Prior to the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, the Imperial German government placed newspaper advertisements warning prospective passengers that Britain and Germany were at war and that the Lusitania was thus subject to submarine attack. Warnings issued, the German goverment felt it had done its duty. It was wholly unprepared for the vehement foreign reaction to the Lusitania's sinking. The event was regrettable perhaps, but surely there would be universal understanding of actions taken for reasons of state.
Prior to the shootdown of the Korean jetliner, the Soviet Union had regularly published warnings, placed on maps, that aircraft intruding into Soviet airspace were subject to being shot down. Warnings issued, it, like the German government in 1915, has been wholly unprepared for the worldwide reaction of outrage. It could not conceive how offensive to Western and other opinion is the needless destruction of civilians. After all, warnings had been issued, a civilian airliner had been fired upon and forced down in 1978, and there were good and sufficient reasons of state.
Too much attention, it seems to me, has been devoted to the question, why did this shootdown occur? Given the Soviet cast of mind and Soviet operational procedures, the outcome was highly probable, if not foreordained, once so deep a penetration occurred in so sensitive an area.
First of all, the Soviet regime is tough, if not bloody-minded, about such matters. The Soviets are hypersensitive, if not paranoid, about security. Sakhalin, for example, has only 10 percent of the military assets located in the Hampton Roads area, yet the United States would surely not shoot down a civilian airliner that had strayed over the region. The Soviets, by contrast, are so determined to prevent intrusion of their airspace that they are willing to defy international opinion and the community of nations.
Second, the Soviets have an exceptionally rigid command-control system. This is reflected, for example, in Soviet inability promptly to turn off the politically costly submarine operations against Sweden, once they had been blown. When a Korean jetliner in 1978 penetrated so deeply into the even more sensitive area of the Kola Peninsula before being attacked and forced down, one can readily imagine the consternation at the headquarters of the Air Defense Forces (PVO)--in the Soviet Union an independent service. Reprimands were issued; court-martial proceedings were instituted. New rules of engagement were established, and warnings unquestionably issued that such an occurrence must not be allowed to occur again.
In the Soviet Union penalties rarely will be imposed for following the book. By contrast, severe penalties will almost certainly be imposed for violating standing orders--even for humanitarian reasons. Such an incentive system leaves little room for flexibility.
In the 2 1/2 hours that the Soviets tracked the jetliner, ample time was provided for ground control to refer the matter to higher echelons. The decision was certainly referred back to Far Eastern Command and probably to Moscow. Given the time available, the decision was probably made by senior military officers of the PVO. One can assume, though one cannot be certain, that the issue was not referred to the political level. Within the Soviet system, more trouble would be caused for the military commanders if the airliner were not shot down, than if it were.
Thus, given the nature of the Soviet system-- its sensitivities, its rigidities and its pattern of rewards and punishments--the outcome is scarcely surprising. It was not "calculated murder," but rather the natural outcome of the creaky Soviet system. Only those who disregard Soviet toughness, and have been prepared to accept a vision of the Soviet system as a mild, inoffensive, peace- loving state, can have been truly surprised.
The Soviet response to the international outcry has been somewhat bizarre. After initial silence and then fumbling, the Soviets have finally settled on the simple canard that the jetliner flight was-- however implausibly--an intelligence operation. Allegedly a camera with all its equipments was installed in the aircraft, presumably unnoticed by both passengers and ground service crews in New York and Anchorage, despite the displacement of baggage and fuel on a long overseas flight. The plane, however, flew above cloud cover. Moreover, even the Russians must acknowledge the difficulty in taking good pictures in the virtually total darkness of 3 a.m. There is simply no reason (even at high noon) to do inefficiently, and at great risk, what is performed efficiently and simply by space satellites. Finally, few nations metaphorically use women and children to clear land mines or divert fire in either battlefield or intelligence operations. The notion that 269 innocent people might be risked for such a purpose is foreign to the Western mind, if not to the Soviet.
As a cover story, this Soviet canard is as feeble at it is mendacious.
Yet, beyond expressions of outrage, the basic question now is--what should be the international response?
The Soviet Union may be a bully--brutal and insensitive--but it is a nuclear-armed bully. Moreover, it has the capacity to cause a great deal of trouble--in Berlin, in the Persian Gulf and in Lebanon, for starters. While we should seek an appropriate expression of regret and compensation, our response must be measured--and our limited means recognized. The episode should not be allowed permanently to darken the international climate.
In the halcyon days of d,etente, this tragic episode would have been handled quite differently and more quietly--a talk between the secretary of state and the Soviet ambassador, a government confirmation of press reports after a day or two. The Soviets may well be astonished at the drastically altered American style of behavior--with the secretary of state himself spearheading the attack.
White House aides are whispering that the episode confirms everything that Ronald Reagan has ever said about the Russians. Is our policy now primarily to be moved by notions regarding the "empire of evil" or the "Twelve Commandments according to Nikolai Lenin"? If so, it would imply additional trouble down the line--with our allies and with Congress, which remains quite restless regarding the administration's approach to arms control.
What the Soviets have done is offensive to the entire community of nations. Other nations must consequently remain fully involved. This legitimate issue should not be turned into a simple Soviet-U.S. confrontation. All actions need to be coordinated carefully. It may be possible to persuade most nations to withhold landing rights from Aeroflot until the Soviets acknowledge the culpability of their action. A more general cessation of trade, if it should be considered, must be temporary and have a clear termination point. Above all, sanctions should not be permitted to become a source of Western disunity--as so dramatically occurred in the pipeline dispute.
While others will urge that the United States do something, we should recognize the stringent limits on prospective sanctions and the need to maintain Alliance cohesion. With the recently expanded sale of grain, which is unlikely to be interrupted, our credibility in persuading others to take costly measures will be limited--and a potential source of disputes.
In 1915 President Wilson's protests over the sinking the Lusitania were ignored. The United States and Germany ultimately drifted into war. But war is no longer a sanction to be seriously considered against a nuclear-armed superpower. It is precisely what we must avoid. The quest for nonviolent coexistence imposes severe and clear restraints.