Updated: Apr 26
"I wish to have no connections with any ship that does not sail fast, or I intend to go in Harm's way," said Captain John Paul Jones, a naval commander in the American Revolutionary War.
After more than 200 years of his death, his name is making highlights in the Indian nation. According to the United States 7th Fleet, USS John Paul Jones carried out to freedom of navigation operation inside India's exclusive economic zone approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep islands without requesting India's prior consent but consistent with international law. Indian readers were flabbergasted as they read about this on the official website of the Yokosuka-based Commander. In its exact statement, the USA 7th Fleet mentions, "India requires prior consent for military exercises or manoeuvres in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law. This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses to be recognised in international law by challenging India's exclusive maritime claims."
With the rapidly warming Indo-US relations, such kind of activity, coming weeks pose the USA led squad leaders virtual meeting and on the heels of a significant Indo-US naval exercise can only be seen as quite an unusual act. The dark intentions become even more apparent when viewed against the background that the "international law" being cited by Commander 7th Fleet is a UN convention that resulted from the third UN conference on Law of the Seas. An intriguing aspect of this incident is that India had ratified the UN Convention for the Law of the Seas in 1995. However, while approving this law, India had put forth a condition stating that any military vessels moving into its Exclusive Economic Zone will require to inform the nation as long as they carry out innocent military movements. According to the Americans, they have violated this particular rule to point out that no country is allowed to undermine the sanctity of international law.
Another fascinating aspect of this incident is that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's liberation, and precisely 50 years ago, the USA had sent its 7th Fleet to protect West Pakistan from India. Thus, the Americans sending in the 7th Fleet right now brings back the most visceral and deep-rooted anti-American sentiments. It would be somewhat ludicrous for anyone not to assume this as an act of "provocation" by the Americans. However, certain experts have disregarded this interpretation, stating that both the situations are highly different; back then, it was the peak of the Cold War, and India was an ally of the Soviet Union. Moreover, much has changed in the last 50 years and today much is at stake between both the countries. As a result, it is pretty unreasonable to jump to such conclusions.
The Indian spokesperson has come out with a somewhat optimistic mindset saying that the United States is a vital ally and such activities are to send a message to the Chinese authorities who have accelerated their campaign to achieve control over the South China Sea. China's creation of artificial islands in the SCS and misusing the UNCLOS are now known.
At the time of filing this article, neither the Indian Ministry of External Affairs nor the Ministry of Defence has made any official announcements about the US FONOP, and it's highly doubtful they will. The fact of the matter is that the USA officials need to use the FONOP rather carefully or alienate its friends rather than sending messages to foes.