U.S. Foreign Policy: Strait of Hormuz Issues Require Careful Scrutiny

In The New York Times’s Opinion section, David Crist, a columnist, presented his view on the recent event in the Strait of Hormuz between the Iran Navy and the United States Navy. The Strait of Hormuz is a critical body of water as oil is transported through it.

The central concern of Mr. Crist involved the protection of the shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz.

After the 9/11 attacks, several European navies (as well as Australia’s and Canada’s) sent large forces to augment the United States effort in safeguarding the sea lanes of the Middle East from terrorism. The Bush administration should harness this coalition by asking them to let Tehran know through their own diplomatic channels that any attempt by the Revolutionary Guards to interfere with the free navigation of international waters will be treated no differently from a terrorist attack.

Strait of hormuz
Strait of Hormuz (Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin)


However, the issue regarding the Strait of Hormuz is not as clear as Mr. Crist argues in his article. According to Dr. Kaveh Afrasiabi, in The Asia Times, there are no “international waters” in the Strait of Hormuz. The shipping lane is in Iran’s territorial waters.

Moreover, Dr. Afrasiabi explained that the United States Navy was citing advantageous provisions of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, which the United States has not ratified, while not considering provisions that are within Iran’s territorial interests.

Given that the approximately three-kilometer-wide inbound traffic lane in the Strait of Hormuz is within Iran’s territorial water, the US Navy’s invocation of “transit passage” harking back to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, (UNCLOS) is hardly surprising.


Although the US has yet to ratify the UNCLOS, it has been a strong advocate of its provisions regarding navigational rights, thus explaining the US officers’ availing themselves of “international law”.




However, irrespective of how Congress acts on the pending legislation on UNCLOS, the fact is that the US cannot have its cake and eat it. That is, rely on it to defend its navigational rights in the Strait of Hormuz and, simultaneously, disregard the various limitations on those rights imposed by the UNCLOS – and favoring Iran.

Dr. Afrasiabi explains the conflicting provisions of the UNCLOS as it applies to the Strait of Hormuz. The major issues involved are the ability to navigate through the Strait of Hormuz and the right of a state to protect land and waters within its territory.

As a result of events occurring in the Strait of Hormuz, people of good will must apply careful scrutiny of issues involving this area.