NEWPORT, R.I. – Freedom of navigation in some of the world’s most uneasy waters was the focus of a conference Wednesday, hosted by the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law, U.S. Naval War College (NWC) and attended by legal experts from around the globe.
The two-day conference, “Workshop on Freedom of Navigation and the Law of the Sea: The Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean,” sought to develop a better understanding of international law concerning freedom of the seas – especially freedom of navigation and overflight for warships and military aircraft.
The workshop also cultivated closer relationships and synergy among the Stockton Center, U.S. interagency stakeholders, and international scholars and government officials on this difficult area.
“It’s a complex legal space,” said Lt. Cmdr. Peter Barker, Royal Navy, associate director for the Law of Coalition Maritime Warfare and workshop organizer. “Because part of international law is formed by treaties and part is formed by custom. It is very complicated.”
Nearly 30 experts from the United States, India, Japan, United Kingdom, France and Canada attended the event, including Ambassador John Norton Moore, University of Virginia School of Law; and Vladimir Golitsyn, president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
The workshop was also sponsored by the Center for Oceans Law and Policy, University of Virginia School of Law, Charlottesville; Law of the Sea Institute, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law; and Office of the Judge Advocate General, U.S. Navy, Washington, D.C.
“We find that dialogues with representatives of government and academia where we can talk freely about issues of mutual concern are very helpful so we can understand different perspectives,” said Andrew Murdoch, legal director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the United Kingdom. “It is useful to meet up with fellow experts on the law of the sea. It’s a specialized area, so meeting people from all around the world is good for us all to make the contacts for future relations.”
Workshop organizers concede that they may not agree on all the issues they discuss.
“This is to get all of those who have a stake in the freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean areas to sit down and talk about the legal principles,” said Barker. “Not necessarily that we are coming at this all from the same direction, but that everybody understands everyone else’s approach to the issues.”
“Freedom of navigation is important for all states on the oceans,” added Murdoch. “Where there are constraints on it and legitimate differences of views and interpretations, we need to talk to each other about those differences to avoid disputes and confrontations so these things can be resolved in a peaceful way. These workshops are very useful.”