The report of the Dutch Safety Board has been completed and released. Conclusions are that a Russian built Buk surface-to-air missile (SAM) of the type used by the rebels in Eastern Ukraine exploded immediately outside of the left side of the cockpit, killing the pilots and resulting in the cockpit and the first class section shearing off from the plane, leaving the remainder to plummet to the ground.
It seems that the SAM which has been identified by the Dutch is capable of reaching altitudes of 80,000 feet, far above the typical flight altitude of 35,000 feet for the Boeing 777-200ER.
The Russians disagree vehemently on the type of missile used, despite the fact that the village of Snizhne, where the missile allegedly originated, was under the control of the rebel forces. They suggest instead that it was a Buk missile no longer used by the Russian military but is in the Ukranian military arsenal, thus implying that it was the Ukrainian military which downed the plane rather than the Russian-backed rebels.
The Dutch believe that the Ukraine should have closed the air space above the combat zone to civilian air traffic. Given the downing of MH-17, it would appear to be correct.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
While closing the air space over combat zones is a prudent step to take, this case brings to the forefront another issue of equal importance: the fact that SAMs, which are designed to take out military targets, can also be deliberately used to target and take out civilian air traffic at will.
SAMs are designed to be able to take out military aircraft that can fly at altitudes as high as 80,000 feet, such as the SR-71 and others in the spy plane classes. As such, depending on which side of the missile you are on, the SAMs that can do so are a good military tool available to do a very necessary job.
To date, there has been a tacit agreement backed up by international law, that civilian air traffic is off limits. The IFF (or Identification, friend or foe) identification system tells the military whether or not the plane they see is civilian or military.
But do terrorist organisations and rebel armies have the same technology available and, if they do, would they use it solely to make the decision to disregard civilian air traffic as targets?
Given the advent of ISIS/ISIL and Boko Haram, both of whom have very brutal methods and total disregard of the normal conventions of war, as well as the growing strength of other terrorist organisations around the world who are obtaining progressively better armaments, it is only a matter of time before someone somewhere decides that threatening civilian air traffic from the ground is good, usable leverage to get the airline industry and governments to acquiesce to their demands. Then what do we do?
The reality of it is that the ways we have dealt with terrorists organisations, rebel factions and their armies, the social issues that produce them, and the people who drive them does not, and has not, worked. Both terrorists and rebel armies have been used in proxy wars between nation states and within nations.
There are legitimate reasons why rebels exist and have armies to fight for their causes within nation states. Internationally, we have regarded these as internal affairs and largely left it up to the combatants to sort the issues out for themselves. But increasingly, the rebels and their armies have become multi-national. Some have crossed the line from rebels to terrorists, some have joined with terrorists, and others were terrorists from their beginnings. As they have grown in size and strength, so have their treasuries and their abilities to obtain more powerful and accurate armaments, especially those which are portable, such as SAMs. Many nations – including the US, Russia, China, and Iran – have historically engaged these factions to fight in proxy wars.
What is going on in the Ukraine that led to the downing of MH-17 is that the rebels, with the backing of Putin’s Russia, is fighting the legitimate government of the Ukraine in order to take the Ukraine over and return it to Russia. Russia will not take on international judgment by attacking the Ukraine directly. It is using the rebels as proxies to fight the war for them.
In the case of the MH-17, the members of the UN need to hold Russia accountable for their supplying the Ukrainian rebels with arms that enabled them to bring down a civilian aircraft as well as their attempts to subjugate an independent nation state. To allow Russia to skate on this is to permit them to continue their persistent encroachment into the governments of independent nation states in their goal of regaining all of the nations they lost in the collapse of the former Soviet Union . . . something we should have never permitted them to do in the first place and should not permit them to do again.
There may seem to be time to address the future danger to civilian air traffic by rebel and terrorist groups which possess the capabilities to target and down these vessels. But unless we are willing right now to take on the nation states which are bankrolling them – including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China – we will find ourselves at a severe tactical and strategic disadvantage when the danger is breaking news instead of behind closed doors conversations between military and diplomatic agencies.
Conseil de sécurité: le Président de l’OSCE appelle les signataires de l’Accord de Minsk II à mettre en œuvre les mesures préconisées pour un règlement de la crise en Ukraine – UN Security Council (French)