In conversation with Mark E. Rosen, international maritime and security lawyer at the U.S. Center for Naval Analyses @markerosen1
ROSEN:- The Chinese have been members of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) since 1995. The U.S supports it, even though it has not ratified it.
HH: How does it work when the U.S. carries out a Freedom of Navigation in Chinese-claimed areas of the South China Sea?
ROSEN:- The way it would happen is that a commander in the field would work with folks in Washington and look at an area where there are excessive claims and look for targets of opportunity to make an operational assertion to protest that claim. A U.S. warship or aircraft would go through the territorial sea claiming innocent passage. It would be peaceful and non-provocative, like no training of weapons or anything of that sort.
HH:- How carefully scripted is it?
ROSEN:- The actual transits are heavily scripted because military planners in the U.S. don’t want insertions to be regarded as provocative and warlike. The crews are given talking points for when they are challenged or queries. Basically they say: “We are operating innocent passage in accordance with the 1983 United National Law of the Sea Convention.”
HH:- Have any gone off script and ended up with hostilities?
ROSEN:- No (In the South China Sea). The item that comes to mind is in 1989 in the Gulf of Sidra (off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean) where Gaddafi had established an illegal claim. The U.S. sent in airplanes and the Libyans sent up fighter interceptors and two Libyan fighters were shot down.
HH:- Who green lights a Freedom of Navigation operation? Does it go as high as the White House?
ROSEN:- The missions are planned in the field and coordinated in the upper branches of the U.S. government.
Listen here to China challenging a U.S. Freedom of Navigation operation:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaKbZW0pqkM