The US Navy on Friday issued a statement announcing that its 7th Fleet conducted a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) inside India’s exclusive economic zone without India’s consent. The US Navy claims to have challenged “India’s excessive maritime claims.”
The statement said, “On April 7, 2021 (local time) USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.”
“India requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law. 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,” it added.
The 7th Fleet further stated, “U.S. Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.” Most significantly, it said, “FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements.”
The USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) is an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer.
US Navy’s boastful announcement raises eyebrows
The statement, which was perceived as strange by many, has sparked much speculation. Admiral Arun Prakash, former Chief of Naval Staff in the Indian Navy, said on social media, “There is irony here. While India ratified UN Law of the Seas in 1995, the US has failed to do it so far. For the 7th Fleet to carry out FoN missions in Indian EEZ in violation of our domestic law is bad enough. But publicizing it? USN please switch on IFF!”
He further said, “FoN ops by USN ships (ineffective as they may be) in South China Sea, are meant to convey a message to China that the putative EEZ around the artificial SCS islands is an “excessive maritime claim.” But what is the 7th Fleet message for India?”
Geostrategist and author Brahma Chellaney said, “Nothing in UNCLOS (which U.S. hasn’t even ratified) permits military activities in other nations’ EEZs. It’s one thing for U.S. to conduct “freedom of navigation” operations in disputed waters, as in SCS, it’s another thing to do so in a partner nation’s EEZ without its consent.”
Chellaney went on to add, “US Navy’s unusual boast about “challenging India’s excessive maritime claims” is just that — a boast. Its warship merely sailed through India’s EEZ without doing any maneuvers. During UNCLOS negotiations, military activities in another state’s EEZ were a key point of contention.”
The issue is still a major source of contention in international relations because UNCLOS failed to clarify the legality of unilateral military activities in other states’ EEZs. In this light, it’s ironical that the US Navy should seek to assert its right against friendly India.— Brahma Chellaney (@Chellaney) April 9, 2021
USS John Paul Jones violated Maldives’ territory
The same US Navy ship John Paul Jones also violated Maldives’ territory, as per the US Navy’s statement. In another statement, the US Navy stated that they had also conducted an ‘innocent passage’ to assert navigational freedom in the territorial waters of the Maldives and its EEZ, without the prior consent of the Maldives government.
Days after participating in multinational ‘La Perouse 21’ naval exercise with the Indian Navy
US Navy had recently participated in a multinational Naval exercise La Perouse 21, with the Japanese, French, Australian, and Indian Naval forces in the Bay of Bengal off Visakhapatnam. The Naval exercise was conducted between the QUAD nations and France from April 5 to 7.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs and Indian Navy is yet to release a statement regarding the issue.