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Freedom Of Navigation

The Reagan Administration's "United States Oceans Policy" statement of 10 March 1983 " the United States will exercise and assert its and over-flight rights and freedoms on a worldwide basis.... The United States will not... acquiesce in acts of other states designed to restrict the rights and freedoms of the international community in navigation and overflight and other related high seas uses."

The ability to move US forces when and where they are needed depends upon unfettered access to the world's oceans and international airspace. To ensure access as a matter of legal right, U.S. naval forces in 1997 conducted more than 20 operations to protest excessive maritime claims, in support of the President's Freedom of Navigation Program. These assertions supported the U.S. foreign policy objective of adherence by all nations to the International Law of the Sea.

For decades, coastal states considered three nautical miles as the limit of their territorial seas. After 1930 (coincident with the Hague Convention of 1930)1, states began making increasingly larger claims as to the breadth of their territorial waters. In 1979, during negotiations for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Carter Administration established a formal Freedom of Navigation (FON) program for making periodic challenges to excessive claims. The FON program is jointly administered by the Department of State and the Department of Defense, and implemented by the US Navy. By 1986, the FON program made over 300 specific challenges to excessive territorial sea claims of more than 40 countries.

Although the United States remains a non-signatory of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the US strongly supports, and adheres to, all portions of the Convention regarding navigation on and over the high seas, rights of innocent passage through territorial seas, and rights of transit passage through international straits. The U.S. Freedom of Navigation (FON) program is designed to exercise those rights and ensure that customary adherence to excessive sea claims do not, by default, become international law. Implementation of the FON program has been successful, but leaves considerable room for improvement. Much of the FON program remains classified which has, more than once, led to a misunderstanding of what the FON program is trying to accomplish.

Country Excessive Maritime Claim
Argentina* Notification required before foreign warships transit the Strait of Magellan or transit in innocent passage through territorial sea
Brazil* Restrictions on military operations and maneuvers in EEZ
Burma Excessive straight baselines; permission required for foreign warships to enter territorial sea; security jurisdiction in contiguous zone; restrictions on navigation and overflight in EEZ
China* Jurisdiction over airspace above EEZ; domestic law criminalizing survey activity by foreign entities in EEZ; excessive straight baselines; prior permission required for innocent passage of foreign military ships through territorial sea
Cambodia Excessive straight baselines; security jurisdiction in contiguous zone
Ecuador* Excessive territorial sea and national airspace claims
India* Authorization required for military exercises or maneuvers in EEZ; prior notification required for foreign warships to enter territorial sea
Indonesia* Partial designation of archipelagic sea lanes; prior notification required for foreign warships to enter territorial sea and archipelagic waters
Iran* Restrictions on right of transit passage through Strait of Hormuz to signatories of the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea; permission required for innocent passage of foreign military ships through territorial sea; prohibition on foreign military activities and practices in the EEZ
Malaysia* Authorization required for nuclear powered ships to enter the territorial sea; authorization required for military exercises or maneuvers in EEZ
Maldives* Permission required for foreign vessels to enter EEZ; permission required for foreign warships, nuclear powered ships and ships carrying nuclear or noxious substances to enter territorial sea
Oman* Requirement for innocent passage with permission through the Strait of Hormuz (an international strait)
Taiwan* Excessive straight baselines; prior notification required for foreign military or government vessels to enter territorial sea
Thailand Excessive straight baselines
Vietnam* Excessive straight baselines; authorization required for foreign warships to enter territorial sea and contiguous zone; security jurisdiction in contiguous zone; requirement to place weapons in non-operative positions before entering contiguous zone
* designates multiple challenges to the claim during FY 11 (1 Oct 10-30 Sep 11)



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Page last modified: 27-02-2017 19:46:41 ZULU