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At the time of writing, the threat of war between the United States and Iran has been quite high.[1] The United States accuses Ir an of making aggr essive approaches to its ships in the Gulf. There has been an increased focus on ensuring the passage of shipping thr ough the Str ait of Hormuz and the Gulf since 2019. This is in the context of broader tension and hostile incidents between the two nations, and also between Saudi Arabia (with its allies) and han. hr 2019, Iran threatened to close the Strait, and subsequently, several merchant vessels appeared to be the victims of limpet mine attacks. Iran did not accept responsibility for the damage but the United States commenced a multinational operation to protect shipping. France is leading a similar European operation, and Japan and India separately sent warships to bolster the security of then shipping.

This has created a number of questions as to the right to use force to protect shipping in situations where the rules of naval warfare do not apply. There is a question as to whether this right includes protecting the shipping of foreign-flagged vessels and a question of how much force may be used for that purpose, against what targets and for how long. While it has not occurred yet, there is a further question of whether it is lawfol to use force to open an international strait that has been unlawfully closed, beyond protecting particular ships.


Russia has been involved in a number of incidents in both the Baltic and Black Seas.[2] These include suspected Russian submarine contacts in the territorial seas of the Baltic states. Russia has also conducted exercises in the Latvian and Lithuanian EEZs to the point that they disrupted air and sea traffic, and ‘ordered a ship laying the NordBalt power cable to leave the area, delaying the project’. Another incident involved very close manoeuvering in the vicinity of a US warship in the eastern Pacific region. This raises similar questions to those preceding in respect of Chinese action.

In 2019 in the Black Sea, Russian warships and maritime enforcement vessels also seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and detained and prosecuted the crew. This matter is before an arbitral tribunal after a provisionalmeasures decision in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.3 This involved questions of the sovereign immunity of the Ukr ainian vessels and whether the law of naval warfare applied - which may have made the seizure of the vessels and the detention of the crew lawfill, but not their prosecution.

  • [1] Ian Dudgeon, ‘Iran and the US Avoid Wai' for Now, But Political Sparring Will Continue’ The Strategist (online), 9 January 2020 2 'Iran warns US Navy Over Gulf Incident’ BBC News (online), 19 April 2020 com/news/world-middle-east-52348099 3 See n 1; Mohammed Ayoob, ‘Is the Killing of Iran’s Soleimani a Prelude to War?’ The Strategist (online), 6 January 2020 4 Ayoob, ibid. 5 n 1 6 including the United Kingdom, Bahrain and Australia, Ian Dudgeon, ‘Why Australia Jomed the US-Led Coalition in the Strait of Honnuz’ The Strategist (online), 27 August 2019 www. 7 Sunny Cao, Sarah O’Connor and James Rickard ‘The 5 Domains Update’ The Strategist (online), 3 December 2019 ?utm_med 8 Sunny Cao, Sarah O’Connor and James Rickard ‘The 5 Domains Update’ The Strategist (online), 9 Shaurya Karanbir Guiung, ‘Indian Nary Escorts Crude Oil Carriers Transiting Through Strait of Honnuz’ The Economic Times (online), 26 June 2019 https://economictimes. 10 Note that Iran is not party to the Law of the Sea Convention (opened for signature 10 December 1982) 1833 UNTS 3 (entered into force 16 November 1994) ('LOSC' or ‘1982
  • [2] nn4 & 5 2 See ‘Submarine Hunt as it Happened’ The Telegraph (online) worldnews/europe/swedenT1174169/Sweden-submarine-hunt-as-it-happened.html concerning incidents in October 2014 and ‘Finnish Military Fires on Suspected Submarine in Baltic’ The Canberra Times (online) concerning Finnish use of light depth charges as warning shots against unidentified stibmerged contacts in April 2015; Lange et al., n 4, 16-17 3 Lange et al., n 4,15; Kent Browning and Abby Zeith, ‘Military Activities in Foreign Exclusive Economic Zones’ in Dale Stephens and Matthew Stubbs (eds), The Law of Naval Warfare (Lexis Nexis, 2019) 283, 290-291 4 Luke Courtois and Mali Walker, ‘The Five-Domains Update’ The Strategist (online), 11 June 2019 5 n 5
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