As North Korea dangerously escalates regional and global tensions with its fourth nuclear detonation, the United States can ill afford further strategic ambiguity in its intentions and policies in East Asia. Yet, that is precisely what the Obama administration is offering in its muted and somewhat muddled response to China’s expansionist actions.
With Beijing accelerating its unlawful island-building and assertion of sovereignty in regional waters last year, members of Congress and policy experts pressed the Obama administration to ensure freedom of the seas as traditionally guaranteed by the U.S. Navy.
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain and others called repeatedly for a Freedom of Navigation operation (FONOP) in the international waters within twelve miles of China’s latest construction site (an area also claimed by other countries).
Congress urged the administration to disabuse Beijing of any idea that it could unilaterally create new rights for itself in violation of the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS) or customary international law.