provisions. Bandjunis, Diego Garcia, pp. 64-65.
This provided four times the Mauritian per-capita income for each displaced worker. Compensation was
extended to those living on Diego Garcia as of 1965 who had relocated prior to the closing of the
plantations. A resettlement plan was developed for the evacuated copra workers, but the Mauritian
government neglected to distribute the money until 1978. As a result, many of the former copra workers
fell into poverty. Despite the fact that the 1972 resettlement agreement was acknowledged by Mauritius to
represent “a full and final discharge of British obligations” to the former plantation workers, the UK gave
Mauritius an additional $7.2 million ($4,600 per person) in 1982 as a “full and final settlement” for the
workers relocated from Diego Garcia. Ibid; Larus, “Diego Garcia,” p. 442; Bart McDowell, “Crosscurrents
Sweep the Indian Ocean,” National Geographic, Vol. 160, No. 4 (October 1981), p. 440. As of the time of
this writing, British courts have granted the former residents of the Chagos Archipelago and their
descendents the right to return to the Peros Banos and Salomon atolls, although not to Diego Garcia. The
British government has appealed this decision, which is currently being considered by the law lords.
“Chagos Islands Exiles Fight Again for Right to Return,” The Times (London), July 1, 2008.
Bandjunis, Diego Garcia, p. 55; U.S. Department of State, “Naval Communications Facility on Diego
Garcia, 24 October 1972,” in United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (Washington, DC:
GPO, 1972).
WM. Rodger Louis, “The British Withdrawal from the Gulf, 1967-71,” The Journal of Imperial and
Commonwealth History, Vol. 31, No. 1 (January 2003), pp. 82-83.

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expanding their influence around the world.54 In the wake of the British announcement,
the Soviet navy began regular deployments to the Indian Ocean.55
In response, the U.S. undertook a “major shift” in its regional strategy,
significantly increasing the frequency of naval patrols in the Indian Ocean.56 The
logistical difficulties of supporting these increased deployments, combined with a
noticeable increase in Soviet naval presence in the region, led the Navy to conclude that
Diego Garcia had to be expanded.57 In February 1976, a third Anglo-American agreement
approved the upgrade of Diego Garcia from a “limited communications facility” to a
“support facility of the U.S. Navy,” which, as one scholar notes, was “a diplomatic
euphemism for a full-scale American naval/air base.”58
The need for such a facility in the region was made clear in 1979 as revolution
swept through Iran and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Under the Nixon doctrine,
the Shah’s Iran had been America’s self-appointed policeman in the Persian Gulf—
defending the West’s economic, political and strategic interests in the region. With the
Shah’s overthrow, the U.S. lost a security buffer between the Soviet Union and the Gulf
as well as access to the strategically located Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas and Chah
Bahar. Washington feared that Islamic radicalism could undermine the pro-Western
states of the region and provide an avenue for Soviet intrusion, which had already been
on display in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa before Soviet combat troops entered
Afghanistan in December 1979.59
In the early 1980s, a host of construction projects turned Diego Garcia into a
logistical hub for naval forces in the Indian Ocean.60 Following a late 1970s initiative,
Diego Garcia became the home for 13 Near Term Prepositioning Ships that carried
enough equipment, ammunition and fuel to outfit a mechanized Marine Amphibious
Brigade. The Army established an additional 12 Afloat Prepositioning Ships to
complement two tankers already being used in a fleet role.61 The extension of the island’s
airfield and upgrade of its communications suite allowed the temporary basing of long
range bombers, such as the B-52. The improvement of Diego Garcia’s facilities and the
prepositioning of military equipment also significantly enhanced America’s capability to
project power into the Indian Ocean littoral and take a more active role in the region’s
affairs. With a secure naval base in the Indian Ocean, under the control of America’s
closest ally, concerns that the U.S. would be denied access to local bases in a regional
crisis, as they had been in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, were allayed.

See the discussion contained in “Proposal for a Joint US Military Facility on Diego Garcia,”
Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense, April 10, 1968, Indian Ocean
323.3, OSD Files: FRC 73 A 1250, RG 330, NACP.
Sick, “The Evolution of U.S. Strategy Towards the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf Regions,” p. 56.
Bandjunis, Diego Garcia, p. 54.
Sick, “The Evolution of U.S. Strategy Towards the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf Regions,” p. 65.
Larus, “Diego Garcia,” p. 439. Under the 1976 agreement facilities on Diego Garcia are intended to
support “ships or aircraft owned or operated by or on behalf of either government. “Exchange of Notes
Concerning a United States Navy Support Facility on Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory,”
February 25, 1976, FO 93/8/438, TNA.
McDowell, “Crosscurrents Sweep the Indian Ocean,” p. 423.
Bandjunis, Diego Garcia, p. 70; Rais, The Indian Ocean and the Superpowers, p. 81.
U.S. Department of Defense, Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, Final Report to Congress, April 1992, pp.

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Present Status and Planned Construction

Over the past thirty years, military strategists have wrestled with two elements of
forward-support locations that often come at odds: proximity and reliable access.62 The
‘tyranny of distance’ both adds to and detracts from the island’s value. Diego Garcia’s
location, while central to the Indian Ocean, remains significantly far from the coast of
East Africa, South Asia or the Arabian Peninsula. If flexibility and speed of response are
prioritized, defense planners would prefer bases closer to anticipated points of action—a
forward posture that calls for more bases in more places.
The contradiction between the location and reliability of regional bases can be
resolved by focusing on the unique aspects of the current threat environment. Today
terrorists inhabit a diverse group of regional states and communicate in broad geographic
networks. Localized threats exist only fleetingly and then disperse and re-group. Political
relationships in the area remain equally capricious, and permanent U.S. bases are an
anathema to many regional governments and electorates alike. In this context, a high
priority must be placed on assured access to regional bases.
Out of this paradox arises a realistic approach: If you cannot predict which area of
interest will require the hardware, then concentrate on the center. In this way, quasi-
sovereign access to the island remains critical to continued U.S. operations in the region.
What Diego Garcia lacks in proximity to critical zones, it makes up for in political
reliability. And although the atoll remains remote by thousands of miles to any one area
of interest, it is central to many. Moreover, in an era in which such regional powers as
Iran are developing increasingly effective long-range precision strike capabilities,
remoteness increasingly has its advantages.
Only basic amenities now exist on the island, but commanders can count on them.
For both routine and contingency operations, sparse but dependable resources are
preferred to better developed but unreliable ones. The island contains only one runway
and one quay-wall, far less than required for a significant build-up of material for a major
military engagement; however, should the need arise to surge units and equipment to the
area, planners could expect to use Diego Garcia without delay.
The U.S. Joint Chiefs recently underscored the importance of dependable
forward-support locations. In October 2007, the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast
Guard jointly published a Unified Maritime Strategy that recognizes maritime forces as
the first line of global defense.63 The maritime strategy calls for guaranteed rapid and
flexible response to threats around the globe.64 In particular, it states that:

A 2006 study by the RAND Corporation identifies the factors used to evaluate forward bases, including
infrastructure richness, basing characteristics, deployment distances, strategic warning, transportation
constraints, dynamic requirements, and reconstitution conditions. The report concludes that Diego Garcia is
one of the most important Tier 1 forward support locations. Mahyar A. Amouzegar, et. al, “Combat
Support: Overseas Basing Options,” Air Force Journal of Logistics, Vol. 30, Issue 1, (Spring 2006), pp. 3-
James T. Conway, Gary Roughead, Thad W. Allen, “Unified Maritime Strategy of the United States: A
Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, (October 2007), p. 5.
Available at http://www.navy.mil/maritime/MaritimeStrategy.pdf.
The Unified Maritime Strategy also reinforces the importance of constant presence: “Maritime forces that
are persistently present and combat-ready provide the Nation’s primary forcible entry option in an era of

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Credible combat power will be continuously postured in…the Arabian

Gulf/Indian Ocean to protect our vital interests, assure our friends and allies of
our continuing commitment to regional security, and deter and dissuade
potential adversaries and peer competitors. This combat power can be
selectively and rapidly repositioned to meet contingencies that may arise

Guaranteed access to Diego Garcia facilitates that strategy.

American defense planners have also rediscovered the value of Diego Garcia’s
position at the geographic heart of an increasingly dynamic theater. Like its Pacific
counterpart Guam, Diego Garcia is the preferred launching point for pre-positioned
equipment and munitions to surrounding hot-spots. Unlike in Guam, however, the U.S.
military had previously hesitated to modernize Diego Garcia’s aging infrastructure. This
is no longer the case: After a ten-year hiatus, a re-fit and facilities upgrade to Diego
Garcia has returned to the budget priority list. This is no coincidence. The U.S. military
recognizes that it will continue to confront radical Islamic extremism centered in the
Indian Ocean littoral and other regional threats (perhaps including state actors such as
Iran) over the long-term. Diego Garcia offers a stable platform from which to protect the
promise and opportunity of the Indian Ocean.
From the perspective of the Unified Command plan, Diego Garcia links three
nearby Combatant Commands, each of which plays a role in combating threats to
regional security. The island lies only a few hundred miles southeast of the north-south
seam of the Central and Pacific Commands (CENTCOM and PACOM), which vertically
divides the Indian Ocean in half [See Figure 2] and then cuts due west along the equator
toward the new Africa Command and Kenya. Transnational threats that cross these
administrative boundaries have been a source of concern to Pentagon leadership in recent



As operational tempo increases throughout the region, planners have

acknowledged the necessity to improve basic services on Diego Garcia. Operation Desert
Shield/Storm provided proof-of-concept for the practical use of Diego Garcia during
regional conflict. According to an official report, “Prepositioning allowed for a more
rapid response by combat forces to the theater, providing essential supplies and
equipment to early deploying forces.” 67 The military utility of the island justifies further
U.S. investment to increase the availability of precision-strike weapons, such as

declining access, even as they provide the means for this Nation to respond quickly to other crises.” Ibid., p.
Three new maritime priorities arise from the Maritime Strategy: (1) reliable access to areas of concern,
(2) flexible forward-positioning of resources, and (3) a broadened maritime mission, to include
humanitarian response. Ibid., p. 10.
Robert D. Kaplan, “What Rumsfeld Got Right,” The Atlantic, July/August 2008.
U.S. Department of Defense, Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, Final Report to Congress, April 1992, p.

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Tomahawk missiles, enhance regional surveillance capabilities, and augment operational

flexibility to host short- and long-range aircraft.

Diego Garcia at Present

The atoll currently serves four primary functions: (1) One-third of the entire U.S. Afloat
Prepositioning Force occupies the lagoon; (2) fast-attack submarines and surface ships
call on the deep draft wharf; (3) a U.S. Air Force Air Expeditionary Wing supports
tactical and long-range aircraft; and (4) a telecommunications station tracks satellites and
relays fleet broadcasts to units in the area.68 Each of these functions is explored in turn.

The Afloat Prepositioning Force

The U.S. military maintains stocks of equipment such as tanks, armored infantry fighting
vehicles, fuel, munitions and spare parts on prepositioned ships at three primary locations
throughout the world: the Mediterranean, Diego Garcia, and Guam. This is a vital
strategic asset that provides the United States with tremendous crisis response capability
enabling an Army and a Marine Corps brigade to mobilize within twenty-four hours,
position assets anywhere within the theater in a week and operate without additional
support for up to thirty days.69 With transit speeds in excess of thirty knots, the sealift
ships are considered the fastest cargo ships in the world. As a result, the United States can
dispatch these pre-positioned assets to a regional crisis, which in the Indian Ocean region
has included humanitarian as well as combat missions.70 During the buildup for the 1991
Gulf War, the pre-positioning ships based at Diego Garcia were described as “absolute
lifesavers” because they provided the heavy armor, equipment and supplies necessary to
sustain the initial forces deployed to the theater.71 These pre-positioned stocks were also
called upon in 2003 to equip brigades for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Naval Replenishment Station72

The identification of the four missions described here is based on personal interviews conducted with
various mid-level naval officials between September 2007 and February 2008. For an updated general
overview on Diego Garcia’s military capabilities, see “Territories, British Indian Ocean Territory,” Jane’s
Sentinel Security Assessment, South Asia, Jane’s Information Group, (December 13, 2007).
The navy, air force and Defense Logistics Agency also maintain prepositioned ships at Diego Garcia to
provide ordinance, fuel and other logistical support. In late 2006, the army cannibalized its prepositioned
equipment at Diego Garcia to use in the creation of new brigade combat teams for service in Iraq. These are
unlikely to be reconstituted before FY 2010-11. Defense Logistics: Army Has Not Fully Planned or
Budgeted for the Reconstitution of its Afloat Prepositioned Stocks, GAO-08-257R (Washington, D.C:
Government Accountability Office, February 8, 2008), pp. 3-5.
See Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, “Statement on the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century
Seapower,” House Armed Services Committee, United States Congress, (13 December 2007), p. 7-9.
Available at http://armedservices.house.gov/pdfs/FC121307/Roughead_Testimony121307.pdf. MSC ships
can also rapidly deploy to the site of a humanitarian disaster. See Robert C. Morrow, and Mark D.
Llewellyn, “Tsunami Overview,” Military Medicine, Vol. 171, (October 2006 Supplement), pp. 5-7.
William G. Pagonis, Moving Mountains: Lessons in Leadership and Logistics from the Gulf War
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1992), p. 70.
For a discussion of the importance of forward bases to support contemporary naval operations,
particularly in the areas of replenishment of consumables, intelligence and communications, repairs and

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Diego Garcia’s lagoon has been dredged to accommodate a dozen ships, and its fuel
storage depot has the ability to supply a carrier battle group for a month. The naval
facility supports operational units throughout the region with fuel, food, spare parts,
munitions, and maintenance services. The atoll also acts as a gateway for ships in
transition between combatant commands to pause, fix equipment, train, and demonstrate
material readiness and crew proficiency for new missions. No other base affords such an
opportunity for tasking on the rim of the Indian Ocean in key mission areas such as the
Horn of Africa.

Air Forces
At 12,000 feet in length, Diego Garcia’s generous runway can accommodate any aircraft
possessed by the U.S. Air Force and has even been designated as an emergency landing
spot for the U.S. space shuttle. Local support elements service an average of ten long-
range bombers on a continual basis, providing munitions, fuel, and supplies. B-1 and B-
52 bombers line the landing field while visiting B-2 bombers park in one of four special
hangars designed to protect the plane’s sensitive skin. Diego Garcia also serves as an
important en-route base for the Air Force, hosting B-1 and B-2 pilots whose missions
(often lasting greater than forty hours) originated from outside CENTCOM.73 After these
fatigued bomber crews complete their assignment, they can take on fuel and rest at Diego
Garcia before returning to their home base. In this regard, the atoll can be considered a
major facilitator of U.S. Strategic Command’s Global Strike concept, which seeks the
ability to attack targets at any point on earth with conventional weapons.74
Diego Garcia’s airfield has played a major role in a variety of campaigns and
contingency operations during the past seventeen years. During the 1991 Gulf War, B-
52s based on the atoll carried out over six-hundred sorties.75 It also played a role in
subsequent strikes on Iraq in 1996 (Desert Strike) and 1998 (Desert Fox). During
Operation Enduring Freedom, the B-1s and B-52s based at Diego Garcia conducted the
lion’s share of sorties, accounting for sixty-five percent of all ordinance dropped on
Afghanistan.76 In 2003, the airstrikes that attempted to decapitate Saddam Hussein’s
regime at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom were launched from Diego Garcia.77 A
variety of sources speculate that Diego Garcia would be a key staging area in the event of
a U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.78
In addition to facilitating combat missions, Diego Garcia serves as a hub for
transport aircraft in the region. For example, the atoll was recently a key transit point for

direct combat support, see Barry M. Blechman and Robert G. Weinland, “Why Coaling Stations are
Necessary in the Nuclear Age,” International Security, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Summer, 1977), pp. 88-99.
Ravi I. Chaudhary, “Transforming American Airlift: Effects-Based Mobility, the C-17, and Global
Maneuver,” Air & Space Power Journal, Vol. 21, Issue 1 (Spring 2007), p. 94.
For an overview of the Global Strike concept, see Hans M. Kristensen, Global Strike: A Chronology of
the Pentagon’s New Offensive Strike Plan (Washington, DC: Federation of American Scientists, March
Bandjunis, Diego Garcia, p. 3.
Calder, p. 11 and Anthony Cordesman, The Lessons of Afghanistan (Washington, D.C.: Center for
Strategic and International Studies, 2002), pp. 4-11.
Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (London:
Verso, 2004), pp. 221-22.
c.f. Ian Bruce, “Secret Move to Upgrade Air Base for Iran Attack Plans,” The Herald (Glasgow), October
29, 2007.

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the evacuation of 550 metric tons of uranium from the Iraqi nuclear complex at Tuwaitha.
Unable to ship the “yellow cake” overland because of security and diplomatic concerns,
the U.S. flew the entire stock to Diego Garcia, from which it was sent by ship to Canada
for reprocessing.79

The Telecommunications Facility

A small communications facility on Diego Garcia tracks satellites and broadcasts
operational information to units in the region. Such shore relay stations serve a critical
function in the U.S. military’s worldwide communications effort: Joint operations in the
Indian Ocean rely upon secure tactical communications circuits maintained by shore
radio operators at Diego Garcia. Satellite dishes on the atoll transmit data to overhead
satellites in the Indian Ocean to provide commanders with situational awareness of the
current status and locations of U.S. and enemy forces. The station also plays an important
signals intelligence function, monitoring and intercepting communications from across
the littoral region, be it “Indian or Pakistani nuclear intentions or terrorist travels.”80
Finally, Diego Garcia hosts one of the nine tracking stations that the U.S. Air Force uses
to command military satellites, one of the five ground antennas supporting the operation
of the Global Positioning System, and telescopes for a deep space surveillance facility.

Looking Ahead

The next five years should bring another historic era of construction to Diego Garcia. The
renewed commitment of U.S. defense planners to military construction on the island will
substantively upgrade the existing forward-operating naval base. While any future
construction on the island ultimately depends on the outcome of negotiations between the
British Ministry of Defense and the U.S. State Department initiated in September 2007,
the authors believe these negotiations will produce an agreement this year to permit
construction that would considerably enhance the level of support for units deployed to
the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf.81
The four phased construction projects currently planned, totaling $200 million,
will be the second major expansion of the island’s capabilities, comparable to the early
1980s effort that established the berthing facilities currently in use and transformed the
island from a simple communications facility to its present role as an important support
facility in the Indian Ocean.82
The construction program is an outgrowth of two new requirements envisioned
for the island, as the authors predict that Diego Garcia will:

Brian Murphy, “U.S. Removes Uranium from Iraq,” Associated Press, July 6, 2008.
Scott Foster and Robert Windrem, “Tsunami Spares U.S. Base in Diego Garcia,” NBC News, January 4,
2005, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6786984.
Personal interview, U.S. diplomats, March and July 2008. The British MOD and U.S. State Department
regularly discuss infrastructure development on Diego Garcia as a part of annual talks that occur in
September. U.S. State Department sources indicate that the U.K. does not challenge U.S. military use of the
island but that the U.K. “closely analyzes” any construction on the island with regard to environmental
U.S. Navy official, Interview with author, February 2008.

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(1) host a nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine (SSGN) for limited repairs

and extended crew rest,83 and
(2) pending an agreement with the U.K., act as the homeport for the submarine
tender USS Emory S. Land (AS-39), recently departed from La Maddalena, Italy.84

The United States Navy currently possesses four guided missile submarines (SSGNs),
Ohio-class Trident ballistic missile submarines refitted to carry conventional Tomahawk
cruise missiles. The platform exploits the nuclear submarine’s ability to remain
undetected off of a hostile coastline for long periods of time and provides two unique
capabilities in addition to covert intelligence collection:
(1) With a “maximum strike” complement of 154 Tomahawk missiles, a single
SSGN has the cruise missile striking power of a typical carrier battle group.85 With an
SSGN in theater, other Tomahawk-equipped submarines and surface ships are free to
undertake tasks such as surveillance or interdiction missions.
(2) With the ability to accommodate over sixty special operations (SOF)
personnel and equipment, the SSGN can also be configured to support strike and SOF
missions simultaneously. As a result, the submarine can covertly insert up to four
platoons of Navy SEALs on land while retaining the ability to strike targets with up to
140 operational Tomahawks. In the future, the SSGNs may also employ Unmanned
Underwater Vehicles for special operations.
The SSGN is well-suited to the security environment of the Indian Ocean littoral.
In addition to undertaking strike missions in the region, the SSGN can capitalize on its
natural stealth advantage. It will be able to operate near various hotbeds of Islamic
extremism around the Horn of Africa and within the Persian Gulf without being detected.
This would allow the United States to bring targets into range of the submarine’s
Tomahawk missiles without ever alerting the opponent to the threat. In addition, the
SSGN will be available for SOF activity in the region. Combined Joint Task forces off
the coasts of Somalia and Yemen, for example, could insert Special Forces covertly and
extract them upon completion of a mission, all while submerged.
For reasons of security and stability, Diego Garcia is the natural choice to host a
guided-missile submarine in the Indian Ocean. In terms of security, the SSGN will not
need to transit a dangerous chokepoint to arrive at the atoll. Bringing the SSGN into
regional ports, such as Bahrain and Dubai, by contrast, would require the SSGN to
conduct a tricky transit through the busy, shallow Strait of Hormuz. In addition, a fully-
loaded submarine would make an attractive and highly visible target for terrorists who
might seek to attack the new platform. The SSGN could also face potential harassment by
a regional aggressor such as Iran. The isolated pier at Diego Garcia, therefore, represents
a safer alternative to many closer ports. The island also provides stability: SSGNs require
unique—and therefore expensive—support facilities to load and maintain the Tomahawk
USG sources have not officially confirmed the temporary basing of an SSGN in Diego Garcia. However,
based on the capabilities of the SSGN and the current deployment model in the Pacific Ocean, which
heavily utilizes facilities in Guam, the authors believe that U.S. defense planners will upgrade facilities on
Diego Garcia to exploit the island’s similarly strategic location in the Indian Ocean.
U.S. Navy official, Interviews with author, November 2007 and February 2008.
Robert Aronson, “SSGN: A ‘Second Career’ for the Boomer Force,” Undersea Warfare, Vol. 2, No. 2
(Winter 1999), p. 5.

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launch system, special operations forces module, and associated equipment. By contrast,
a flexible and short-term basing structure (with facilities at multiple locations throughout
the theater) could not provide suitable support for the complex platform. Finally, Diego
Garcia contains adequate military housing and shore facilities to conduct an in-theater
crew swap while the submarine undergoes a three-week refit between missions. That
significantly enhances the amount of time that a given SSGN can remain deployed to the
Indian Ocean.86 Infrastructure improvements on the pier that began in July 2007 appear to
support temporary basing of a guided missile submarine on Diego Garcia.87 Such an
arrangement would necessitate an extended pier and updated shore facilities to allow for
the submarine to remain pier side for weeks at a time.

The Submarine Tender

A second major addition to Diego Garcia’s capabilities will be the deployment of the
USS Emory S. Land, one of the navy’s two submarine tenders. Submarine tenders serve
as floating shipyards to repair and supply submarines and surface combatants.
Specialized personnel can provide virtually any repair service the tended ship requests,
and the tender can also accept transfer of radioactive and hazardous materials that
accumulate on nuclear-powered boats during long periods at sea. Both Central Command
and Pacific Command will benefit from the Land’s enormous capabilities.
The relocation of the Land to Diego Garcia will significantly enhance the ability
of U.S. submarines to carry out missions east of Suez. Without the tender in-theater, if
critical equipment breaks during a mission in the Indian Ocean, either (1) the item
remains out-of-commission until the submarine transits the Suez Canal and visits the
tender at its Mediterranean location, or (2) a fly-away team attempts to restore or replace
the item in Bahrain or Diego Garcia. Neither repair scenario is ideal: One requires a
lengthy and expensive transit of the Suez that would preclude follow-on tasking in the
region, and the other limits the repair team’s immediately available resources.88 Similarly,
a Tomahawk-capable unit that has launched a full salvo presently has to transit the Suez
and visit the tender in the Mediterranean to reload.
Local political pressure forced the closure of the Land’s homeport on the Italian
island of Sardinia. The compulsory base closure at La Maddalena reinforces concerns
that “guaranteed access” is a chimera—even on the land of otherwise reliable NATO
allies. The circumstances surrounding the Land’s relocation tell a cautionary tale: Local
concerns often escalate into unfavorable domestic political conditions that can unhinge
even strong basing agreements.89 The decision to transfer the Land to Diego Garcia over
other potential homeports is a significant acknowledgement of the atoll’s strategic
location and politically favorable situation.

A four-ship SSGN force with 2 Atlantic and 2 Pacific SSGNs can maintain a 1.29 presence in
CENTCOM and an overseas SOF presence in EUCOM and PACOM of 0.49 and 0.45, respectively. Ibid.,
p. 4
U.S. Navy official, Interview with author, November 2007.
For each Suez transit, Egypt charges the United States a significant cash fee to provide security services
for the military vessel.
For a full discussion of the unpredictability of the foreign basing environment, see Franklin D. Kramer,
Global Futures and Implications for U.S. Basing (Washington, DC: Atlantic Council of the United States,
May 2005.)

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Assessment of Diego Garcia’s Value to U.S. Indian Ocean Strategy

Diego Garcia contains a mere five percent of the land mass of Guam, an island similarly
situated and utilized by the U.S. military in the Western Pacific Ocean. Consequently, the
atoll is not scalable in the same way as Guam, which provides for the home porting of
three submarines in its expansive Apra Harbor. However, creative use of space at Diego
Garcia’s pier, coupled with utilities upgrades, will maximize SSGN employment in the
Indian Ocean and raise the island’s military profile from a simple logistical hub to a well-
equipped naval facility.
Diego Garcia facilitates U.S. power projection throughout the Indian Ocean
littoral through the prepositioning of Army and Marine Corps brigade sets, long-range
bomber operations, the replenishment of naval surface combatants and the strike and
special operations capabilities of the SSGN. The island’s isolated location, on the
sovereign territory of a close ally, reduces the facility’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks
and conflict with the local community, which can plague many overseas bases in the
region. Moreover, Diego Garcia reduces the need for the U.S. military to maintain a large
footprint on the ground throughout the Indian Ocean littoral in order to protect America’s
regional allies, control the spread of terrorism and WMD proliferation, and maintain the
flow of energy and commerce through key chokepoints such as the Straits of Hormuz and
Malacca. These regional objectives can be achieved by engaging in an offshore balancing
posture that maintains local preeminence via control of the sea. As a result, air and naval
platforms, as well as rapidly deployable special operations forces, staged “over the
horizon” at Diego Garcia, can enable the U.S. to pursue its regional interests with a less
provocative and less visible presence.
Nevertheless, U.S. deployments from Diego Garcia will not take place in a
vacuum, but rather in an Indian Ocean increasingly influenced by India and potentially
China as well. Reviewing the strategic perspectives of both of these rapidly rising naval
powers is essential to understand the strategic context within which U.S. forces will

India’s Evolving Views of Diego Garcia

At present, India remains the dominant Asian power in the Indian Ocean. India’s attitude
towards the U.S. presence there in general, and the base at Diego Garcia in particular, has
evolved significantly since the end of the Cold War. In the wake of the British
withdrawal from “East of Suez” in 1968, India sought to make the Indian Ocean “a zone
of peace from which great power rivalries and competition, as well as bases concerned in
the context of such rivalries and competition, either army, navy, or air force, are
excluded.”90 Prime Minister Indria Gandhi made it clear that India was “opposed to the
establishment of foreign military bases, and believed that the Indian Ocean should be an
area of peace, free from any kind of military base.”91 The joint UK/U.S. facility at Diego
Garcia was a particular target of left-leaning politicians from the Congress party. In the
words of one Indian foreign minister, Diego Garcia “epitomized U.S. imperialistic

Joel Larus, “India’s Nonalignment and Superpower Naval Rivalry,” in Larry W. Bowman and Ian Clark,
ed., The Indian Ocean in Global Politics (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1981), p. 46.
Ibid., p. 44.

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tendencies and neo-colonial policies.”92 Indian hostility to Diego Garcia stemmed in part
from the assumption that the establishment of a U.S. Naval facility indicated that
American naval power would be a permanent fixture of the region, which was
characterized as a significant threat to regional peace.93
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the subsequent reorientation of
India’s economic and foreign policies, created the opportunity for significant
improvements in Indo-American relations. A recognition of common interests and
concerns in areas ranging from securing the free flow of commerce to halting the spread
of radical Islam have led to enhanced economic and security ties between the two
nations. This improved relationship culminated in the Bush administration’s declared
policy to “help India become a major world power in the 21st century.”94
Indian attitudes towards American naval power in the Indian Ocean have adjusted
accordingly. Indian strategists recognize that the U.S. will remain the world’s pre-
eminent economic and military power for the next several decades. As such, American
power will likely be committed to defending the status quo in the international system—
which will continue to provide the stability India requires to sustain its own economic
development. In the context of the Indian Ocean, U.S. military presence is now seen a
stabilizing factor in an otherwise fragile region.
In addition, there appears to be a recognition and acceptance by the Indian
government that Diego Garcia is an important and long-term hub for U.S. power
projection in the Indian Ocean littoral. As evidence that India has lost its aversion to the
“neo-colonial” Anglo-American facility, in 2001 and again in 2004, the Indian Navy
participated in joint exercises with the U.S. held at Diego Garcia. Furthermore, there have
been suggestions that the Indian government has encouraged Mauritius to reach a final
settlement on the sovereignty of the Chagos Archipelago that would allow for the
continued presence of the UK/U.S. facility at Diego Garcia.95 The absence of criticism of
Diego Garcia and U.S. military presence in the region has been notable at a time when
military operations in support of the War on Terror have seen a significant increase in
U.S. forces in Central Asia and the Horn of Africa region, as well as a significant use of
the air and naval facilities at Diego Garcia.
Since the end of the Cold War, China has replaced America as the extra-regional
actor of primary concern for Indian strategists. There is long-standing friction in the
relationship between New Delhi and Beijing: The 1962 war between the two countries
inflicted a humiliating defeat on India and created a still unresolved border dispute;
furthermore, China has been a principal supplier of weapons technology, both
conventional and nuclear, to Pakistan, India’s South Asian bête noire.96 Such tensions are
not helped by China’s on-going military buildup. On the political front, India desires to
be recognized as a great power in the international order and it is jealous of the status
accorded to China by its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and its
recognition as a nuclear weapons state under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As if
Ibid., p. 45-48.
Ibid., p. 47.
For a discussion of this policy and its implications, see Daniel Twining, “America’s Grand Design in
Asia,” Washington Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Summer 2007).
“Mauritius May Relent on U.S. Base in Diego Garcia,” The Times of India, April 12, 2002.
For recent border tension between India and China see, Jo Johnson and Richard McGregor, “China
Raises Tension in India Border Dispute,” Financial Times, June 12, 2007.

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that were not enough, China’s simultaneous rise on the international scene, which is
unprecedented in modern history, further complicates relations as both nations seek
sufficient geopolitical space for their emergence as great powers.
The potential for discord between the two countries can be seen in the energy
sector: Beijing is desperate to secure hydrocarbon resources for its own expanding
economy, while India is increasingly reliant on similar energy sources. China’s efforts to
secure its access to overseas energy resources have brought it into India’s backyard.97 In
an effort to secure its own interests in the Indian Ocean littoral, China has helped
establish a network of ports and partnerships with countries in the region—including
several nations that have traditionally been hostile to India. Indian observers frequently
suggest that the goal of this so-called “string of pearls” strategy is to secure access to
locations that could support an enhanced maritime presence or be used to project Chinese
power into the Indian Ocean.98 Regardless of whether or not the “string of pearls” is an
accurate characterization of Beijing’s Indian Ocean strategy, China has certainly been
active in the region.99 To the west of India, China financed the construction of a major
port complex for Pakistan at Gwadar. Some Indian analysts presume that the People’s
Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will have access to this facility as a quid-pro-quo, which
could give it a strategic position in the Arabian Sea, close to the mouth of the Persian
Gulf. To the east, the Chinese military has reportedly assisted Burma with the
construction of several naval facilities on the Bay of Bengal—particularly at Kyaukpyu
and Hainggyi Island.100 As with Gwadar, there has been speculation that these facilities
are being upgraded to serve China’s needs in a future military contingency. To the south,
China recently reached an agreement to develop a port project for Sri Lanka at
Hambantota on the island’s south coast.101 Many Indian security analysts believe that
China’s support for Pakistan, as well as its encroachment into the Indian Ocean, are part
of a Chinese strategy to encircle India and confine its influence to South Asia.102 These
concerns about China’s development of potential access point in the Indian Ocean littoral
region are accompanied by apprehension over the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s
(PLAN) on-going expansion, which is viewed as a potential threat to India’s strategic
interests in the region.103

Sudha Ramachandran, “China Moves into India’s Back Yard,” Asia Times, March 13, 2007.
The first use of the phrase “string of pearls” to describe China’s maritime strategy occurred in a report
prepared by Booz-Allen-Hamilton for the Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment in 2005 titled
“Energy Futures in Asia.”
Despite the popularity of the phrase in Western discourse, it rarely appears in Chinese naval writings.
See, for example, Gurmeet Kanwal, “Countering China’s Strategic Encirclement of India,” Indian
Defence Review, Vol. 15, No. 3 (July–September 2000), p. 13 and C. S. Kuppuswamy, “Myanmar-China
Cooperation: Its Implications for India,” South Asia Analysis Group February 3, 2003,
Ramachandran, “China Moves into India’s Back Yard.”
For example, the Indian Navy’s maritime doctrine explicitly discusses “attempts by China to
strategically encircle India” and warns of Chinese encroachment into “our maritime zone.” Cited in
“India’s Naval Posture: Looking East,” Strategic Comments, Vol. 11, No. 6 (August 2005), p. 2. The issue
is also mentioned in John W. Garver, Protracted Contest: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Twentieth Century
(Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2001), p. 5.
See, for example, Vijay Sakhuja, “Indian Navy: Keeping Pace with Emerging Challenges,” in Lawrence
W. Prabhakar, Joshua H. Ho and Sam Bateman, eds., The Evolving Maritime Balance of Power in the Asia-
Pacific (Singapore: World Scientific, 2006) p. 191; and “Power Realignments in Asia: China, India and the

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While India ultimately seeks strategic autonomy, in light of these latter

developments, both demonstrated and speculated, New Delhi has looked favorably on its
strategic ties with Washington as a means to reinforce its position in the Indian Ocean.
Given U.S. ability to base substantial air assets at Diego Garcia and deploy naval forces
from the Gulf and the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, there is recognition that U.S. presence
in the littoral can complement India’s quest for a peaceful and stable regional order.

Diego Garcia and Chinese Interests in the Indian Ocean

Since the Cold War’s end, Chinese analysts have seen U.S. forces in Diego Garcia
as part of a larger strategy to maintain U.S. control of East Asia at China’s
expense.104 China’s official military press scrutinizes the island’s strategic
significance. One article describes Diego Garcia as anchoring an inner network of
bases, or ‘First Island Chain,’ that constrains Chinese military power projection.105
Another states, “This base’s combined installations are perfect, its strategic
position is important. It has already become America’s most important sea and air
operations and logistics supply base in the Pacific region. It is called “the
unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean.”106 Diego Garcia (with Japan and
South Korea) is described as one of “the U.S. military’s frontline bases in the Asia
Pacific region, one that controls “major sea and air navigation channels in the
middle of the Indian Ocean.”107 It “not only controls the sea routes, straits, and
sea areas in the western Pacific but can also launch attacks both to east and west
in support of U.S. combat operations in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East
regions.” 108 China’s state media reports that forward bomber basing gives the U.S.
Air Force “a capability of striking anywhere in the region within 12 hours.”109

United States,” Report of a U.S.-India Policy Dialogue, (New Delhi: Center for the Advanced Study of
India & Observer Research Foundation, December 14-17, 2006), p. 8.
Zhao Danping, “U.S. Military Presence in East Asia,” Banyue Tan [Semimonthly Talks], May 25, 1996,
OSC# FTS19960525000012.
Wang Weixing and Teng Jianqun, “Air-Launched Cruise Missiles Are Hanging at Asia’s Door,”
解放军报 [Liberation Army Daily], September 6, 2000, p. 12, OSC# CPP20000906000055.
静海 [Jing Hai], “美国海军太平洋舰队五大海军基地和多少” [The U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet’s Five
Great Naval Bases and Their Relevant Statistics], 人民海军 [People’s Navy], March 4, 2006, p. 4. For a
similar analysis that also includes Guam (which Jing’s People’s Navy article fails to do, perhaps for reasons
of sensitivity), see 静海 [Jing Hai], “美国太平洋舰队海军基地” [U.S. Pacific Fleet Naval Bases],
舰船知识 [Naval & Merchant Ships], March 2006, pp. 27-29.
Cai Yongzhong, “‘Time Bomb’ Hanging in the Sky Above Asia-Pacific—U.S.-ROK ‘Foal Eagle’ Joint
Military Exercise in Perspective,” 解放军报 [Liberation Army Daily], November 3, 1999, OSC#
Zhang Jiyuan, “The U.S. Air Force Will Make New Moves,” 解放军报 [Liberation Army Daily],
December 21, 2000, p. 5, OSC# CPP20001221000046 .
Liu Jiang and Yan Feng, “U.S. Adjusts Asia Pacific Policy for New Century,” Xinhua, December 26,
2000, OSC# CPP20001226000019.

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In considering present Chinese perspectives overall, it must be emphasized that,

despite an almost visceral distaste for elements of America’s global military posture in
general, current Chinese analyses of Diego Garcia’s significance for Beijing’s interests
are not nearly as alarmist as those concerning U.S. bases in Guam, Japan, or even South
Korea, which are perceived to more directly target (or at least be more directly applicable
to) military scenarios directed against China and its claimed land and sea territories. But
if China sees Diego Garcia as part of the first Island Chain, 110 and seeks to deploy forces
from the South China Sea to the India Ocean, this could change. China might then regard
the island as a longer term obstacle to military power projection.

China and the Indian Ocean

Chinese analyses note that from ancient times through the Cold War, the Indian Ocean
has been a critical theater for great power influence and rivalry.111 From 1405-33,
Emperor Yongle and his successor sent Admiral Zheng He and 27,000 men on seven
voyages into the Indian Ocean—as far as Hormuz, Mecca, and Mombasa—to proclaim
the power and prestige of the new Ming dynasty, (re)open tributary relations with
kingdoms around the Indian Ocean, and nurture existing trade links. There was also a
military mission: to overawe, coerce and compel those who opposed Ming China and its
allies. Zheng’s forces “captured and killed” the “Great Pirate” Chen Zuyi at Palembang in
southern Sumatra and “dealt a crushing defeat” to the King of Ceylon’s armed forces.
Following these demonstrations of shock and awe with Chinese characteristics, “all
countries were shocked and nobody dared to compete.”112 But China subsequently turned
inward and suffered a “Century of Humiliation” beginning in 1840, when it was invaded
and partially colonized.
Today, China is returning to the sea. Its current naval platforms and weaponry
suggest an “access denial” strategy consistent with Beijing’s present focus on the Taiwan
issue and other local maritime territorial claims. Yet, China’s growing maritime interests
and energy dependency may gradually drive more long-ranging naval development.
James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara contend that China’s naval power projection beyond
Taiwan will be directed not eastward across the Pacific but rather south and west along
the strategic sea lanes to Africa and the Middle East.113 A critical question, then, is: What
directions might PRC naval development take if one looks ‘beyond Taiwan’ and factors
in longer-term strategic trends, including China’s growing global economic interests?

This is the opinion of one article published by the PLA. Wang Weixing and Teng Jianqun, “Air-
Launched Cruise Missiles Are Hanging at Asia’s Door,” 解放军报 [Liberation Army Daily], September 6,
2000, p. 12, OSC# CPP20000906000055.
See, for example, 徐起 [Senior Captain Xu Qi, PLAN], “21 世纪初海上地缘战略与中国海军的发展”

[Maritime Geostrategy and the Development of the Chinese Navy in the Early 21st Century],
中国军事科学 [China Military Science], (Vol. 17, No. 4) 2004, pp. 75-81.
唐明伟 [Tang Mingwei], “郑和靠什么推行和平外交” [How Did Zheng He Carry Out Peaceful
Diplomacy?], 解放军报 [Liberation Army Daily], August 4, 2008, p. 10.
James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, “China’s Naval Ambitions in the Indian Ocean,” Journal of
Strategic Studies, Vol. 31, No. 3, June 2008, pp. 367-94.

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Several indicators might suggest that China intended to develop regional blue water
SLOC defense capability (e.g., in the Indian Ocean) to protect key oil SLOCs military:

 Increased construction and deployment of nuclear attack submarines,

surface combatants, and support vessels.
 Improvement of aerial refueling and development of deck aviation.
 Significantly increased blue water training and operational capability.114

The PLA Navy (PLAN)’s capabilities in key areas (assets, trained personnel,
experience) are currently insufficient to support long-range sea lanes of communication
(SLOC) defense missions. With sufficient effort, Beijing may eventually overcome these
obstacles, but it would probably also have to acquire some form of overseas basing
access, which its foreign policy still proscribes. To sustain a serious naval presence in the
Indian Ocean, the PLAN would need to expand substantially its at-sea replenishment
capacity and also secure basing rights in locations such as Pakistan, Burma, and perhaps
Sri Lanka or Bangladesh.115
China remains far from having anything close to a naval base beyond Chinese
waters. According to Indian Naval analyst Gurpreet Khurana, “China and the IOR
countries involved maintain that the transport infrastructure being built is purely for
commercial use. There is no decisive evidence at this point to assert otherwise because
these facilities are in nascent stages of development.”116 Even if China did eventually gain
basing rights in an Indian Ocean littoral state, were a conflict to erupt such bases might
be difficult to defend from Indian or U.S. naval and air attacks.
Instead, in an effort to secure its own interests in the Indian Ocean littoral, China
has established a complex ‘soft power’ web of diplomacy, trade, humanitarian assistance,
arms sales, and even strategic partnerships with countries in the region—including
several nations that traditionally have been hostile to India (e.g., Pakistan). The goal of
this strategy is to maximize access to resource inputs and trade in peacetime, while
making it politically difficult for hostile naval powers to sever seaborne energy supplies
in times of crisis. For now, an intriguing example of potential Chinese influence in areas
proximate to Indian Ocean sea lanes may be seen in Mauritius, where Chinese media
sources report that “China’s first overseas special economic zone” has been established.
Known officially as the Tianli Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, the state-guided
project could capitalize on the historically warm relations between the two nations. China
is already Mauritius’s largest source of foreign direct investment and the source of half its
foreign workers.117

For further details, see Andrew Erickson and Gabriel Collins, “China’s Maritime Evolution: Military
and Commercial Factors,” Pacific Focus, Vol. XXII, No. 2 (Fall 2007), pp. 47-75.
Numerous Indian media reports and several U.S. studies have alleged that China has significant access
to some Burmese ports and intelligence facilities. Andrew Selth of the Griffith Asia Institute believes that
insufficient evidence has been produced to substantiate these claims. Andrew Selth, “Chinese Military
Bases in Burma: The Explosion of a Myth,” Griffith Asia Institute: Regional Outlook 10 (2007).
Gurpreet S. Khurana, “China’s ‘String of Pearls’ in the Indian Ocean and its Security Implications,”
Strategic Analysis, Vol. 32, No. 1, January 2008, p. 3.
Lei Dongrui, Editor, “Unveiling Our Country’s First Overseas Special Economic Zone: Mauritius Tianli
Trade Zone,” Guangzhou Daily, June 10, 2008,

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As mentioned earlier, analysts and bureaucrats at the highest levels in New Delhi
view even these moves with suspicion, and many seem to fear that the Chinese strategy is
explicitly designed to encircle India. Writing in the official journal of the Communist
Party of China Central Committee, PLAN Commander Wu Shengli and Political
Commissar Hu Yanlin state, “to maintain the safety of the oceanic transportation and the
strategic passageway for energy and resources… we must build a powerful navy.”118 And
there are modest but growing suggestions that Beijing’s Indian Ocean ambitions may
grow with its national power. PLA analysts argue that it should be perfectly acceptable
for China to advance to the Indian Ocean with changes in its national interests.119 A
second assessment in China’s official media suggests that to protect its newly emerging
interests, China should learn from the U.S., develop several overseas bases (e.g., in
Pakistan, Burma, and Sudan) and build three or four aircraft carriers.120 While China’s
current military movement toward the Indian Ocean should not be exaggerated, over the
longer term, a significant presence could challenge the region’s status quo.

Diego Garcia’s Strategic Future

The present open international order, with its attendant economic globalization and free
trade, has benefited from America’s predominant position in world politics. This is
particularly true in the maritime dimension, where the U.S. Navy guarantees the free flow
of goods at sea worldwide. To maintain its preponderant position, the United States will
have to modify its geostrategic view to incorporate regions of the world that were once
dismissed as peripheral to American interests.121 One such area is the Indian Ocean, the
littoral of which is emerging as a key strategic region in the ‘Asian Century.’
America’s forward bases facilitate the projection of U.S. power around the globe.
In the post-Cold War strategic environment, access to such facilities is increasingly
constrained. Yet, maintaining the security of the sea lanes and the free flow of goods
transiting the Indian Ocean requires a sustained U.S. maritime presence. This presence
and its associated regional influence depend on access, which is particularly constrained

http://news.xinhuanet.com/overseas/2008-06/10/content_8338093.htm; Ed Harris, “China’s Big Push into

Africa Worries the Small Island of Mauritius, May 26, 2008,
Wu Shengli , PLAN Commander, and Hu Yanlin, PLAN Political Commissar, “Building a Powerful
People’s Navy That Meets the Requirements of the Historical Mission for our Army, 求实 [Seeking Truth],
July 16, 2007, No. 14, http://www.qsjournal.com.cn/qs/20070716/GB/qs^459^0^10.htm, OSC#
王楠楠 [Wang Nannan, ed.], “专家称中国进军印度洋关乎国家利益--无可厚非” [Expert

Says China’s Advancement toward the Indian Ocean Concerns National Interests
and Gives No Cause for Criticism], 新华网主页 [Xinhua News Network Homepage], June 10, 2008,
孙瑞博 [Sun Ruibo, ed.], “美军加强关岛军事力量意欲何为?” [The U.S. Military Strengthens Forces
on Guam--For What Purpose?], 新华网[Xinhua Net], July 4, 2008, http://news.xinhuanet.com/mil/2008-
For a broader discussion of this issue, see Jakub J. Grygiel, Great Powers and Geopolitical Change
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).

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by domestic politics across the Indian Ocean littoral. In such an environment, American
interests are best served by the cultivation of a regional presence for strike and deterrence
that does not depend on the acquiescence of capricious local governments.
Continued American predominance in the Indian Ocean will be increasingly
difficult to realize without an expanded presence on Diego Garcia. Specifically, the
Department of Defense should speed the delivery of the submarine tender Emory S. Land
to the island, maximize rotational employment of two SSGNs in-theater, and work to
guarantee a long-term agreement for U.S. military use of the British Indian Ocean
Territory. After the completion of these material improvements, U.S. planners must move
to shield the island and the larger region from any Chinese interference and find ways to
minimize transfer time of pre-positioned stock for crisis response. Each of these goals
will require cooperation with the U.K. and creative use of a small but crucially important
piece of real estate in the center of an increasingly busy and strategically vital operational
Although American defense planners agree on the strategic importance of the
Indian Ocean in general, and the utility of Diego Garcia in particular, however, the
parochial interests of U.S. Combatant Commanders (COCOMs) have prevented the
establishment of regional priorities and a coherent, long-term construction plan for the
island. With the creation in 2007 of Africa Command, the U.S. Unified Command Plan
now divides ownership of the region among four different COCOMS (Pacific, Central,
Africa, and European). This partition among even more commands makes key security
challenges in the Indian Ocean, always divided bureaucratically in postwar U.S. military
planning, even more likely to fall through the organizational cracks. It prevents the
Pentagon from taking a holistic view of the Indian Ocean littoral and the unique aspects
of Indian Ocean security. These center around the transit of major trade and energy
supplies through areas threatened by an irredentist state sponsor of terrorism that may be
seeking to develop nuclear weapons (Iran), weak and failing states, extreme poverty,
religious extremism, and transnational terrorism. This challenging combination of factors
requires reliable, rapid operational access to strategic sea lanes and selected land-based
threats without inflaming anti-Americanism.
By policy, Pacific Command controls the use of assets on Diego Garcia. While
many of the assets that call on the island originate from Pacific Command, the island’s
natural role is to facilitate operations within the Central Command theater. Therefore,
assets must adjust to changes in communications circuits, engagement rules, and
command relationships in transit from Diego Garcia to the mission area, as opposed to
adjusting to the new requirements during a final certification period at the island. Highly
mobile assets like submarines and aircraft regularly overcome these obstacles, but the
sustained operations of SSGNs in the northern Indian Ocean make it increasingly sensible
to shift control of Diego Garcia to Central Command.
U.S. Commanders and operational planners must avoid an insular approach and
craft a coherent Indian Ocean policy that accounts for the reactions of India and China as
well as the wishes of the United Kingdom. A comprehensive regional strategy for the
Indian Ocean littoral region would encourage more rapid and extensive infrastructure
development on the island. As J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa Program at
CSIS, has testified, the AOR seams in the Indian Ocean present both planning and
operational challenges. Achieving unity of effort in the face of these bureaucratic

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divisions “requires stronger leadership, coherence and integration of programs, and more
effective management.”122
The problem is that the U.S. does not have today, and indeed has never had, an
Indian Ocean strategy. The COCOMs themselves do not even issue documents to that
effect. The closest exception to this overall neglect came during the Clinton
Administration, when the Department of Defense Office of International Security Affairs
issued a series of unclassified regional policy documents, none of which focused on the
Indian Ocean directly.123 It is time to go beyond this brief, fleeting effort. Subordination
of vital regional realities to global strategy may have been appropriate during the Cold
War, when the U.S. confronted a global adversary, and in the subsequent “unipolar
moment,” when U.S. hegemony was undisputed and substantial regional challengers and
direct global terrorist threats had yet to manifest themselves, but it is appropriate no
longer. The current challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan provide a sobering reminder that
the U.S. government focuses on absolute theoretical concepts and rigid, one-size-fits-all
strategies at its peril in this increasingly interconnected yet increasingly unstable world.
U.S. planners must increase their regional knowledge, enhance coordination and, for the
first time, consider the Indian Ocean holistically as a vital strategic space with Diego
Garcia at its center.

J. Stephen Morrison, “Exploring the U.S. Africa Command and a New Strategic Relationship with
Africa,” Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, August 1, 2007.
See, for example, United States Security Strategy for the Asia-Pacific Region, 1995, 1998; United States
Security Strategy for the Middle East, 1995; United States Security Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa, 1995;
United States Security Strategy for Europe and NATO, 1995.

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