The Guardian January 26, 2000


No Farewell for This Admiral:
Reflections on Diego Garcia

by Vijay Prashad

On January 2, 2000, Admiral Elmo R Zumwalt Jr died. The New York 
Times reported the next day that Zumwalt left behind two principle 
legacies: his attempt to desegregate the US Navy in the 1970s and his order 
to spray Agent Orange in Vietnam (which led to the death of his son, Lt 
Elmo Zumwalt III, among countless others).

I want to add a third legacy, one felt each day in the Indian Ocean: his 
statement, as Chief of Naval Operations, in 1974 that the creation of a 
denuclearised "zone of peace" in the Indian Ocean was a "very dangerous 
idea".

Zumwalt's statement came in light of Afro-Asian pressure against such 
institutions as the US base at Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago, 
smack dab in the centre of the Indian Ocean. Currently, the base is home 
to, at least, the following units:

(1) The 630th Air Mobility Support Squadron (which maintains the Ground-
based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance system).

(2) The 18th Space Surveillance Squadron.

(3) The 613th Air Support Squadron (it offered logistical support to 1991 
Desert Storm, 1996 Desert Strike, 1997 Desert Thunder, and 1998 Desert Fox, 
as well as ongoing operations in Iraq).

(4) The 22nd Space Operations Squadron (the Diego Garcia Tracking Station, 
to assist in the operation of US Department of Defence (DoD) satellites 
that "provide enhancement to conventional forces" (as the DoD reports).

(5) Navy Support Facility (a liaison for the Japan Self Defence Force as 
well as coordinator of US Navy activities in the Indian Ocean).

(6) The 7th Fleet (which is responsible for over 52 million miles of ocean, 
from San Diego to Diego Garcia, with a forward-deployed force at Yokusuka, 
Japan, and Diego Garcia).

(7) The Naval Central Meteorology and Oceanography Detachment (to provide 
information to the US Navy).

Most people in the US [or Australia] know little of the US Navy's role in 
the Indian Ocean. Few know that there was once a very real initiative to 
stop the entrenchment of the waters, the "zone of peace" concept.

The Cairo Non-Aligned Summit (1964) recommended "the establishment of 
denuclearised zones" in those oceans of the world as yet without nuclear 
weapons. This followed the 1959 Antarctic Treaty and the 1963 Treaty of 
Tlatelelco (to keep Latin America free of nuclear weapons).

By 1970, the Lusaka Non-Aligned Summit took a more forthright position and 
called upon all states to "respect the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace from 
which Great Power rivalries and competition, as well as bases" be excluded.

The US Government ignored this declaration and signed a treaty with Britain 
in 1966 to make Diego Garcia available for a US base. The British pullout 
from the Indian Ocean, the Suez crisis and the Vietnam imbroglio drew the 
US toward this strategic island.

By 1974, Admiral Zumwalt told the US Congress that the Indian Ocean has 
"become a focal point of US foreign and economic policies and has a growing 
impact on our security".

Zumwalt noted that the USSR stood atop the "central part of the West's 
energy jugular down to the Persian Gulf" (this was a decisive 
exaggeration).

The Indian Ocean Zone of Peace notion was an affront to Zumwalt, who told 
the US Congress that "a permanent presence is mandatory" since the USSR was 
trying to "Finlandise" the Afro-Asian littoral.

He was in favour of an additional fleet, so that use of the Pacific Fleet 
in the region would not provide a "dangerous vacuum in US presence through 
the Western Pacific region".

Indeed, this is the case today, as the US base at Diego Garcia offers 
logistical support to nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed military ships as 
well as aircraft  all of which allow the US to threaten and cajole the 
powers in the region into submission.

To join the campaign against Diego Garcia send an email to: 
gherao@yahoo.com

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ZNet Commentary (abridged)

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