Shailesh Kumar, National Defence
New Delhi, 10 April 2021
US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones type DDG 53 sailed through India’s Exclusive Economic Zone on 07th April without intimating India about the passage. Indian Government raised concerns about incident to the US Government. The big question is — why did US warship deliberately violated Indian rules and not informed the Indian Navy or Indian Government at a time when both countries relations gaining proximity and a strategic ‘Quad’ taking a structured shape. Was it a message to China?
US embassy spokesperson in a statement told your channel national Defence, “Earlier this week, the USS John Paul Jones, part of the 7th fleet conducted a routine Freedom of Navigation operation in the Indian Ocean. This operation demonstrates longstanding U.S. support for international law and freedom of the seas worldwide”.
“We value our partnership with India on a wide range of issues, including regional security across the Indo-Pacific”.
The commander of US’ 7th Fleet in a press release earlier 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”.
“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”.
“We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (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”.
Eye brows were raise in New Delhi following the news that went viral. According to UNCLOS 1982, to which India is a signatory, waters upto 12 nautical miles of a coastline is that country’s sovereign (territorial) waters and between 12 and 200 nautical miles its Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ).
Both India and China have made their own rules with regard to this despite being a signatory to the international convention. India says foreign vessels travelling through India’s EEZ has to give prior notification while People’s Republic of China says foreign countries would need permission from Beijing.
While innocent passage of foreign ships, including navies, through EEZ is allowed by India, no commercial or research activities, including fishing, is allowed.
Following the uproar, Ministry of External Affairs raised issue with US Government. MEA in a statement said, “The Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is that the Convention does not authorise other States to carry out in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state”.
“The USS John Paul Jones was continuously monitored transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits. We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the Government of U.S.A through diplomatic channels”.
Indian Defence experts claim that while US has not violated the international law but offended Indian rules. Bharat Karnard, Emeritus Professor in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research says, “This is not Chinese waters, this is not Taiwan straits. These are Lakshdweep Islands, water rounded that are manifested in Indian territory not disputed by anybody while Taiwan Strait is a disputed maritime territory. So, US embassy statement doesn’t make any sense because its courtesy demands that US should not take things for granted. Not take their strategic partners, even the allies that they take for granted, that they have done in past. Thats their normal thing of doing things”.
“This is not something that we should allow America to get into habit of doing; Because this really means. that India then gradually looses its sovereignty. If the United States then other allies and other partners go through Indian waters as they felt they are friendly country so we can do what we want. No. Thats not how it happens. You have to have permission from Indian Government to pass through Indian waters. That is therefore this is not simply something that should be tolerated. Because it will set a precedent. If we do not protest. Its a good thing that MEA has protested the passage of warship through Indian waters. We should maintain very strongly that United States can not do this in future without permission, ‘expressed permission’ from the Indian Government, Bharat Karnad added.