Cocos Islands could be new base for the US killing machine

A US army drone aircraft.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands is a tiny group of coral atolls in the Indian Ocean 2800 kilometres north-west of Perth and 900 kilometres from Java. It has a population of about 600.

These islands were nominally a British territory between 1858 and 1955, when they were transferred by a British act of parliament to Australia. Yet for the next 17 years, the Australian government allowed the islands to operate as a private fiefdom of the Clunies-Ross family — just as the British had for 100 years before then.

The islands were uninhabited until 1826, when Alexander Hare, a former minor British colonial official, set up an establishment with about 50 slaves, mainly of Malay background, and a personal “harem” he had collected from many colonial outposts.

Hare was displaced a year later by his former business partner, John Clunies-Ross, a Scottish ship captain whose descendants enriched themselves on the labour of the Malay plantation workforce, who they paid with tokens that could be spent on only the company store.

The Malay islanders had no access to formal education, but the Clunies-Ross children were sent to private schools in Britain. The head of the Clunies-Ross family was the island’s lawmaker, judge and administrator. Anyone who did not accept his rule was banished.

So it is no surprise that, when the Cocos Islanders were finally given the choice between independence, free association and integration with Australia in 1984, they overwhelmingly voted in secret ballot for integration. Only members of the Clunies-Ross family and a couple of loyal servants were in favour of “independence”.

But the Australian government did not offer the islanders their liberation from semi-feudalism just out of respect for freedom.

Kenneth Chan, the Australian administrator on the Cocos Islands from 1983-85 admitted in a largely unnoticed academic paper he wrote in 1987 that the islands’ strategic location was the main motivation to acquire and integrate this Indian Ocean territory.

The islands were used as a military base by the British in World Wars I and II. Now, the US military wants the islands as a base for drones and other spy planes. Pentagon officials hope Australia will make up for a possible closure or downgrading of its main Indian Ocean island military base in Diego Garcia, which the US leased from Britain in 1966.

The US built its giant base on Diego Garcia in the 1970s after the 2000 Chagos Islanders were forcibly removed through trickery and starvation, a colonial crime exposed to the world relatively recently.

The US has used Diego Garcia as a base for nuclear weapons, marines, warships, bombers and spy planes. It has used it as a transit station for political prisoners sent for “rendition” to other countries so they can be tortured, though this is officially denied. Diego Garcia is a strategic hub of the US killing machine.

But the US lease runs out in 2016 and the Pentagon wants to relocate at least some of the military functions of the base to various Australian bases in Western Australia, Darwin and the Cocos Islands.

The Gillard Labor government and the Liberal-National opposition wholeheartedly support this process and have already agreed to station thousands of US marines in Darwin.

Green Left Weekly opposes all new US bases and campaigns for the closure of the existing nominally “joint US-Australian” military bases. You can help us expose and fight against the Australian complicity with the US killing machine, by donating online today at to the Green Left Fighting Fund.

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The USA is a failed state. It is desperate and dangerous like a wounded bear. It only has weapons to sell because China makes everything else. The only business USA has left is war, so they make it perpetual to keep their only international trade alive and well. You need resources to have wars, and with guns and bombs you can just take them. There is a race on for the last remaining resources on earth, The superpowers with the most gall will end up with the lions share. This is what the middle east conflicts have always been over of course, and now its coming to australia as the only country with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of easily quarried minerals. USA wants some of that action! What better way than to set up a US base and offer protection while your companies become majority shareholders in all the biggest australian mining companies by stealth. Then when the USA has to protect it's 'national interests' it can have a ready force available to suppress protesters against gas fracking, open-cut mines, nuclear waste disposal etc. We are a state of the USA in the same way as Puerto Rico is. Any friendly USA client state always ends up poor and in debt.
Maybe Australia will become a "partner" of the U.S. - like the U.K. - where the oligarchs and plutocrats conspire to misinform the masses and use them to secure the resources to make the elite fantastically wealthy.