Monday, October 14, 2019

Speak Softly And Carry A Big Stick

Respect is earned, not given.

You negotiate peace with your boot on your enemy’s throat.

You don’t give a bully your lunch money, you punch him in the nose.

Speak softly and carry a big stick.

“A Russian jet came within 20 feet of a Navy surveillance aircraft as it flew in international airspace over the Baltic Sea …” (1)

“Tuesday’s intercept follows a January incident, when a Su-27 flew within 5 feet of a EP-3 Aries spy plane flying in international airspace over the Black Sea, forcing the American aircraft to fly through the Russian jet’s flight wash.” (1)

“A similar incident occurred in late November, when another P-8 was left in another Russian jet’s afterburners, causing that P-8 to roll 15 degrees and experience what the Navy dubbed “violent turbulence.” (1)

  • Russian jets have made extremely low level passes over US destroyers.
  • Iran has seized US boats and crews
  • China has harassed US cruisers
  • China has seized US unmanned vehicles
  • Russia has annexed Crimea
  • Russia has proxy-invaded Ukraine
  • China has seized the South China Sea in a fait accompli
  • Iran has resumed nuclear enrichment
  • NKorea continues its nuclear ballistic missile development
  • Iran has shot down US aircraft
  • Iran has mined tankers

I’ve heard some people say, stop your whining, this is just the way the cold war game is played.  That would be fine except that only one side seems to be playing.  We don’t seem to be playing and the lack of response is destabilizing the world.  Our appeasement and passivity is encouraging Russia, China, NKorea, and Iran to step up their territorial seizures and harassments. 

We have been speaking softly for far too long and our stick has become a twig.  No one is listening and no one fears our stick. 

Just as in football (real football, not that soccer crap!), where you run to set up the pass and pass to set up the run, we need to use the stick to maximize the effectiveness of our speech.

We need to begin using the stick.


(1)Navy Times website, “Report: Russian jet buzzes US spy plane over Baltic Sea”, Geoff Ziezulewicz, 1-May-2018,


  1. I'd imagine those P-8 missions are being conducted to gather intel on enemy capabilities and tactics. To that end: they serve a purpose.

    We learned a lot about USSR AEW capes and lims during Cold War from 'poking the bear'.

  2. "Just as in football (real football, not that soccer crap!)" - you mean simplified Rugby football with all the players wearing padding so they don't hurt themselves. lol

  3. Seriously, shoot a couple down as a good bit of practice. They will soon stop.

    1. While I have no objection to shooting down a harassing aircraft, we don't have to go quite that far. We could start by providing escorts for our high value aircraft and then jet washing any Russians that show up to harass, just as they do to us. We can drop flares in front of them. And so on.

      We can stop being passively pushed around.

    2. As far as the bumping of ships, cutting them off, etc...Maybe deal with that like the whalers and such deal with the Greenpeace types... Have a crew on deck with fire hoses. Id maybe add somthing like the "sticky gel" from your fiction...Maybe some hot pink dye(?) Or some other harmless but significantly annoying substance. Lacking that, a good solid bump rather than a turn away sends a clearly different message.
      The extra close flyovers, maybe barrages of flares?? Maybe pop off some chaff?? Dangerous to a jet intake, and would be a polite but direct warning to keep your distance. Im assuming that we already have a weapons radar lock on anything that comes that close to a warship...

    3. In fact, photos of a Russian or Chinese ship returning to port painted pink might be almost as embarrassing as ours with their rivers of running rust....!!!

  4. NK is afraid of US do-goodism, that resulted in Muramar dying in a ditch. Hence the NorkNukes. Iran vs. Saudi is the middle eastern version of medieval England vs. France wars, the US is a kibbitzer in that long term rivalry.
    China, yes, ongoing slap fight, mutual proportional harassment is called for.
    Russia, just have a USN heavy tug follow their aircraft carrier around.

  5. "Iran has seized US boats and crews."

    If this is in reference to the two Riverine Command Boats that were seized in early-2016, there is an important distinction in this example. All the other instances of our ships and planes being harrassed happened in international sea or air. In this case, our boat crews mistakingly entered Iranian territorial waters when they were seized. We would have done the same had the roles been reversed. But, we would have treated their sailors far better than ours were.

    1. "We would have done the same had the roles been reversed."

      ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is illegal to do so. Though they didn't know it, the boats were exercising the Innocent Passage procedure as described in the UNCLOS convention. Not only is it legal for warships to pass through another country's territorial waters (following the UNCLOS regulations, of course), it is done all the time. Russian ships pass through our waters routinely and we don't seize them - it would be illegal to do so.

      Now, go read up on Innocent Passage.

    2. Our boats entered Iranian waters only because of a navigational error. They never planned to enter Iranian waters and conduct an innocent passage. It became an innocent passage after the fact. And, because the ships became stuck in Iranian waters, it was a failed attempt at an innocent passage.

      My original comment implied we would have seized the boats and crews and allow me to correct that. Had the situation been reversed, I think we would have rendered assistance and helped them to get on their way and only seize their ships had there been a good reason to do so. But, I know we would have treated their crew far better than they treated ours.

      But, the fact remains that our boats and crews were in Iran's territorial waters when confronted, which is different than the other examples cited.

    3. "They never planned to enter Iranian waters and conduct an innocent passage."

      That's utterly irrelevant. There is no requirement in UNCLOS to announce or plan an Innocent Passage. If you're going to discuss this matter, I insist that you actually read UNCLOS since you seem not to want to take my word for its contents.

      " it was a failed attempt at an innocent passage."

      Again, incorrect. There is no such thing as a 'failed attempt'. The only way that the Innocent Passage can be invalidated is if the passing vessel violates one of the requirements of the Passage procedure. Stopping due to mechanical failure is NOT one of the invalidating actions. It is perfectly permissible to stop to make repairs. Again, READ THE DOCUMENT before discussing further.

      " I think we would have rendered assistance "

      You really need to come up to speed on the applicable international laws on this matter. To succinctly summarize, there are several international treaties and laws that REQUIRE masters of other vessels (such as the masters of the Iranian boats) to render assistance to ships and sailors in distress (such as a disabled American boat). There is not 'think' about it. It's a legal requirement as well as an ancient customary requirement. Here's some relevant information:

      “Other international conventions iterate this requirement and the attendant limitation. Regulation V/33 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 (SOLAS) imposes an obligation on masters of vessels who are in a position to provide assistance to do so. Further, Chapter 2.1.10 of the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue 1979 (SAR) obliges States Party to the Convention to ensure that assistance is provided to any person in distress at sea, “regardless of the nationality or status of such a person or the circumstances in which that person is found”."

      "only seize their ships had there been a good reason to do so."

      Yet again, there is no 'good reason' to seize another vessel unless that vessel violates some very specific requirements in UNCLOS. This is not some arbitrary action.

      "the fact remains that our boats and crews were in Iran's territorial waters when confronted,"

      Which, again and again, is utterly irrelevant as regards our right to be there and Iran's duties and responsibilities under UNCLOS, to which they are a signatory. Iran's actions violated the UNCLOS treaty which they signed and it violated several international laws as well as custom. Technically, by boarding forcibly boarding a US ship that was within its rights to be where it was, Iran committed an act of war.

      "allow me to correct that."

      That's fine. You made a mistake and misspoke. No big deal. What you need to do now is to read up on the relevant international law before you comment again.

      ALL of the examples had their own unique set of circumstances and NONE consisted of illegal actions by the US.

    4. There is a lot of its and buts to innocent passage. If you go back to the time at what happened, the USN was incompetant and while the intention was to travel from Kuwait to Bahrain, you wouldnt end up where they did if they had a proper navigation process. Like you see on TV Cop shows they come across 2 cars parked in a place where cars dont normally park and the police investigate more closely, they just dont accept that 'Were Lost and we have broken down. Names are taken and cars searched, maybe people are taken back to the station for further checks. Only after a deeper look can you say for sure , they are there innocently. Same goes with Iran, only after deeper investigation and contact with US that its established that its not doing things that naval vessels often do when near the territory of a hostile power.
      It cant possibly be part of the UNCLOS that military vessels can pass through territorial waters whenever they chose, there has to be reasonable purpose like going through an island chain or its part of normal navigation to do so.
      Another matter is the US hasnt signed the UNCLOS, so cant claim its protections. The reason the US hasnt done so is because they dont wish to be bound be various parts that arent in their interest to do so. To say that we 'follow' the Conventions is just nonsense. Its like a property which has neighbours on two sides. One side has a fencing agreement along the boundary which they both observe , the other side does not . The side with no fencing agreement then cant claim the advantages that the neighbours who are bound by an agreement have because it suits them.

    5. "It cant possibly be part of the UNCLOS that military vessels can pass through territorial waters whenever they chose,"

      Before you make a statement like that, why don't you read the UNCLOS document and then you'll know. There are no requirements in UNCLOS about having a 'reasonable purpose'. Your statement is completely wrong. Read the document.

      "US hasnt signed the UNCLOS, so cant claim its protections."

      The UNCLOS document says nothing about not applying to non-signatory countries. In point of fact, the US did sign the UNCLOS agreement in 1994 but has yet to ratify it. In the interim, the US has publicly stated that it will follow UNCLOS and has demonstrated that consistently. What degree of legality that confers is debatable. Regardless, Iran IS a signatory.

    6. The text I was looking for is this :
      "Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State."
      This part covers all vessels civilian or military.
      In the high seas the US Navy has a exclusion zone around its carriers and maybe other ships . Clearly for security reasons.
      Why cant any country have such an exclusion zone for security purposes around a small island with military facilities such as Farsi Island?
      This shows some of the territorial waters of the US that are closed security zones
      Notice the large area around atolls in The Marshalls . Others that are noteworthy are at the end of the Aleutian chain

    7. "Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State."

      The Passage procedure and requirements are well defined. Don't try to lawyer this. The US had every right to pass through Iran's waters, whether intentionally or not.

      "Why cant any country have such an exclusion zone for security purposes around a small island with military facilities such as Farsi Island?"

      The restricted zones you're discussing carry no international legal standing. They're for internal US use. Also the zones are posted for international air/water travel notice. As the definitions in your reference cite,

      CFR defines a Danger Zone as, "A defined water area (or areas) used for target practice, bombing, rocket firing or other especially hazardous operations, normally for the armed forces. The danger zones may be closed to the public on a full-time or intermittent basis, as stated in the regulations." The CFR defines a Restricted Area as, "A defined water area for the purpose of prohibiting or limiting public access to the area. Restricted areas generally provide security for Government property and/or protection to the public from the risks of damage or injury arising from the Government's use of that area."

      So, yes, Iran could have defined some such area at that location but did not.

    8. Its not lawyering....its the clear text ..right at the beginning. Lawyering is saying the US can use provisions of a Treaty that its 'not a party to'.

      And text supports Fighting Irishs point of view of not being a true innocent passage. We now know of course they were lost well before a mechanical breakdown forced a stop.
      The text says
      " Passage shall be continuous and expeditious. However, passage includes stopping and anchoring, but only in so far as the same are incidental to ordinary navigation or are rendered necessary by force majeure or distress or for the purpose of rendering assistance to persons, ships or aircraft in danger or distress."
      The key word is expeditious - it wasnt nor was it part of normal navigation for a journey from Kuwait to Bahrain

      Additionally Iran had declared that Warships require prior permission to exercise innocent passage
      "rights of the Coastal States to take measures to safeguard their security interests including the adoption of laws and regulations regarding, inter alia , the requirements of prior authorization for warships willing to exercise the right of innocent passage...”
      As Ive pointed out . Innocent passage is subject to ....

    9. Article 24.

      "1. The coastal State shall not hamper the innocent passage of foreign ships through the territorial sea except in accordance with this Convention. In particular, in the application of this Convention or of any laws or regulations adopted in conformity with this Convention, the coastal State shall not:
      (a) impose requirements on foreign ships which have the practical effect of denying or impairing the right of innocent passage …"

      "The key word is expeditious - it wasnt nor was it part of normal navigation for a journey from Kuwait to Bahrain"

      Their passage most certainly was expeditious until they encountered mechanical failure. Expeditious just means non-stop. It doesn't mean high speed and it doesn't require any particular route except a reasonably expeditious one which the boats most certainly were doing.

      "Iran had declared that Warships require prior permission to exercise innocent passage"

      There is no provision in UNCLOS allowing countries to require prior notice.

      This discussion is worthless and has gone far enough. No further discussion will occur.

  6. The better way is buzzing their ships and their spy planes. Failing to react makes us look weak. Over reacting makes us look like we're the problem. Responding in kind makes it easier for them to back down while still saving face.

  7. This is also a good argument for more numerous, low cost platforms. A game of chicken has a bit more authenticity when you are cheap and unmanned.

  8. Constantly sending American warships into the Black Sea to cruise along the Russian coast is a game. What if the Russians sent a warship into the international St. Lawrence seaway every month?

    1. The Black Sea is international waters (less the 12 mile territorial limits for bordering countries). Access is governed by the Montreux Convention. Further, only 1/6 or so of the Black Sea coastline is Russia's. Therefore, Russia's basis for objections to US ships is non-existent. US ships have every right to be there, subject, again, to the Montreux Convention.

      The St. Lawrence Seaway is NOT international waters and the Russians have no right to be there. A more appropriate example to support the point you're trying to make would be if Russian intelligence ships cruised off the eastern coast of the US on a regular basis - and they do - and we make no fuss about it. They're in international waters and perfectly within their rights to be there as long as the respect the 12 mile territorial limit. We issue no protests and take no actions.

      Your point is not only inappropriate but, even with an appropriate comparison, it proves the opposite of what you're, presumably, trying to prove. The Russians have, in recent times, conducted passage through our territorial waters (yes, inside our 12 mile limit) and sailed off our east coast with no reaction from us.

  9. Wholeheartedly agree, just not quite happy with the "responses" so far. Sure, dropping some flares or hacking a Russian computer would be nice, I want to show them that we can hurt them in ways they didnt know or thought possible. Not saying show off all our top secret stuff or shooting a Sukhoi down BUT could we just come up with something that would scare them a little bit more? Maybe messing with a Chinese or Russian satellite? Something more than just tic for tac, which would be a start! But I think USA can do better....

    1. By all accounts, the Russians have aggressively applied their jamming and ECM against US aircraft in Syria. There's no reason we couldn't do the same. Of course, that gets into the question of how much we want to reveal but it would be an option along the lines you're proposing.

  10. There was an incident back in the Korean war when 2 US P-80 planes attacked a Russian airbase in error

  11. I think you skewed the list somewhat by lumping in larger geopolitical issues, so response to just the high seas issues.

    “Russian jets have made extremely low level passes over US destroyers.
    Iran has seized US boats and crews
    China has harassed US cruisers
    China has seized US unmanned vehicles
    China has seized the South China Sea in a fait accompli
    Iran has shot down US aircraft
    Iran has mined tankers “

    I tend to be on side of no response to silly game playing that is after all reckless. I don't think particularity for the Russian and Chines incidents a direct forceful response is a good ideal (that is to the event immediately). I would be in favor of a carefully planed mirror image response. Russia wants to buzz a US ship behave nicely, but make a note and buzz one of theirs. It could still escalate I suppose but less likely than responding in the moment to something.

    On the South China sea. Until the US starts being ready and willing to spend on 'aid' like China is, China is going to expanding is area of influence. To do that are we willing to turn our backs things like corrupt and democracy – China is. Also combating China assertions mean commitments to help Vietnam and the Philippians what build their own islands patrol their fisheries etc. I means aid and support to countries who look the other way for China now.

    On Iran

    You mean the drone on the aircraft shoot down point? I guess it comes down to what is the norm for drones. I am reasonably sure it was in fact very near Iranian airspace and possibly inside it. Close enough for two conflicting claims that neither side produced an absolute smoking gun out of. So I suppose just find a reason to shoot down Iranian drones. Although of course if you normalize shooting down drones I am sure a plane with people will follow at some point.

    [Unless I missed a US release of the actual flight plan]

    For the others look for some ambiguous situation to exploit. But a large scale attack will likely only stabilize the regime and its hardliners. Sanctions are hurting Iran. Imposing them after withdrawing from the nuclear deal was bound to provoke attacks. Its seems to me not responding to provocation is part of the plan. Iran was stupid to not stick to the plan anyway and the provocations only makes the US side of the story look better.

  12. It is easier to play bumper boats if your ship is not made of sheet metal and costs 2 billion dollars.

    1. Maybe there's a ship design/construction lesson to be had there?

    2. Oh for sure. You have made entire blog entries on armor and single purpose ships so I won't rehash it here. If instead of the LCS we had Fletcher type ships, 2000 tons, and no Baby Burke radar, we could use them to escort expensive DDGs etc.

  13. @CNO heres a question... The buzzing of our destroyers, and the close passes...why?? Is it a matter of a fighter jock just having a testosterone surge, somthing a squadron commander cooked up, service branch leadership?? Or does it originate at civilian leadership level?? Im just wondering who you think is making the decisions on these incidents...

    1. " Im just wondering who you think is making the decisions on these incidents..."

      I have no idea who makes the decision to do this but I'm pretty sure it's not from individual pilot initiative! I'm sure it's planned very high up the chain of command - like at Putin's level. It's all part of his master geopolitical strategy. While we may not like it, Putin actually seems to have a plan - gotta give him credit for that!

  14. I think in the case of Iran the response is correct. Our sanctions are slowly strangling them and causing unrest. In addition if news reports are to be believed (a big ask)we responded to their must recent anti US provocation with a cyber attack that was crippling. So I think the current strategy there is right. These provocations are designed to create political leverage for what propagandists (among them our ostensible allies) will characterize as aggression aimed at getting relief from the sanctions.

    But yes, I agree that if any Iranian craft attempts to board or seize any US naval vessel such as they did with our riverine craft they should be fired upon. Regardless of whose waters we are in. The lawyers can sort it out later. The Iranians should understand that attempting to interfere with a US naval vessel is suicidal.

  15. CNO,

    I agree with you.

    Your list of actions and lack of US response reminds me of how the world thought of the US in the 1980/90's, up until 9/11.

    Then the US unleashed it's might.

    And now the US is back to being largely complacent.


    1. Umm, I didn't see the US truly unleash its might after 9/11. Or at least I hope I didn't. If that's all we've got, we are worse off than I thought.


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