U.S. can maintain its freedom of navigation rights in Arctic through continued application of FON program
In the early 1990s, the Defense Department began to publish its operational assertions in annual reports. These reports indicate that from fiscal year (FY) 1993 to the present the U.S. Navy conducted hundreds of FON operations to dispute various types of excessive maritime claims made by 48 nations.23 The United States has issued a limited number of FON protests regarding excessive maritime claims in the Arctic Circle, including protests of Russian “historic waters” claims in the Laptev and Sannikov Straits and Canadian regulations on transit through the Northwest Passage.24
The U.S. has made clear that it will act in accordance with the customary international law of the sea, including the navigational provisions of UNCLOS, and will recognize the maritime rights of other nations in the Arctic Ocean and elsewhere. When other nations assert claims contrary to customary international law, the United States actively contests such claims through the FON Program. No evidence suggests that any Arctic nation plans to hinder U.S. military mobility in the Arctic Ocean by making excessive maritime claims. Nor is there evidence that any Arctic or non-Arctic nation intends to disregard U.S. sovereignty over its territorial sea off Alaska.
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The United States actively protects its Freedom of Navigation rights by protesting excessive maritime claims made by other nations and by conducting operational assertions with U.S. naval forces to physically dispute such claims. These diplomatic and military protests were formally operationalized as the Freedom of Navigation (FON) Program in March 1979 during the Carter Administration.