Exclusive Economic Zones of states, generally extending 200 nautical miles beyond the territorial seas, are zones of shared rights and responsibilities; this implies that the coastal states do have the primary rights to the living and non-living natural resources in this zone, meanwhile the foreign states are given the right of freedom of navigation and overflight through these zones, thus inhibiting the coastal states’ total sovereignty on this zone.
When it comes to military activities and their impacts on the EEZs, it wasn’t an important or consequential issue earlier. In recent times, the military activities of states and foreign militaries in EEZs have become an important issue to be highlighted.
The accelerating globalization, an exaggerated increase in world trade, a drastic increase in the quantity and quality of navies around the world and the technological advancements of different navies are some of the factors that have been responsible for increasing the number and scale of military activities of different states in the exclusive economic zones. This increased military activity of different navies has produced drastic and noticeable impacts on the marine environment as well.
Considering this increase in military activities in EEZs, another important point of contention also exists in the international arena. The legality of military activities of foreign navies in the EEZs of states is also perceived differently by different states, owing to the conflict in their perceived interests. Some states, mainly US and UK, perceive it as a legal activity to conduct military activities in the EEZ of any state, in the light of the principle of freedom of navigation. Whereas, many states, particularly India and Pakistan, strictly prohibit any sort of foreign military in their respective exclusive economic zones. This ambiguity is a result of the lack of a comprehensive explanation by UNCLOS regarding the legality of military activities in Exclusive Economic Zones; giving states an opportunity to perceive it as their convenience.
Many states in the indo-pacific region, particularly India and Pakistan, have imposed unusual restrictions on different lawful military activities in their EEZs; the demand of prior notice to conduct military activities, denial of the right to collect military marine data, prohibition of surveillance and reconnaissance operations and application of domestic environmental laws are some of the measures that India and Pakistan have taken in order to restrict military activities of each other in their EEZs. Out of these measures, the most important and prevalent step taken by Pakistan and India, and other like-minded states in Indo-Pacific, is that of applying domestic environmental laws. States protest against any sort of military activities in their EEZ by stating their concern about marine environmental degradation.
Considering this context of military operations, in this article, we will analyze the military activities of India and Pakistan in their own as well as each other’s EEZs, followed by the impact of these activities on the marine environment.
In recent times, both India and Pakistan have advanced significantly in terms of their naval power. The scale of naval activities has drastically increased in the last two decades, particularly that of India (considering their crucial interests in the Indian Ocean). Pakistan, owing to this vicious cycle of an arms race has also followed the suit. When it comes to the military activities in each other’s exclusive economic zones, Pakistan and India have been opposing the stance of UNCLOS. In this context, both countries have mutually agreed on a formal arrangement of avoiding operating in each other’s EEZs and informing the governments prior to the activity, if such a need arises. To some extent, this formal arrangement has saved both states from clashing with each other militarily in their EEZs. However, there have been occasional attempts to illegally initiate reconnaissance operations in each other’s EEZs, particularly from the Indian side. From 2016 to 2021, three attempts by Indian submarines to enter Pakistan EEZ were detected and blocked by Pakistan Navy. There haven’t been such recorded attempts by the Pakistani navy, mainly because of their policy of restraint and their simultaneous two-decade-long involvement on the western border which makes it difficult for them to initiate such adventures on another front alongside.
The military activities of India and Pakistan in their exclusive economic zones and naval exercises carried out by both states are of prime importance.
These naval exercises by both states are of huge significance, particularly that of India. India’s MILAN biennial military naval exercise in its Andaman and Nicobar command is one of the most significant and large-scale naval exercises. Pakistan’s AMAN multilateral naval exercise in the Arabian sea is also of huge significance. Other than these naval exercises, both navies are also involved in small-scale operations for protecting their exclusive economic zones and territorial waters against non-traditional threats like piracy, smuggling, and other illegal activities. Furthermore, both navies are also constantly involved in conducting surveillance operations to guard their territorial waters.
These activities of Indian and Pakistani navies in their own as well as each other’s EEZs have proved to be of huge significance strategically. However, more than their strategic impact, their influence on the marine environment is a major concern in the contemporary era. The SONAR used by both naval forces has detrimental effects on marine life. Even low and mid-frequency systems use high-intensity sound waves to get sonic images of the ocean environment; this helps in detecting and tracking submarines, torpedoes, and other underwater threats. Pakistan’s YAKAMOS Hull-Mounted Sonar System is mostly used for this purpose, as well as to detect mines during field passages. The sound waves produced by these systems eventually impact the big marine animals; marine mammals mostly rely on echolocation for their foraging, reproduction, communication, and predator detection and the use of sonar technologies threatens their survival. Furthermore, explosive detonations, mechanical and propeller noises, gun discharges, and live fires demonstrated during naval exercises are the biggest contributor to noise pollution in the marine environment, thus impacting their survival. Hal Whitehead, a whale researcher at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia stated that “the effects of the sounds on marine mammals could range from deafening, through hearing loss, to disturbances in feeding or socializing, to long-term psychological effects.” Other than a threat to marine mammals, oil spillage by naval ships, either accidental or intentional, is a huge menace for marine mammals as well as marine plants. Degradation of marine plants eventually impacts the oceanic composition, eventually impacting the marine mammals as well as the plants.
Considering these detrimental effects of military exercises of both states in their EEZs, it is necessary to generate awareness as well as to create mechanisms for controlling and regulating these negative effects on the marine environment. Fortunately, awareness is being spread about the degradation of the marine environment due to the actions of commercial activities at sea; illegal fishing, oil spillage, illegal discharges of wastes by commercial entities, etc. Simultaneously, just as the international bodies are being asked to address the ambiguous discrepancies in UNCLOS regarding the military activities in EEZs, the international bodies must address the impact of military activities on the marine environment as well. Considering natural resources as a global common, it is the responsibility of both India and Pakistan to develop effective strategies and mechanisms to address this specific issue.
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The Author is an independent Research Analyst, currently pursuing her MPhil degree in Strategic and Nuclear Studies from National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad.