India raises concerns after US Navy's operation near Lakshadweep
India has relayed its concerns to the United States through diplomatic channels as the US Navy conducted a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the Indian Ocean region. During the operation, a warship of the US Navy's 7th Fleet entered India's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) near Lakshadweep without consent. The US Navy said the operation was aimed at challenging India's "excessive maritime claims."
India's Ministry of External Affairs said on Friday, "The Indian government's stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is that the Convention doesn't authorize other States to carry out in the EEZ and on the continental shelf, military exercises or maneuvers, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state."
Further, the MEA said, "The USS John Paul Jones was continuously monitored transiting from the Persian Gulf toward the Malacca Straits. We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the Government of USA through diplomatic channels."
The US Navy's 7th Fleet said in a statement on Wednesday that its Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer 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's requirement for prior consent is inconsistent with international law, it said.
The statement said that US forces "operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis" and "all operations are designed in accordance with international law." US forces conduct "routine and regular FONOPs, as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future" and these operations are "not about one country, nor are they about making political statements," it added.
The UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states that countries cannot prevent ships, either commercial or military, from using the Exclusive Economic Zone. However, Indian laws make it mandatory for any foreign military to inform before conducting any activity in its EEZ.
Notably, there has been increasing military cooperation between India and the US recently. Earlier this month, Indian and the US Navies participated in a joint exercise led by the French Navy in the eastern Indian Ocean region. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had also visited India in March and conveyed the Biden administration's "commitment toward strengthening the bilateral defense relations between the two countries."
It is important to note that the US Department of Defense publishes an annual Freedom of Navigation Report which the nation says identifies excessive maritime claims challenged by it. India had last been mentioned in the 2019 report, along with 21 other nations that included Bangladesh, China, Maldives, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Sri Lanka. The 2017 and 2016 reports had also mentioned India.