Flying the unfriendly skies

US Navy/Seaman Marco Villasana

Aircraft fly in formation during a demonstration above the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in the Pacific Ocean, April 20, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • Two surface-to-air missiles were fired from Syria at a Russian passenger jet this week.

    Tweet This

  • How far are we from a future in which there are many more “no-go zones”?

    Tweet This

  • A general breakdown in today’s global security environment seems more and more our likely future.

    Tweet This

In the talks I give to business groups on global risk, I try to describe a world in which today’s international system has broken down. Since it’s an abstract (some would say far-fetched) concept, one of the examples I use is commerical airflight. I note that no one worries about hopping on a jet to visit Paris or attend a conference in Beijing. I also note the international opprobrium heaped on the USSR when it shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983, killing 269 passengers. In addition, I’ll mention a recent flight I took from Istanbul to Singapore; the first five hours of the trip went through the airspace of Syria, Iran, and Pakistan, before hitting India. I wasn’t worried, I tell the audience, because there are still international rules broadly accepted with enough threat of retribution that flying even over many dangerous areas or conflict zones is safe. Some of the business executives in my audiences nod, while others think my example is unbelievable or irrelevant. 

Maybe they’ll think twice, after reports came out this week that two surface-to-air missiles were fired from Syria at a Russian passenger jet. There is still a great deal that is unknown about this incident: whether missiles actually were launched, whether the plane was deliberately targeted, if the pilots took (or could have taken) evasive action in a civilian airliner, etc. Yet this may well be a harbinger of the future. Intelligence agencies around the world have been worried by the fact that up to 15,000 MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems) went missing in Libya after the fall of Moammar Qaddafi in 2011. Proliferation of these shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles could alter air travel as we know it, if even a few dozen landed in the wrong hands and were used to bring down civilian planes. 

There is also a broader issue, the question of living in a riskier world, where states are unwilling or unable to protect their citizens, or where threats are far more fluid than a Soviet fighter pilot deciding to fire on a Korean airliner. How far are we from a future in which there are many more “no-go zones” because we can’t control what happens in the skies above them, let alone on the ground? Cutting our defense budget is just part of the changing equation of the world we have grown up in and whose general security we take for granted. The attacks of 9/11 were the wake-up call to a security environment that had already changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War, and which had utterly overwhelmed our governments. A dozen years on, the breakdown in security is spreading, as authoritarian regimes such as Syria fragment, rogue states such as North Korea perfect nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs, and major countries such as China use their newfound strength to push assertively on their territorial claims. 

I’m not saying we won’t be able to fly to London in a decade’s time, but a general breakdown in today’s global security environment seems more and more our likely future. Some things we don’t think twice about, our children may not even contemplate. Russia’s apparently lucky air travelers are among the first to realize this.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Auslin

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 20
    MON
  • 21
    TUE
  • 22
    WED
  • 23
    THU
  • 24
    FRI
Monday, October 20, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Warfare beneath the waves: The undersea domain in Asia

We welcome you to join us for a panel discussion of the undersea military competition occurring in Asia and what it means for the United States and its allies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters

AEI’s Election Watch is back! Please join us for two sessions of the longest-running election program in Washington, DC. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 | 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
What now for the Common Core?

We welcome you to join us at AEI for a discussion of what’s next for the Common Core.

Thursday, October 23, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Brazil’s presidential election: Real challenges, real choices

Please join AEI for a discussion examining each candidate’s platform and prospects for victory and the impact that a possible shift toward free-market policies in Brazil might have on South America as a whole.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.