Explained: Why The US Navy Conducted A Patrol In India’s EEZ Near Lakshadweep Islands Without Consent

Swarajya Staff

Apr 09, 2021, 02:26 PM | Updated 02:29 PM IST

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer. 
Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer. 
  • A warship of the US Navy recently conducted a freedom of navigation operation in India’s exclusive economic zone or EEZ near the Lakshadweep Islands.
  • On 7 April, USS John Paul Jones, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer of the US Navy passed through India’s exclusive economic zone, 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, located in the Arabian Sea.

    This Freedom of Navigation (FoN) patrol, the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet said in a statement, was carried out without requesting India’s prior consent and was aimed at asserting navigational rights and freedoms.

    “This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims,” the statement read.

    The belt of coastal water 12 nautical miles out from a country’s coastline form its territorial waters. The next 12 nautical miles form the Contiguous zone and 200 nautical miles out is the exclusive economic zone.

    Schematic map of maritime zones. (Wikipedia)
    Schematic map of maritime zones. (Wikipedia)

    The fact that this FONOP has come amid deepening defence cooperation between India and the US in the maritime domain has surprised many. But this is not the first time the US has carried out a FONOP against India.

    The US regularly carries out these operations not only against India but many other countries, including the Philippines, a treaty ally.

    While India and the US are close partners in the maritime domain and conduct multiple bilateral and multilateral naval exercises, the two have major differences on the rights of countries to stop foreign military vessels from conducting military activities within their exclusive economic zones.

    As the statement issued by the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet says, India requires prior consent for military exercises in its exclusive economic zone.

    When New Delhi ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) in June 1995, it said that, in its understanding, the treaty does not allow other countries to carry out military exercises or manoeuvres in its exclusive economic zone without prior permission from Indian authorities.

    While ratifying UNCLOS, India declared that “the provisions of the Convention do not authorize other States to carry out in the exclusive economic zone and on the continental shelf military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives without the consent of the coastal State”.

    The US says India’s claim is inconsistent with international law, and, hence, zealously challenges these claims to “ensure” freedom of navigation.

    The US regularly conducts military activities in EEZs around the world and justifies it on the basis of the UNCLOS text and international practices.

    Ironically, the US is yet to ratify the 1982 UNCLOS.

    Although New Delhi has not reacted to the news of the latest US FONOP operation has not said much about such operations against India in the past, it has clarified its stand on the larger issue on multiple occasions.

    “Our stand is that if you have to do anything in our EEZ, you have to notify us and take permission,” said Indian Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh in December 2019 after revealing that the Indian Navy had driven out a Chinese survey vessel that had intruded into Indian waters near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

    The statement issued by the US says such operations will continue in the future.

    “We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements,” it said.

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