Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Very Best of Antagonists

"We have to remember that while we have pretty good intelligence on a lot of the world, a lot of other countries don't necessarily have that great of intelligence on us."
"So, in the interest of transparency and [avoiding] miscalculation on their part, sometimes it's worthwhile to allow them to have a look at what you're doing or what you're not doing."
Navy Captain Jeff Davis, Pentagon spokesman

"In addition to overflying military installations, Russian Open Skies flights can overfly and collect on Department of Defence and national security or national critical infrastructure."
"The vulnerability exposed by exploitation of this data and costs of mitigation are increasingly difficult to characterize."
Admiral Cecil Haney, Chief, U.S. Strategic Command
An OC-135B Open Skies observation plane sits on the runway at Yokota Air Base, Japan November 15, 2014. The plane has been conducting surveillance missions over Russia.

When cool, but increasingly cordial relations take place between former adversaries, as it did when the U.S.S.R. imploded and Russia was all that was left of the former Communist alliance of eastern European countries subservient to the master-state, and through generous impulse and a genuine desire on both sides to foster better relations, they become signatories to military pacts defusing the great tensions that had formerly been in place, the future sometimes brings regrets.

The future is here and now. An increasingly volatile, irritable, bullying Russia has materialized, a Russia frustrated at its loss of status as a world power. One which commanded respect through fear on the world stage until both fear and respect dissipated with the dissolution of its threat to world stability when the constituent parts of its totality abandoned its central authority to resume their former status as sovereign states.

Russia and NATO agreed to ensure neither stepped on the other's geographic toes. But then, distrust and fear on the part of Russia's former satellite states conspired to undo that arrangement when a rush to join NATO occurred. And when countries of the Middle East became violently unstable and the U.S. thought up its 'Star Wars' scenario, Russia saw itself as the target beyond the nice fiction that Iran was. Back when world conflict no longer consumed the focus of the globe, Russia and NATO played civil chess.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is easily bored, a restive man who enjoys action and a whiff of danger to whet his appetite for adventure. And he yearned for the restoration of Russia as a world power, equal to the influence of the United States. Resentment goes a long way to destabilizing once-placid -- or moving to that end -- relationships of collaboration in pledging to destroy clearly unneeded nuclear arms. Just maintaining enough as a comfortable 'deterrent' should anyone become too restive.

The Open Skies agreement approved in 1992 was a reflection of more trusting, comfortable times, now since dissipated. Enacted in 2002, it allowed for signatories to agree that unarmed aircraft carrying video and still cameras, infrared scanning devices and forms of radar could take flight over other treaty signatories' territory. A kind of reassurance for the updating of their intelligence, that nothing untoward and/or threatening might be taking place.

And now that significant untoward and world-peace-destabilizing events have taken place, and Vladimir Putin has taken great delight in leading his American counterpart around by the nose, even while other world leaders have all been given delightful instruction on how one autocratic and ambitious leader among them could send them all into paroxysms of fear-of-consequences, Russia has resumed its bad-boy position of yore.

So when Moscow signals Washington that it seeks permission for a spy plane with advanced digital cameras to gain flight over certain areas off limits under any other circumstances, a dilemma has raised its attention within the U.S. military establishment, let alone the White House. Since the U.S. carries out such Open Skies flights on a regular basis and Russia "has done it many times before", how now, decline?

After all, in 2014, American pilots flew Open Skies missions over Russia.

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