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US Navy operation in Exclusive Economic Zone of India without consent – What is EEZ? India US Ties

US Navy operation in Exclusive Economic Zone of India without consent – What is EEZ? India US Ties


  • GS 2 || International Relations || International Organisations || Miscellaneous

Why in the news?

In an unusual move, the US Navy recently announced that it had conducted a freedom of navigation operation in Indian waters without prior consent to challenge India’s “excessive maritime claims.”

What is ‘Global Commons’?

Global commons can be defined as areas and their potential economic resources that lie beyond any national jurisdiction yet significant for survival of all. Insofar, there are five defined global commons. These are:

  • The atmosphere
  • The high seas
  • Antarctica
  • Outer space and
  • The Internet
  • The High Seas are the international waters covering over two thirds of our Ocean that are owned by everyone and no-one.
  • The high seas comprises nearly 50% of the planet’s surface area .

International Ocean Governance: The Need

  • International ocean governance includes the processes, agreements, rules, institutions, etc. developed to organise the way in which humans use the ocean and its resources

The need of governance of high seas emerge from following reasons:

  • Composing a vast extent of the earth: Known also as Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ), make up nearly two thirds of the global ocean (that’s 45% of the Earth’s surface), this is of particular significance to the health of the planet.
  • Vital source of biological diversity: These remote areas of the ocean are rich in biodiversity and resources and play a critical role in ecosystem services such as oxygen production and carbon storage. Current estimates of the economic value of carbon storage by the High Seas range from US$74 billion to US$222 billion per year.
  • Subject to overexploitation, pollution etc.: Since they are beyond the remit of any single government to protect, they are subject to overexploitation, pollution and habitat degradation, which together are undermining vital Earth support systems.
  • Poorly Managed: These areas are notoriously difficult to manage with few laws to promote their protection. The laws that are in place are often weak and poorly enforced.

Global Framework of international ocean governance:

United Nations Convention Laws Of the Seas (UNCLOS) is the only international convention which stipulates a framework for state jurisdiction in maritime spaces.

UNCLOS: Salient provisions

  • The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) lays down a legal and institutional regime for the world’s ocean and seas, establishing rules to govern uses of the ocean, its resources, and the protection of the marine environment. It came into force internationally on 16th Nov 1994.
  • UNCLOS lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas.
  • The 1982 convention was signed by 117 states and it establishes rules governing all uses of the ocean and its resources.
  • The convention also provides the framework for the development of a specific area of law of the sea.
  • The convention is a lengthy document having 446 articles grouped in 7 parts in 9 annexes.
  • It also created several institutions for the purpose of governing the high sea . These institutions are- the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the Kingston, Jamaica-headquartered International Seabed Authority (ISA) and the ‘Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS)’ for global ocean governance.
  • ITLOS is tasked with the peaceful settlement of contentious issues submitted to it by member states while the CLCS is mandated to scientifically determine the maritime boundaries of states relating to the continental shelf.
  • The ISA is designated to oversee exploitation of resources in the deep sea area.

UNCLOS divides the sea jurisdiction into several zones. These are:

  • Baseline: It is the low-water line along the coast as officially recognised by the coastal state.
  • Internal Waters: Internal waters are waters on the landward side of the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.
    • Each coastal state has full sovereignty over its internal waters as like its land territory.
    • Examples of internal waters include bays, ports, inlets, rivers and even lakes that are connected to the sea.
  • Territorial Sea: According to the UNCLOs, a country’s territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles from its coastal baseline .
    • The coastal states have sovereignty and jurisdiction over the territorial sea. These rights extend not only on the surface but also to the seabed, subsoil, and even airspace.
    • But the coastal states’ rights are limited by the innocent passage through the territorial sea.
  • Contagious Zone:The contiguous zone extends seaward up to 24 nm from its baselines.
    • It is an intermediary zone between the territorial sea and the high seas.
    • The coastal state has the right to both prevent and punish infringement of fiscal, immigration, sanitary, and customs laws within its territory and territorial sea.
    • Unlike the territorial sea, the contiguous zone only gives jurisdiction to a state on the ocean’s surface and floor. It does not provide air and space rights.
  • Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ): Each coastal State may claim an EEZ beyond and adjacent to its territorial sea that extends seaward up to 200 nm from its baselines.
  • Within its EEZ, a coastal state has:
    • Sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing natural resources, whether living or nonliving, of the seabed and subsoil.
    • Rights to carry out activities like the production of energy from the water, currents and wind.
  • High Seas: The ocean surface and the water column beyond the EEZ are referred to as the high seas.
    • It is considered as “the common heritage of all mankind” and is beyond any national jurisdiction.
    • States can conduct activities in these areas as long as they are for peaceful purposes, such as transit, marine science, and undersea exploration.

India as a party to UNCLOS:

  • India played a constructive role in deliberations leading to UNCLOS’s adoption in 1982 and has been a party to the convention since 1995.
  • The country shares maritime boundaries with Pakistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
  • India is currently in dispute with Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to determine the extent of its continental shelf
  • India has also been actively pursuing deep sea exploration as it has been granted several licences for seabed exploration in the Indian Ocean.
  • For India’s ambitious maritime economic strategy ‘Blue Economy’, a rule based governance of international waters is immensely important.

Challenges in the governance of international waters:

  • Increasing pressure on marine ecosystems: The pressure on marine ecosystems and high waters are increasing with substantial rate. The deep sea ecosystems such as seamounts, coral reefs etc. are facing the threat of extinction. The global agreements insofar have failed to safeguards these sensitive deep sea ecosystems.
  • Geopolitical challenges: The geopolitical strategies have now upper seat as compared to the need of safeguarding high seas. For eg: All claimants States are staking their claims in Arctic and Antarctic through military assertions. The South and East China Seas are becoming zones of intense military tensions among different countries.
  • Anthropogenic GHG emissions: The GHG emissions have almost quadrupled since the beginning of the 20th century. This has resulted in reduced marine biodiversity, increased salinisation, acid rains etc.
  • Regulatory and implementation gaps: The global agreements are outdated and inadequate to deal with increasing challenges such as use of marine surface for nuclear plants, space rocket launchings, deep blasting for fishing, etc. Also, powerful states have not ratified the treaties. Eg: USA has not ratified UNCLOS.
  • Fragmented framework: The legal framework is fragmented into several zones. While some are legally enforceable such as UNCLOS, rest are not such as governance of Arctic and Antarctic, etc.
  • Lack of funding: The lack of funding is yet another challenge in global governance of high seas. There is no compulsion on states to fund high seas conservation efforts if they do not suit their narratives.

Way forward:

  • Commitment to the rule based governance order: There is an immediate need to devise new age rule based governance order for the high seas. Also, the powerful states need to ratify existing treaties to show their commitment to the global rule based governance of high seas.
  • Reduce emission and its harmful impacts on the seas: The pollution mitigation efforts needed to be taken sincerely by all. The existing mechanism to deal with GHGs emission needs to be strengthened and implemented in spirit.
  • Funds availability and increased study of seas: There is also a need to increase the funding for conservation of global seas. The studies need to be taken more sincerely and all states must contribute towards this.
  • Balanced geopolitics: The spirit of ‘global commons’ needs to be adopted in diplomacy in the right spirit. There cannot be the existence of any state without the existence of global commonalities such as high seas.
  • Cooperative approach for ‘Blue economy’: A proposer’s sea is in global interests. It can increase the global trade and commerce and thus, can be a significant factor in increasing global prosperity

Model Mains Question:

  1. Discuss the salient features of United Nations Convention Laws Of the Seas (UNCLOS). To what extent the UNCLOS has been successful in preventing inter-States conflicts on international waters? Assess.