Sullivan Presses Dunford on DoD Freedom of Navigation Plan

WASHINGTON, DC – General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, yesterday confirmed to U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the Trump Administration will more regularly and routinely conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) and has delegated the tactical authority back to military leaders.

“Can you elaborate a bit on the department's FONOPs policy, and if this differs from the previous administration?” asked Senator Sullivan. “For example, it was reported that Admiral Harris essentially had to get individual FONOPs approved by the [National Security Council] one at a time under the Obama administration. What's the strategy right now under the Trump administration?” 

General Dunford noted that Secretary of Defense James Mattis had directed a full FONOPs strategy for a “long period of time.” 

“Admiral Harris developed a long-term plan for Freedom of Navigation operations,” General Dunford added. “And that's what we're implementing right now…a strategic approach to Freedom of Navigation operations that does in fact support our overall strategy in the Pacific, as well as the specific mission, which is to ensure that we fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. And we continue to validate those claims where we see international airspace for that matter, or the maritime domain.”

Senator Sullivan made the following statement after the hearing:

“I am pleased that the Department, in conjunction with efforts from Congress and the administration, has established a strategic plan that eliminates unnecessary micromanagement from the National Security Council and also protects Freedom of Navigation throughout the world, especially in the South China Sea where $3.37 trillion worth of trade transits annually.”

Senator Sullivan has been a consistent leader on FONOPs during his Senate tenure, including sponsoring an amendment in the FY 2018 Senate-passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which declares official U.S. policy to “fly, sail and operate throughout the oceans, seas, and airspace of the world wherever international law allows,” preferably “with regional partner countries and allies.” 

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