The evolution of spying

The evolution of spying

The downing by an American fighter jet of a Chinese “unmanned civilian balloon” – in Beijing’s version of events – which Washington insists was used by the Chinese military for spying, is an amateur rendition of a much older incident when, in May 1960, the Soviet Union shot down a United States U-2 spy plane while it was conducting aerial reconnaissance deep inside Soviet territory, resulting in the cancellation of President Dwight Eisenhower’s visit to the USSR.

However, the political climate that prevailed in the two similar cases is completely different. Entering the last year of his presidency, Eisenhower wanted to send a message of peace to the Soviet citizens. As Supreme Allied Commander during World War II he had worked harmoniously with his Soviet counterparts.

As for the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, he had in turn embraced the idea of “peaceful coexistence,” moving away from the doctrine of the inevitable military conflict of the capitalist and communist worlds. In fact, in October 1959, Foreign Affairs magazine had published an article by Khrushchev on the subject. All these goodwill moves were viewed with distrust by the establishments of the two superpowers, and were finally undone in practice by the U-2 spying operation and its downing by the Soviets.

Today the atmosphere is very different. Full of self-confidence, US President Joe Biden’s administration launched a campaign to “democratize” the “authoritarian” regimes on Earth. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sharply criticized his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi for human rights abuses at their first meeting in May 2021 in Alaska. At the time, Yang’s response was also harsh, warning that “there is no way [for the US] to strangle China.”

It is therefore not surprising that the downed balloon – whether meteorological or used for surveillance – assumed almost metaphysical dimensions. Blinken canceled his planned visit to Beijing. But there was more. “If China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did,” President Biden added in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday.

The crisis is constantly escalating. The US is going through a phase of radicalization. Meanwhile, in the opposing camp, forces are attempting to rally together. The way things are going, nothing can be ruled out. 

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