Man with mine in water working with men in boat (U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas Bauer)
U.S. forces practice demining in Ise Bay, Japan in February, part of an annual exercise with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force to keep sea lanes safe for navigation. (U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas Bauer)

The United States continues to uphold freedom of navigation in the face of historic efforts to restrict navigation and undermine international maritime law.

In the Annual Freedom of Navigation Report to Congress [PDF, 349 KB], released March 10, the U.S. Defense Department outlines U.S. government challenges to maritime claims that are excessive and inconsistent with the international law of the sea.

U.S. forces challenged 28 excessive maritime claims in 2020 made by 19 different claimants throughout the world. The People’s Republic of China received the most challenges, due to its maritime claims in the South and East China Seas.

Other countries with multiple challenges include Malaysia, for claims in the South China Sea and nearby Strait of Malacca, and the Iranian regime, for claims in the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf. The Defense Department also challenged the illegitimate Maduro regime’s claims to security enforcement outside Venezuela’s territorial waters in the Caribbean Sea.

“The United States will uphold the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea for the benefit of all nations — and will stand with like­-minded partners doing the same,” the Defense Department says in its report.

Support for international maritime navigation rights is a critical part of broader U.S. efforts to maintain the international rules-based order. These efforts include encouraging countries to stand up for basic rights and principles to ensure they can peacefully coexist and work together.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has said, “The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winners take all, and that would be a far more violent and unstable world for all of us.”

“The Department of Defense will continue supporting a growing chorus of nations upholding international law and the rules-based order that has proven essential to global security and the stability and prosperity of all nations,” the report says.