Ceding more territory to the US military? Will Cocos Islands be Australia’s Diego Garcia

Sep 5, 2023
Australia on the globe (Cocos (Keeling) Islands special) Southeast Asia.

The Australian government has reneged on its 1984 commitment to the UN “that it had no intention of making the Cocos (Keeling) Islands into a strategic military base or of using the Territory for that purpose.” Will the Labor government ignore the warnings of the late Richard Woolcott and make the Cocos Islands a militarised version of the US Diego Garcia?

On 2 September, the ABC carried a special report about major plans which Defence have for the significant expansion of the airfield and associated facilities on Cocos Island. It explained the serious concerns of some islanders and other locals had about the adverse impact these projects would likely have on the community and its environment with the threat of climate change lurking in the future. It also pointed to the local anxieties about the elevation of the level of geostrategic threat this would impose on Cocos. Some even worried that the local community might be forced to move out of Cocos – much like what had happened to the locals having to give way to US defence interests in Diego Garcia – further west in the Indian Ocean.

Sadly, it failed to mention the commitment the then Australian Government in 1984 had made to the United Nations as part of the agreement to the Act of Self Determination for Cocos to be integrated into Australia. In 2012, responding to talk from Defence about expanding the airfield and facilities on Cocos (under pressure from the US who wanted access for their long range drones there) the renowned Australian diplomat Richard Woolcott (who had been our Permanent Representative to the UN in 1984) drew attention to that commitment as was reported by Hamish Macdonald in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The UN’s regular publication “Decolonisation” of December 1984 (Volume 21) provides a very comprehensive blow by blow coverage of the lengthy and, at some stages, contested negotiations with Australia which eventually led successfully to the Act of Determination. It reported (page 23) that:

The (Australian) Government had also informed the Mission that it had no intention of making the Cocos (Keeling) Islands into a strategic military base or of using the Territory for that purpose”!!

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