Because society pays so little attention to the risks posed by our reliance on nuclear weapons, most of my posts try to illuminate those unseen dangers before they become obvious – and possibly fatal. Today, though, I am happy to report on a sign of hope in Russian-American relations. An article in Forbes reports:
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A groundbreaking training exercise ended late Tuesday after U.S. and Russian fighter jets crisscrossed the Pacific in pursuit of a chartered plane playing the role of a hijacked airliner. … The exercise was designed to test how well Russia and NORAD could coordinate their efforts in the event of a hijacking, especially during the critical handoff stage when the commandeered plane moves from one side’s airspace to the other. …
The joint exercise, called Vigilant Eagle, started Sunday when the Gulfstream, code-named Fencing 1220, left Anchorage and headed west. Along with [Canadian Forces Col.] Balfe, Russian Air Force Col. Alexander Vasiliev, U.S. Army Maj. Michael Humphrey and a U.S. translator were on board. …
All three observers aboard Fencing 2012 – Russian, American and Canadian – marveled at the historic nature of the exercise, which demanded a level of cooperation that was unthinkable during the Cold War standoff between the U.S. and its allies and the Soviet Union, Russia’s predecessor.
Vasiliev said he always thought the time would come when the two former enemies would work together, but he said he never expected to be Russia’s representative. Humphreys said the Russian fighters cruising alongside Fencing 1220 was an incredible sight.
Balfe called the exercise “a watershed moment.”
“If I’d been told 20, 25 years ago I’d be sitting on a U.S.-registered airplane with a Russian colonel as my counterpart, going over through Russian airspace on this exercise, I’d have thought you were crazy.”
Missile defense is another area calling for such cooperative efforts. Fortunately, as reported here earlier, NATO’s Secretary General has suggested precisely that resolution to this otherwise dangerous confrontation. May the small hopeful sign of this cooperative approach to combating airliner hijackings grow to allow that more critical action and all others needed to defuse the nuclear threat.
Member National Academy of Engineering
Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University