Amidst the shock and sadness of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 and the outpouring of rage directed towards the pro-Russian seperatists who shot it down, we should not forget another disaster – the accidental shooting down of a civilian airliner by a guided missile. On 3rd July 1988, Iran Air Flight 655 flight from Tehran to Dubai was shot down by the United States Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes (CG-49). All 290 on board, including 66 children and 16 crew, died.
The USS Vincennes (CG-49) was a Ticonderoga-class Aegis guided missile cruiser in service with the United States Navy from July 1985 to June 2005.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17/MAS17) was a scheduled international passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was shot down on 17 July 2014, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board, thus exceeding the Iranian death toll by 3.
There is much discussion about “Who, What, Where and Why”
Firstly, let the British Gazette state some facts:
1. All civilian airliners are required to carry a serviceable transponder. It is a mandatory requirement for flight. The transponders are Mode S…ie they transmit their position as a GPS source and this is very accurate. It also transmits the flight number, height, speed and type of aircraft. The most basic of “apps” makes this information to the public.
2. A standard part of the training of a crew of any guided missile system – whether land based (the Russian BUK) or ship borne (the USN Aegis RIM 66 SM2 MR) – is to identify and discriminate between civilian and military aircraft. The only excuses for a military unit shooting down a civilian airliner are: if the airliner is clearly and deliberately attempting to attack the military unit or a target that the military unit is defending. If the airliner has been hijacked and is engaged in the aforementioned. Clearly, this also means that civilian airliners must fly as civilian airliners and be clearly identifiable as such.
3. That in both cases this fundamental practice failed is a condemnation of the missile crews of both nations USA and Ukraine.
4. The United States government did not formally apologize to Iran. In 1996, the United States and Iran reached a settlement at the International Court of Justice which included the statement “…the United States recognized the aerial incident of 3 July 1988 as a terrible human tragedy and expressed deep regret over the loss of lives caused by the incident…”. As part of the settlement, the United States did not admit legal liability but agreed to pay on an ex-gratia basis US$61.8 million, amounting to $213,103.45 (about £125,000) per passenger, in compensation to the families of the Iranian victims.
5. £125,000 is a derisory sum of money.
The British Gazette’s wider comments:
One of the things that should happen following this disaster is that civilian airliners should not fly over or near areas of conflict. British Airways has we understand ceased flying over the Ukraine a while back. Malaysian Airlines it appears felt that the saving in fuel [flying over and not around Ukraine] was worth the risk. Clearly bitter experience has taught them otherwise. Therefore the lesson is clear: that the lost lives of MH17 should instruct the managers of the world’s airlines NOT to send aircraft over or near such airspace.
On the issue of the conflict in Ukraine itself and Russia’s involvement in it; Ukraine is clearly divided – the population that identifies itself as Russian clearly wants to associate with Russia, whereas the population that identify themselves as Ukrainian want membership of the EU.
Whilst many UK based Readers of this organ make shake their heads as to why anyone would want to become part of the EU, we must look at the history of the state that is now Ukraine. Before the Great War much of the eastern part lay in Russia and much of the western part was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For most of its history the Ukraine has been a part of a wider larger state. It has in the past been part of Poland and also of Lithuania. The fact of the matter is this: a nation’s history shapes the views it’s people have of what place their nation should have in the world. In the view of most of those who live in Western Ukraine, that place is firmly within the European Union.
On the issue of what should the UK’s attitude towards the Ukraine issue should be is clear: One of disinterested neutrality. The law is clear. The UK cannot be a member of the EU. Its leaders should not be taking the EU’s side in this. Nor should it be taking Russia’s. As for the bellicose language emanating from Washington – IF the USS Vincennes (CG-49) did not have an excuse for shooting Flight 655 out of the sky – then the UK’s PRIVATE comment directed to the US State Department should be: Pot, meet kettle.