In a development that has raised many eyebrows, the US Naval ship USS John Paul Jones that is part of the US 7th fleet has violated the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of India and Maldives by its “freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”). EEZ under international law or 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an area 200 nautical miles from the coastline of any country. Under the UNCLOS, countries have sovereign rights such as the right to use resources in that area.
The US Navy, in a release said, US Ship “asserted navigational rights and freedoms…inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.” The release expressively mentioned the ship passed 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands and by its freedom of navigation operation, the US upheld the “rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims.”
Under Indian domestic laws, prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in the exclusive economic zone or continental shelf is required, and by current action, the US has violated it. While the US is not violative of international laws under UNCLOS, which doesn’t give full rights over EEZ, but interestingly Washington is nonsignatory to UNCLOS. It is in fact the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) which is a non-party to it.
The development comes even as US Climate envoy John Kerry was in India with the release of US Navy being issued on April 7. No reaction has come from India so far, with WION even reaching the pentagon for a reaction. What is perplexing is that US-India ties have been marked by much warmth, both being part of quad and backers of Indo-Pacific vision. In fact, days from now Indian PM Modi will be participating in the climate virtual summit being hosted by US President Joe Biden.
A similar statement was issued for the Maldives, with the US saying, “USS John Paul Jones asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Republic of the Maldives” by conducting “innocent passage through its territorial sea and normal operations within its exclusive economic zone without requesting prior permission” The US Navy release claimed, “This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging Maldives’ excessive maritime claims.”
The Maldives requires prior permission for foreign warships to enter its territorial sea, and prior permission for all foreign vessels to enter its exclusive economic zone. It is interesting to know, the US Seventh Fleet based out of Japan was the same fleet whose carrier task force had entered the Bay of Bengal during the liberation war of Bangladesh of 1971. The aim was to intimidate India and support Pakistan but could not achieve much as the USSR had dispatched its 10th Operative Battle Group of its Pacific Fleet. The fleet had to abort its mission.