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For the second time since June, a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer conducted a "freedom of navigation operation" (FONOP) in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela on July 15. For the first time in three decades, U.S. warships in May conducted FONOPs in the Barents Sea near Russia’s northern coast. And with increasing regularity, U.S. Navy warships press the envelope of challenging Chinese maritime claims with FONOPs as close as 12 nautical miles from Chinese-claimed territory.

Before a mistake or miscalculation results in an armed clash involving a U.S. naval vessel — which could draw the United States into a serious conflict — we need to examine the utility of aggressive FONOPs.

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