The United States said it conducted a freedom of navigation patrol within India’s exclusive economic zone off the Lakshadweep Islands without taking New Delhi’s permission.
In a statement released on April 7, the United States’ 7th Fleet said the USS John Paul Jones, a destroyer ship, “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”.
This is in dissonance with India’s maritime security policy, which states that any activity within 200 nautical miles, falling under the Exclusive Economic Zone or Indian waters, needs prior permission from the country.
However, the US Navy rejected the rule, and said that India’s requirement of prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in area was “inconsistent with international law”.
The US Navy said its operation was an attempt to counter what Washington sees as India’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters. “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 added.
Noting that the US forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a “daily basis,” the statement said all “operations are designed in accordance with international law” and “demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows”.
India has not responded to the development so far.
Abhijit Singh, a senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, told Anadolu Agency that while the US Navy carried out freedom of navigation patrol close to the Andaman and Nicobar islands in 2015, this was the first time that such an operation has been conducted near the Lakshadweep Islands.
Manoj Joshi, a former member of India’s National Security Advisory Board, said it was “a mystery” as to why the US conducted the navigation patrol “at a time when US-Indian maritime cooperation is at an all-time high”.
Joshi said the act could have “wider implications for the future” as “other navies could also begin to challenge India’s claims, whether they relate to prior consent for military activity”, the Exclusive Economic Zone or continental shelf.