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Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP)

Topics Covered: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.

Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP):


The US Navy has publicly declared it conducted “freedom of navigation operations” in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) near Lakshadweep earlier this week, without deliberately seeking New Delhi’s prior consent.

  • However, India has protested this decision, rejecting the U.S.’s claim that its domestic maritime law was in violation of international law- (the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)).


India’s domestic laws hold any country carrying out military maneuvers in its EEZ must provide prior notification.

  • While a country has full sovereignty over its territorial waters, which end at 12 nautical miles from the coast, it only has special rights in exploration and use of marine resources in its EEZ, which stretch to 200 nautical miles from the baseline.

What’s the issue?

The US said, India’s requirement of prior consent is inconsistent with international laws and the “freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs)”.

  • The US — which has not ratified the UNCLOS unlike India, China and many other countries — does regularly conduct FONOPs in the contentious South China Sea to challenge China’s aggressive territorial claims as well as in other areas including the Indian Ocean Region.

What’s the concern now?

The “tone and tenor of the aggressive public declaration” of FONOPs in India’s EEZ, at a time when the US is seeking India’s closer cooperation through the Quad and other mechanisms to foster “credible deterrence” against China in the Indo-Pacific, raised the hackles of the Indian security establishment.

What is FONOP?

Freedom of Navigation Operations involves passages conducted by the US Navy through waters claimed by coastal nations as their exclusive territory.

  • According to the US Department of Defense (DoD), the FON Program has existed for 40 years, and “continuously reaffirmed the United States’ policy of exercising and asserting its navigation and overflight rights and freedoms around the world”.
  • These “assertions communicate that the United States does not acquiesce to the excessive maritime claims of other nations, and thus prevents those claims from becoming accepted in international law”.


Prelims Link:

  1. What is UNCLOS?
  2. What is EEZ?
  3. About FONOP.

Mains Link:

Discuss the significance of Exclusive Economic Zone.

Sources: the Hindu.