If humanity ever suffers a Third World War, chances are good it will start in some locale distant from the United States like the Baltic or South China Seas, the Persian Gulf, or Syria, where Washington and its rivals play daily games of “chicken” with lethal air and naval forces.
Far from enhancing U.S. security, the aggressive deployment of U.S. armed forces in these and other hot spots around the world may be putting our very survival at risk by continuously testing and prodding other military powers. What our military gains from forward deployment, training exercises, and better intelligence may be more than offset by the unnecessary provocation of hostile responses that could escalate into uncontrollable conflicts.
The most obvious example is Russia, which top Pentagon officials like to remind us “poses an existential threat to the United States” by virtue of its huge nuclear arsenal. So it was discomforting to learn a few days ago that U.S. and Russian warplanes are experiencing near misses in Syrian airspace “once every 10 days-ish,” in the words of Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeff Harrigian.
The risk of war with Russia would skyrocket, of course, if the United States were to try to impose a “no-fly-zone.”
Potentially deadly incidents aren’t confined to Syria. In September, a Russian fighter jet flew within 10 feet of a U.S. Navy spy plane over the Black Sea. Six months ago, reacting to an increase in NATO war games and maneuvers, Russian aircraft buzzed a U.S. Navy destroyer conducting exercises with Poland in the Baltic Sea.
Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the United States would have had every right to shoot down the plane. The Russians, noting that the exercises were taking place near the base of their Baltic Fleet, insisted they were simply exercising their rights to fly.
A couple of days later, a Russian jet intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance plane in the same region. A Pentagon spokesman condemned the Russian pilot’s “aggressive” and “unprofessional” maneuvers that could “escalate tensions between countries.” A Russian spokesman said its air defense forces had reacted prudently to “an unidentified target rapidly approaching the Russian border.”