On February 1, a balloon made in China was seen flying at a high altitude over the US state of Montana. Montana is the state where one of the three underground bases of active nuclear missiles of America is established.
The US government said in an official statement that it was a reconnaissance balloon that posed no immediate military or other threat but quickly retracted this initial assessment. China claimed that the balloon was a non-harmful ‘non-military aerial balloon’ that had strayed into US airspace.
But despite China’s claim, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled his visit to Beijing on February 3, which was much expected. After this, on February 4, the US Army shot down that balloon over the South Carolina coast and is now trying to collect its debris.
Not only China, but America has also been using such balloons flying high in the sky for a long time. In July 2022, NASA tested an aerial robotic balloon, whose job was to make scientific measurements of Venus in conjunction with a space-circling orbiter. In August 2022, the UK selected an American company to demonstrate an unmanned platform carrying out communications, espionage, surveillance and reconnaissance activities in the upper atmosphere. It needed a long-duration mission that could identify targets anywhere on Earth.
One American view is that the Chinese balloon incident is part of a much larger and worrying trend. To better understand the possibilities of using the atmosphere for command and control, surveillance, communication and intelligence, Lt. Gen. P.R. Read this article by Shankar (Retd.). Balloons can be much cheaper and can stay aloft for longer periods and thus provide continuous monitoring of targets compared to orbiting satellites. The way geopolitical conflicts are spreading in the world, get ready for the increasing competition in space. It can deeply affect India as well.
Beginning of World War III?
There is hardly any doubt that military activities are on the rise in the space, air and maritime sectors. If by chance, NATO also joins the Ukraine war, God knows what will happen next. Has the third world war started? On a cursory glance, it seems to be the same, rest we cannot say anything. Yet, only the historians who have survived can tell when it began.
It is unfortunate that the balloon, which the US did not consider a threat in its initial statements, has led to the postponement of the dialogue that was needed to prevent it from moving in a direction that does not bode well for the world. Wasn’t going to happen. America has said that the balloon case is a matter of violation of sovereignty, and till February 4, the second balloon has been seen over South America and that too has been considered by China.
Looking at the perspective of history, the world has again returned to its old pattern, and this time only its actors have changed. It includes various forms of power-show, which are mainly shaped by technology. Significantly, Nine countries have nuclear weapons, while only five countries had them during the Cold War.
Way, economic and technological connectivity is at the biggest level today. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, efforts to create divisions in the economic and technological fields have not only continued but have also intensified. Global cooperation is largely lacking and is increasingly polarized into camps led primarily by the US and China.