The US had not signed the UN Convention 1982, how their leading in this role (Operation Prosperity Guardian) can be legal?

They didn't ratify the Convention, they didn't ratify any agreements. Thay had only "signed agreements". I do not know what this means, because there are no other of countries who have similar markers...

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    Why do you think the UN Convention is relevant? Do you think it prevents non-signatory nations from seafaring, or maintaining navies, or defending their ships from attack?
    – Stuart F
    Jan 16 at 15:08
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    @StuartF OP has explained their opinion on that at length in an earlier answer.
    – F1Krazy
    Jan 16 at 15:10
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    @StuartF ofc, i think all the UN Conventions are very relevant today. Jan 16 at 15:10
  • @F1Krazy thank you, i love all my followers) and sorry if you do not like the argumentation according to the UN laws Jan 16 at 15:11
  • @F1Krazy An answer on another question does nothing to help users understand this question.
    – Joe W
    Jan 16 at 16:02

1 Answer 1


Freedom of navigation

In international law every state has the right to sail ships flying its flag on 'the high seas' and 'semi-enclosed areas' without interference from other states (and the states are free to sail their ships together if they all agree to it). This is called the 'freedom of navigation' and is found in law other than and older than the Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS 1982).

The statement from Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on Ensuring Freedom of Navigation in the Red Sea and other such statements about Operation Prosperity Guardian (e.g. UK Prime Minister Rischi Sunak's) refer to upholding / ensuring / defending / protecting / preserving freedom of navigation.

One law other than UNCLOS 1982 that mentions 'freedom of navigation' is article 2(1) of the Geneva Convention on the High Seas 1958.

The US signed and ratified this Convention on 15 September 1958 and 12 April 1961 respectively after the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1958 (aka UNCLOS I). UNCLOS 1982 was partly based on the Geneva Convention on the High Seas 1958 (there were three other sea-related conventions at the same time).

Even if a state is not signatory to UNCLOS 1982, if it has a powerful navy and interest in international trade it seems likely to consider 'freedom of navigation' to be part of 'customary international law' (as the US does) or behave as it has such a freedom.

The fact that a state has not signed UNCLOS 1982 does not mean it cannot depend on 'freedom of navigation' in an international law dispute.

Rules related to 'freedom of navigation' include:

The fundamental principle is that a ship behaving innocently and, if in territorial waters, proceeding continuously and expeditiously (barring stops for navigation or emergencies), should not be interfered with.


The Secretary of Defense's statement also alludes to defending against attacks.

Commercial ships are not routinely given military escorts!

Look at the circumstances from which Operation Prosperity Guardian has arisen. As a class commercial ships have been repeatedly threatened and attacked by the Houthis from Yemen. Attacks have come in the form of suicide drones, missiles, rockets and/or hijackers arriving by boat or helicopter.

One crew of 25 people remain kidnapped since 19 November 2023 and at the time of writing (16 January 2024) their whereabouts are not publicly known.

The Houthis repeatedly threaten more attacks, ignoring demands and warnings to stop (or suffer the consequences). This has been going on since November 2023.

In the circumstances, providing escort and shooting attackers does not seem disproportionate.

International law does not require the commercial ships to take a different route. International law does not prohibit a navy from escorting the commercial ships to deter and defend them against attacks by shooting the attackers.

It seems absurd to suggest any state would or should sign an international treaty that had the effect that the state must do nothing whatsoever about people repeatedly threatening and attacking its commercial shipping.

  • as i understand there is a key difference between 1958 and 1982. the regime of free passage through international straits and The 12-mile limit of the territorial sea - in this logic the US ships are in the territorial sea, and they are also broke the regime of free sea because 101 Jan 16 at 15:45
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    The right to innocent passage can be found in the Geneva Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone 1958.
    – Lag
    Jan 16 at 16:01
  • To which state's territorial sea are you referring and where is your evidence about where the US ships were/are?
    – Lag
    Jan 16 at 16:05
  • @άνθρωπος The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is 20 miles wide which means that if you go by the 12 mile limit there are sections at least 4 miles that are territorial seas for multiple countries.
    – Joe W
    Jan 16 at 16:07
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    1. The Houthis are not the internationally recognised government of Yemen. 2. They are not limiting their attacks to ships headed to Israel. E.g. Galaxy Leader headed to Indonesia, CMA CGM TAGE headed to Egypt. 3. The Houthis have not limited their attacks to ships in Yemen's territorial seas. They have attacked ships of the coasts of Oman and Saudi Arabia. 4. This isn't/shouldn't be a discussion thread about Houthis. You asked a question and I attempted to answer it. You should be critiquing my answer if you want to comment on it. It seems you're trying to push a point of view.
    – Lag
    Jan 16 at 16:53

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