The U.S. actively protects its freedom of navigation rights through the Freedom of Navigation program
The Freedom of Navigation Program. The United States is not passive in protecting its navigational rights. It actively protects them by protesting excessive maritime claims made by other nations and by conducting operational assertions with U.S. naval forces to physically dispute such claims. The United States engaged in these activities well before the adoption of UNCLOS.18
These diplomatic and military protests were formally operationalized as the Freedom of Navigation (FON) Program in March 1979 during the Carter Administration.19 The FON Program was instituted to counter attempts by other nations to “extend their domain of the sea beyond that afforded them by international law.”20 every U.S. Administration since President Carter has adopted and pursued the FON Program.21 When President Reagan decided not to sign UNCLOS in 1983, he confirmed that the United States would nevertheless continue to protect its navigational rights:
[T]he United States will exercise and assert its navigation and overflight rights and freedoms on a worldwide basis in a manner that is consistent with the balance of interests reflected in the convention. The United States will not, however, acquiesce in unilateral acts of other states designed to restrict the rights and freedoms of the international community in navigation and overflight and other related high seas uses.22
The FON Program is relatively unknown to the public due to the fact that the vast majority of FON operations are conducted in relative obscurity, with a few notable exceptions, such as the operations in the Gulf of Sidra in 1981 and 1989 (challenging Libya’s claim of “historic waters” in the Gulf) and the “Black Sea Bumping” incident in February 1988 (challenging an excessive claim made by the Soviet union regarding its territorial sea).