The US military carried out freedom of navigation operations challenging the maritime claims of China, Iran and 10 other countries last year, asserting its transit rights in defiance of efforts to restrict passage, a Pentagon report said yesterday.
The US Department of Defense’s annual Freedom of Navigation Report to Congress for the 2013 fiscal year showed the US military targeted not only countries such as Iran, with whom it has no formal relations, but treaty allies such as the Philippines, too.
The US military conducted multiple operations targeting China over what Washington believes are “excessive” claims about its maritime boundaries and its efforts to force foreign warships to obtain permission before peacefully transiting its territorial seas.
US operations challenging Iran were aimed at rejecting Tehran’s effort to restrict the Strait of Hormuz to ships from nations that have signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, an accord the US has not formally adopted.
The report covers activity in the 2013 fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30 last year, before the latest tensions over a near mishap between US and Chinese warships in the South China Sea and Beijing’s declaration of an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea, which Washington rejected.
The US carries out freedom of navigation operations by sending navy ships into disputed areas in an effort to show that the international community has not accepted claims made by one or more countries.
The operations, which began in 1979, are coordinated by the US Department of State and the defense department and are meant to be consistent with the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea.
“The United States will not ... acquiesce in unilateral acts of other states designed to restrict the rights and freedoms of the international community in navigation and overflight,” the Pentagon said in a 1992 Freedom of Navigation Report by then-US secretary of defense Dick Cheney.
US operations in the 2013 fiscal year also challenged claims by Taiwan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Oman and Vietnam. All countries except for Cambodia were targeted more than once.
Since 1991, the US has conducted more than 300 freedom of navigation operations challenging maritime claims by 53 different countries worldwide, from Albania, Ecuador and Denmark to Pakistan and Yemen.
Iran and the Philippines have been challenged most frequently. Iran has appeared on 19 of the 21 lists submitted to Congress since 1991, while the Philippines has appeared on 18. Cambodia, the Maldives, India and Oman also frequently appear. China has been on the list 11 times, the same as Indonesia and one less than Myanmar.