View Full Version : Strategic Islands

05-30-2013, 10:04 PM
For historical and geopolitical reasons some, usually small, islands have great strategic value, especially as they can provide an airstrip, storage and shelter. Diego Garcia comes to mind, a UK dependency minus its people is a significant base for the USA. Other islands in the Indian Ocean are of value, Maisrah (Oman) for example, whilst Socotra (Yemen) oddly has almost none, largely as it has little potable water and the terrain is harsh.

The UK has a number of such assets, an imperial legacy, although some have seen a 'small war' e.g. EOKA's campaign in Cyprus, or a significant international conflict, the Falkland Islands war in 1982.

Non-western nations also have recognised their value, China (PRC) has long been suspected of having a strategy to acquire facilities - a 'String of Pearls':http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_of_Pearls_%28China%29

So I read this Lowy Institute blog article with interest, not for the possible use by the USA of the Cocos Islands, close to Sumatra (Australia), but the reference to use of the Andaman Islands (India):http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2013/05/27/US-spy-drones-for-the-Andamans.aspx

There are several threads on islands, great power rivalry and the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific.

05-31-2013, 01:52 AM
You could also include what might be called "symbolic islands": islands, typically disputed, that have no real strategic significance but have come to represent national will and assertiveness on the part of the various claimants.

06-27-2013, 10:58 AM
Cyprus is a strategic island in the Eastern Mediterranean, first of all it is a divided island, with the Republic of Cyprus (a Commonwealth and an EU member) and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17217956

With two British territories - really military & intelligence bases - since 1960, known as the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, a polite term for being British territory, which cover one hundred square miles (the island has 3,572 sq miles or 3% of the land area) and sometimes a source of tension with Cyprus:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akrotiri_and_Dhekelia

The USA has been known to use the SBA facilities, in the past for aircraft overflying the Middle East, such as the U2.

With one of the UN's longest serving missions, UNFICYP, since 1964, manning a buffer zone (3% of he land area) between the two republics and with main contributions from:Argentina, Slovakia and the UK (plus nine others):http://www.unficyp.org/nqcontent.cfm?a_id=1593&tt=graphic&lang=l1

UNFICYP has been commanded since January 2011 by a Chinese PLA General:http://www.unficyp.org/nqcontent.cfm?a_id=3304&tt=graphic&lang=l1

Greece has a small presence (a battallion) and two hundred advisers with the Greek-Cypriot National Guard; whilst Turkey has based forty-three thousand soldiers in the north (since 1974).

The island has long been regarded as a "place of interest" to Middle Eastern nations, notably for intelligence and trade. More recently Russia has extensive commercial interests and yesterday following a ministerial statement on exiting its Syrian facility, The Guardian reported:
Neighbouring Cyprus has, however, made its ports available to the Russian fleet. Cypriot media have reported that the government may allow Russia to use its base at Paphos to host military aircraft.


Anyone aware of a similar island with such a variety of "presences"? I exclude the UN in New York!

08-16-2013, 04:47 PM
An IISS Strategic Comment 'Singapore and the US: security partners, not allies':http://www.iiss.org/en/publications/strategic%20comments/sections/2013-a8b5/singapore-and-the-us--security-partners--not-allies-fe48

Although Singapore continues to balance it's national interests, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stated:
Singapore is friends with America, also with India, Japan and China and the other major powers. And we would like to maintain our good relations with all of them.

Aside: I'd missed that in June 2013 Singapore exited from Afghanistan.

Bob's World
08-16-2013, 05:55 PM
The first US Pivot to the Pacific was all about strategic islands.

During the Spanish-American War the US secured it's hold on Hawaii; and then scooped up additional critical deep water ports/coaling stations in Guam and the Philippines and Samoa.

When China looks a few hundred miles to the East we have a cow, but a little over a century ago we leaped several thousand miles to the West, and remain there to this day. For good reason. Like Great Britain we are a maritime nation and "strategic islands" remain an effective way to extend one's influence well beyond their borders.

08-25-2013, 01:05 AM
Britain long had a string of pearls to tie together it's Empire, though not all necessarily defined by geography as islands.

Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Suez, Aden, Ceylon, Penang, Singapore.

The Americans have or had Hawaii, Midway, Wake, Guam, the Philippines, Okinawa.

Sicily used to be the key to dominate the Western Med.

08-25-2013, 02:19 AM
Don't forget the Azores. I stopped by there on a C-141 hop to Cairo West, then onwards to Mogadishu

11-01-2013, 07:52 PM
An article 'Diego Garcia: Anchoring America's Future Presence in the Indo-Pacific' from the Harvard Asia Quarterly; hat tip to Australia's Lowy Institute:http://www.andrewerickson.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Erickson-Publication_Erickson-Ladwig-Mikolay_Diego-Garcia_Harvard-Asia-Quarterly_2013-Summer.pdf

The abstract is:
Systemic shifts are reorienting the world’s economic center of gravity to the Indo-Pacific. The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is emerging as a strategic zone of particular importance, one with tremendous economic potential but significant security challenges. Still the sole superpower, the US has a unique role to play in securing and maintaining the international system—including in the IOR—but requires a reliable network of overseas bases to do so, in a region that is not part of its traditional sphere of influence. The British island of Diego Garcia in the center of the Indian Ocean offers unique capabilities in this regard, and is therefore being further developed by the US military as a regional hub. Meanwhile, India and China are strengthening their presence in the IOR, without challenging US influence. India, which logically views the Indian Ocean as its geo-strategic backyard, increasingly views American presence as a positive hedge against China. On the other hand, China’s interests and presence in the IOR are increasing, but enduring challenges closer to home are likely to limit the rate and extent of its transition to IOR power. While facing a changing world in which power diffusion increases the relative influence of such developing nations as China and India, the US is poised to retain a significant role as the foremost underwriter of security and systemic functions in the increasingly vital IOR. Central to such efforts is access to military facilities, with Diego Garcia set to play a disproportionately important role.

Bill Moore
06-04-2016, 06:34 PM

A number of islands are of strategic value to the major powers competing for influence in Asia, and Okinawa is one of those islands. The locals have understandably never been fond of the U.S. military presence there, and use every crime committed by a service member (tragically in this case a murder by a former service member who remained in Okinawa after he left the service) as another factor to generate momentum to oust the Americans.

Okinawa Murder Case Heightens Outcry Over U.S. Military’s Presence

“We’ve heard apologies and promises of prevention hundreds of times, for decades, but it hasn’t had any effect,” Okinawa’s governor, Takeshi Onaga, said in an interview. Okinawans still bitterly remember a 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl involving two Marines and a Navy sailor, which led to protests, as well as more recent episodes.

The bases never made Okinawans rich: The prefecture has the lowest per-capita income in Japan, one-third below the national average. Now, dependence on them is in decline, Mr. Meguro said, and with it Okinawans’ tolerance for the problems they bring.

Some in Okinawa would like to follow the example of the Philippines, which pushed out the American military in the early 1990s and redeveloped a major Navy base, at Subic Bay, into a lucrative resort destination.

“When it comes to the economy and tourism, it’s ‘Welcome, China,’” Mr. Meguro said. “Of course, it glosses over the fact that the Philippines has started to invite American forces back because it’s being menaced by China.”

06-29-2016, 08:26 PM
A reminder via Strife blog (Kings War Studies) that "location, location" is not always a factor and yes the island is Perim in the Gulf of Aden (Yemeni territory):
Despite lying in the middle of one of the world’s most critical choke points, the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait between Djibouti and Yemen, the island of Perim is a remote and often forgotten outpost. Perim is located in the midst of the waterway which separates the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden....


I have wondered why the far larger, but further away from land, Socotra has not had a strategic role. IIRC again a lack of a water supply in such a climate features.

06-29-2016, 08:32 PM
Once again the UK courts have rejected the claim by former residents of the Chagos Islands to return home; Diego Garcia is one of the islands:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-36659976

02-17-2018, 03:40 PM
Thanks to a footnote in the latest Sentinel I found this report and the expansion of the UAE's role, if not de facto occupation of Socotra.

02-27-2018, 04:41 PM
Not heard of this island nor it new owner and id'd via a broader regional article. See:https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/the-new-scramble-for-africa

The latest tension was sparked after Sudan signed an agreement to temporarily hand over the Red Sea island of Suakin to Turkey. Ankara and Khartoum said Turkey would rebuild the ruined, sparsely populated Ottoman island to increase tourism and create a transit point for pilgrims crossing the Red Sea to Islam's holiest city of Mecca. Turkey is also set to build a naval dock on the island.
Egyptian media criticised the agreement and alleged Turkey (https://www.aljazeera.com/topics/country/turkey.html) would build a military base on the island.Link:https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/sudan-deploys-troops-eritrea-border-180115053325960.html

The island is within the large creek that adjoins Suakin city, once a key port, but replaced by Port Sudan. Some history and a photo via:https://www.dailysabah.com/feature/2018/01/05/turks-return-to-suakin-island-after-two-centuries

02-25-2019, 07:42 PM
Ho hum:
The UK has been ordered to hand back the Chagos Islands (https://www.theguardian.com/world/chagos-islands) (Added: which includes Diego Garcia) to Mauritius “as rapidly as possible” after the United Nations’ highest court ruled that continued British occupation of the remote Indian Ocean archipelago is illegal.
Link:https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/25/un-court-rejects-uk-claim-to-sovereignty-over-chagos-islands? (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/25/un-court-rejects-uk-claim-to-sovereignty-over-chagos-islands?CMP=share_btn_tw)

An AP report bizarrely refers to:
The Pentagon’s heavily fortified air base on Diego Garcia..

As I recall there is a very small RN detachment, with some launches and I doubt anything is fortified.

07-05-2019, 08:38 PM
An update on the competition on Socotra between Yemeni factions: those who support the Hadi government and the UAE-funded & trained Security Belt Forces.

Note a likely fact 60,000 residents and
The UAE first deployed fighters to Socotra last April. Until then, the island had been free of the fighting that raged on mainland Yemen.