In a not-so-friendly move, the US Navy has announced it conducted an operation to make the point of “freedom of navigation patrols” in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) near Lakshadweep this week, without deliberately seeking New Delhi’s prior consent.
The US Navy regularly conducts such patrols in the contentious South China Sea to challenge China’s aggressive territorial claims over its neighbours. But a provocative declaration of similar patrols in India’s EEZ, at a time the US is seeking India’s cooperation in strengthening “alliances and partnerships” to foster “credible deterrence” against China in the Indo-Pacific, has raised eyebrows here. There has been no official reaction from India till now.
The 7th Fleet of the US Navy said in an official statement that their Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones “asserted navigational rights and freedoms” around 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, “without requesting India’s prior consent” on 7 April. This, it said, was “consistent with international law”.
“India requires prior consent for military exercises or manoeuvres in its EEZ 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,” said the US Navy in a statement.
“US forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the US will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” the statement said.
“We conduct routine and regular 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,” the statement read.
An Indian officer, in turn, said: “EEZs are certainly international waters where shipping cannot be impeded. The US Navy does undertake patrols in EEZs of different countries but to make such a provocative statement about India is highly unusual. While India ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1995, the US has not done it till now.”
Indian warships in the past have chased away a few Chinese research vessels entering the Indian EEZ and engaging in “suspicious military activity” after suitable warnings. “Indian domestic laws hold that any country carrying out military activity in its EEZ must provide prior notification,” added the officer.
While a country has full sovereignty over territorial waters, which end at 12 nautical miles from the coast, it only has special rights in the exploration of marine resources in its EEZ, which stretch to 200 nautical miles from the baseline.