Thursday, November 28, 2013

America's Bear Run

A few weeks ago, the Japanese Foreign Ministry announced that the JSDF would shoot down any aircraft traveling within its airspace without permission.  Last weekend, China published a new map of its East China Sea Air-Defense Zone, which includes the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu island chain.  Every country has an air-defense zone, that is the territory within which they begin tracking aircraft, and often extends over the territory of other countries.  It does not normally imply any territorial claims, but in the case of the East China Sea the announcement aroused a passionate response.  Two days ago the USAF conducted a fly-through of the Chinese defense zone with a pair of B-52 bombers.  The B-52s refused to identify themselves to China’s air traffic control who tracked the planes and apparently identified them anyway.  Then China clarified its policy; the PLA would respond to incursion according to the threat it presents.  The PLA appears to have accurately determined the B-52s were on a mission to see what happens.  It’s akin to a Soviet-NATO game called “Bear Runs.”

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union would occasionally send a Tupolev Tu-95 bomber, called “Bear” by NATO, to test NATO air defenses.  Tu-95s would fly around Scandinavia, head south parallel to the Eastern Seaboard and fly back.  NATO fighters would shadow the Tu-95 to and from Soviet airspace.  No weapons were fired in anger.  And that’s what happened over the East China Sea this week.  China said “How do you like them apples?” and America responded “Oh yeah?  Plenty to see here, but it doesn’t amount to much.  Why do it?  What does a country like the United States or the Soviet Union get out of a stunt like a Bear Run?  Mostly, you see how a rival runs air defense.  The lesson of the Bear Runs of the Cold War and the B-52 excursion indicate that China and NATO would prefer not to start a war when they don’t have to. 

The geopolitical version of “I’m not touching you, I'm not touching you!” I suppose.

What do you all think? 

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