A seemingly tranquil archipelago in the central Indian Ocean has wide-ranging strategic significance for key players.
For decades, Mauritius and the United Kingdom have been in a dispute over ownership of the Chagos Islands in the central Indian Ocean. Recently, Maldives has become entangled in “lawfare” between the two countries over their claims to the archipelago. Maldives is the northern neighbour of Chagos, with overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZs) that need to be demarcated. But uncertainties about which country Maldives should be negotiating with have left it in a difficult position. Any deal it makes may force it into recognising Mauritian sovereignty over the islands.
The Chagos were controversially excised from Mauritian administration just before being granted independence in 1968. The islands have no permanent population, but host a key US military base at Diego Garcia. This means that how the dispute is resolved has important strategic consequences for the Indian Ocean.
The National Security College (NSC), with the support of the Department of Defence, is leading a two-year research project on Australia’s Indo-Pacific strategy in the Indian Ocean. As a part of this project, this paper analyses Maldivian claims to part of the Chagos Archipelago. This paper first appeared in the Lowy Institute’s ‘The Interpreter’ on 8 December 2021.
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