March 08, 2019

Freedom of Navigation in an Era of Great-Power Competition

By CDR Bob Jones

The U.S. Navy’s Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) — maneuvers that challenge excessive maritime claims and demonstrate America’s commitment to freedom of the seas — in the South China Sea have received a lot of press coverage over the last few months, most notably after a Chinese destroyer nearly collided with the USS Decatur last October. U.S. FONOPs have drawn theire of Chinese officials — one Chinese senior colonel suggested ramming U.S. ships conducting FONOPs. Yet these operations, and the unhappy response they’ve received, are nothing new in the recent history of great-power competition. As David F. Winkler documents in his book Incidents at Sea, one need look no further back than the 1980s, when the United States and the Soviet Union sparred over the same issue. A review of that history offers several lessons the United States can apply to its relations with China today.

The 1980s saw elevated naval tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. This was partly due to an expansion of the Soviet navy’s operations in the eastern Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and Persian Gulf, which brought Soviet and American ships into more frequent contact. The two countries held conflicting views on maritime rights, and each took steps to enforce its own position. President Carter initiated an aggressive FONOPs program in 1979 to defend navigation rights on the high seas and challenge excessive territorial claims, and three years later the USSR responded with navigation laws that refused to recognize any right of innocent passage through its territorial waters in the Black Sea.

Read the full article in National Review.

  • Congressional Testimony
    • June 4, 2020
    Hearing on the Crisis in Hong Kong: A Review of U.S. Policy Tools

    Submitted Written Testimony Chairman Crapo, Ranking Member Brown, Honorable Members of the Committee— It is an honor to be asked to testify to you today on an issue of critica...

    By Peter Harrell

  • Commentary
    • EUobserver
    • May 29, 2020
    China's post-Covid 19 'techno-nationalist' industrial policy

    While Covid-19 brings China one step closer to technology-perfected authoritarianism through improvised health apps and real-time surveillance, Europe is busy looking inward. ...

    By Rebecca Arcesati & Martijn Rasser

  • Podcast
    • May 29, 2020
    Hong Kong Crisis

    China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong to deter and punish what it calls “acts of secession or subversion.” Daniel Kliman, Senior Fellow and Director of the Asia-P...

    By Daniel Kliman

  • Commentary
    • National Endowment for Democracy
    • May 26, 2020
    Converging Chinese and Russian Disinformation Compounds Threat to Democracy

    In recent weeks the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) propaganda and disinformation blitz around COVID-19 has drawn increasing attention, and with good reason. In addition to pr...

    By Andrea Kendall-Taylor & David Shullman

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia