Were the North Korean and Chinese interception of US spy planes legal?

I just read about how the North Koreans intercepted one of our spy planes. I realize that we were in international waters when we were intercepted by the Chinese and the North Koreans, but it seems to me that everyone is overlooking the fact that we were spying on them. I imagine that the US would do the same thing if they sent spy planes over here. I think that these interceptions are dangerous, but I would think that the US has some responsibility also.

I’m guessing there are international air safety laws which they violated, big time. 50 feet? They don’t even like the planes to get that close together when they’re on the ground.

Please remember that we weren’t spying on them. Our aircraft ws in international airspace and conducting surveillance. That’s not even close to being a spy. It’s being an observer. & yes, the military planes coming over to shadow the US aircraft is legal. What’s not legal is engaging targeting radar on said US aircraft. That’s known as a hostile act.

The interceptions, just as the surveillance flights themselves, are no more dangerous than your average aircraft flight provided nobody does anything stupid (such as hot-dogging & then colliding with the larger aircraft, or engaging targeting radar).

Talking about what is “legal” when nations feel threatened is really irrelevant. Something is not a “law” in the sense we all think of laws if all entities involved don’t recognize and abide by it, along with (usually) some sort of mechanism to enforce compliance.
China and N. Korea did what they felt was necessary for their own national security, just as the U.S. has done in the past. (Cuban blockade, invasion of Panama, etc.) I’m not pointing this out to compare the actions of the U.S. to those of China and N. Korea. The point is that when dealing with matters where the militaries of nations and their security apparatus come into conflict, self-interest trumps any “law.”

Aren’t you really just arguing semantics? A “hostile act” can be anything the target entity (a plane, a warship, an individual soldier) feels is hostile on the scene. If a Chinese pilot engaged their targeting radar, was any tribunal in The Hague really going to send marshals to arrest him? You can quote international treaties all you want; they don’t mean much when a flight crew or ship captain feels he is in imminent danger. In such situations, their instincts and training say to protect themselves, treaties be damned.

No, I am not arguing semantics. I am using the term “hostile act” as it’s been related so many times during military training.

Whose military? The U.S. military? Do we define “hostile acts” the same way the Russian military does? Or the Chinese? Or the Israeli?
The term “hostile” is a completely relative thing, from person to person, military to military and even nation to nation. This is why things like the Cuban Missile Crisis occur in the first place: both sides aren’t on the same page. Would the Soviet Union still have sent missiles to Cuba if it had thought the U.S. would regard it as one step short of an act of war? It was a misreading of the other side’s thinking on a vast scale.

Erm… the world outside of the US, especially Asia, probably remembers the first crisis of the Bush Presidency a bit better than we do. If a nation crash a spy plane on an allied nation nearby less than two years ago, somewhere expecting us to declare war on them has very good reason to assume that’s just what we’re doing.

Originally posted by Jacob_matthew

I don’t understand this sentence.

Please recast or explain.

[Iacob_Matthew] I wouldn’t call China an allied nation to the US. And I don’t see anything wrong with flying around in International waters listening to radio signals. If they didn’t want us to listen to the signals, then they shouldn’t be broadcasting them outside of their territory. The Russians used to do that to the US too. Also, sending up fighters to track the surveillance aircraft near your borders is also perfectly fine and the prudent thing to due, we had fighters tracking Russian aircraft do surveillance work, the problem occurs when one country runs its fighters into the less manuvorable surveillance craft.

Okay, calling China a US ally is kind of… stretching our relationship a bit. I’m just saying that you’ve still got to admit that it does make a good case for NK reasonably believing that it was intended as a spy plane, regardless of the actual purpose.

Of course they were spying on North Korea. Call it surveillance if you want. A rose by any other name.

I wasn’t aware that China had anything to do with the intercept. IIRC, it was solely an act of N. Korea, meant (according to western media reports) to provoke the U.S. It seems they are trying to stir things up a bit these days, intentionally poking at the great western bear.

Hopefully, they will not go too far. That country scares the shit out of me a lot more than Saddam.

There’s a difference between “interception” and locking your radar on a plane. Interception means that your fighters fly to the spy plane. They know you’re there, you know they’re there, everyone waves at each other, nothing much.

Locking your targeting radar on another plane is the equivalent of drawing a gun and pointing at someone. You can’t point a loaded gun at someone and claim that isn’t hostile.

Lemur866, I would agree that it was a hostile act. However, if it wasn’t an “interception,” then why is everyone calling it that?

CNN, BBC, AP, Reuters, NY Times, etc.

Then what are they doing there?

“Observing”. :wink: It’s one of those flexible verbs: he spies, you watch, I observe.

Actually, it seemed to me that the media was making rather a point of saying that they’re not considering it a “hostile” act.


Today, the Administration sez it was “reckless”, not “hostile”.

So. << shrug >>

Everybody agrees the North Koreans intercepted our plane; in addition to intercepting it, which would have been no big deal, the North Koreans also locked a radar on to it, which is a somewhat bigger deal.

And now the U.S. is moving 24 B-1 and B-52 bombers to Guam, and it talking about sending fighter escorts along with their surveillance flights.

North Korea is a big, big problem. Bigger than Iraq. I think part of the urgency of the war on Iraq is that the U.S. doesn’t want to tie up that many forces in the Gulf, in case they are needed to fight North Korea.

If the U.S. sends fighter escorts with surveillance planes, that’s going to put the ball back in North Korea’s court. If they send up fighters again and lock radars, what are the U.S. fighters going to do? They’re going to engage the North Korean fighters, that’s what. Not shoot them down, but do the same thing - lock missile radars onto them.

This is a gigantic game of chicken, and the North Koreans are nuts. If a missile gets launched in the skies, either by a North Korean MiG or a U.S. F-15, we’re going to be on the brink of war.

And here’s something to really make your day - the only tool the U.S. has to neutralize North Korea’s hardened artillery positions aimed at Seoul are tactical nuclear weapons. If the U.S. decides to take out the North Korean nuclear facilities with conventional bombing, they have to gamble that North Korea won’t fire their artillery at Seoul, because that would kill tens of thousands of South Koreans.

All in all, I think the current North Korean situation is potentially the scariest conflict since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

And to make it even more exciting…

North Korean Warhead Found in Alaska

Although the article doesn’t say, I believe this is probably the dummy warhead from the 1998 Taepo-Dong 2 missile test. But it does show that North Korea has the ability to hit the United States.