At the height of cold-war, on September 26, 1983, Soviet Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov was on duty monitoring the early-warning system codenamed Oko, or Eye. Its function was to detect the launch of an American nuclear attack. Its command centre was in Moscow inside a massive bunker beneath the secret city called Serpukhov-15.
The United States and the USSR were on high alert following the mistakenly shooting down of a civilian airliner by a Soviet fighter jet over the Japan Sea, three weeks earlier. To his horror sirens inside the bunker started to wail, indicating that Oko system’s satellites have spotted the launch of an American ballistic missile. Before he could recover from the initial shock Oko gave a warning for the launch of four more missiles in quick succession.
It was Petrov’s duty to confirm the incoming attack to the Soviet leaders. He was aware that the standard Soviet action would be to launch a retaliatory strike while the U.S. missiles were still in the air. He analysed that the U.S. should have launched many more missiles and not just five. Therefore, chances of this being a false alarm or a real strike were 50-50. He took a chance, didn’t report the strike, and averted World War III. Later investigations revealed that the Soviet satellites had mistaken the sun’s reflection in some clouds for the launch of American nuclear missiles.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, another Soviet submarine officer Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov had shown the presence of mind and a humane side to save the world from a nuclear war, by refusing to launch a ten-kiloton nuclear torpedo to target the giant aircraft carrier, the USS Randolf.
Moma, I Lost My Balloon
By now every human being on the planet is aware of the ‘Chinese Balloon Saga’ in some form or the other. China’s surveillance balloon first appeared in U.S. airspace in Alaska on 28th January. The Americans believed that the balloon would travel northwards. However, the balloon had a mind of its own. After two days it did something unexpected. It slowed down, and loitered over Canada, before heading south towards the U.S. state of Idaho.
In a week, the spy balloon traveled leisurely over various U.S. sensitive sites. It did surveillance, hovered, and maneouvered while all of America looked helplessly. The spy-craft passed over Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, which houses 150 intercontinental ballistic missile silos, U.S. Strategic Command situated at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, B-2 bomber’s home at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and many other sensitive locations.
The Chinese balloon was eventually taken down by an F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, on February 5, using a single AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, off the coast of South Carolina. However, shooting down itself is not that important. Important are these facts that emerged:
Some More Facts
The world is well aware that China has no qualm in breaking any international law, rule, or regulation. However, rules and regulations are existing to avoid China-style belligerence. Some more facts:
Not the Balloon But the Relationship has Deflated
The Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng on February 5, said that he has lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. Embassy over the “U.S. attack on a Chinese civilian unmanned airship by military force.” He further states that China will “resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies, resolutely safeguard China’s interests and dignity and reserve the right to make further necessary responses.”
Further, China hired the delusional Xu Xijin, erstwhile editor of Chinese mouthpiece ‘Global Times’ to justify their lies. Xu says— “Stratospheric airship is a new technology. It should be an airship tested by a Chinese private company, but it got out of control. Flying over the US is clearly not within its design. It is round, not boat-shaped, indicating that its mission does not include long-distance flying.”
While the Soviet leaders were brutal, they do not come anywhere close to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) cunningness. Some more facts:
Now the question arises when China has all the means of surveillance, including satellites then why balloons?
In the End – A Chinese Strategic Victory
China couldn’t care less if the U.S. secretary of state Blinken cancelled his high-profile China visit. Chinese President for life Xi Jinping is high on his material success and well aware that American companies would continue to do business as usual. With the balloon episode in the foreground, China has achieved the following strategic aims:
With this China has moved one more step closer to its aim of unification with Taiwan. The United States should not forget that China has conned them to take a major strategic shift on their behalf with just a balloon. Last but not the least — this is China and there is no Stanislav Petrov in PLA, waiting to save the humanity from next flash war.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.
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