"An Analysis of the Bilateral United States/Soviet Union Navy Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA)"
by Amy K. East
On a steamy day in July of 1991, I brimmed with excitement as I made my way down to Mayport Naval Station, in Florida, to witness a historic event. As a gesture of goodwill and friendship, the United States Navy was playing host to the Soviets as they brought several of their naval warships to visit an American port. This was the Soviet fleet’s fourth U.S. port visit since the end of World War II, but as it would turn out, it was to be the last visit under the Soviet regime. As I stood near the pier, looking up at the impressive Soviet missile cruiser, the Marshal Ustinov, I wondered how the warships of our “rivals” managed to make their way here, to dock at an American port, in times of such tension and mistrust between our two countries.
Little did I know at the time, this show of good seamanship and gesture of friendship between two rival countries got its start in the midst of the Cold War. The leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States decided, during this time, to step up to the plate and make a concerted effort to ease the ever increasing tensions between these two superpowers over the world’s oceans. It all began with a bilateral agreement hammered out between the navies of the two nations in 1972, called the United States/ Union of Soviet Socialist Republic Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Sea, or INCSEA agreement, as it is commonly referred to. The goal of this agreement was to codify a protocol of behavior (for military ships and aircraft), that was designed to reduce the number of inflammatory and harassing incidences that occurred when the navies of these two superpowers competed for domain on and over the high seas. With the successful implementation of the 1972 agreement, a precedent was set that would open up a new pathway of diplomacy between nations.
My father, who was in the United States Navy from 1957 to 1992, was a specialist in the Soviet navy. He had personally witnessed the rise and fall of the Soviet navy during these Cold War years, and had played a role in the INCSEA agreement in the late 1980’s. My father had a unique perspective of the INCSEA agreement. Not only did he serve as a delegation member for the seventeenth annual INCSEA review, but, flying reconnaissance missions against the Soviets for many years, he had been a witness to many of these inflammatory incidences committed by both nations.
I took great pleasure in researching the history, development, implementation, and future of the INCSEA agreement, and thought it would be most appropriate to include excerpts from a personal interview with my father, Captain Don C. East, United States Navy, retired. This interview will add a face and a personality to the Cold War struggle of two countries as they try to understand each other and learn, through the INCSEA agreement, the human and deeply personal side of negotiations.
After World War II, the open ocean became the arena for many showdowns between the United States and the Soviet Union. These two nations were the only countries to emerge from World War II more powerful than they were prior to the war. Relations between these two countries collapsed in the years following this global conflict. Other than uniting to defeat the Germans, these World War II allies had little else in common. The United States and the Soviet Union were committed to totally different ideas on government, social, and economical issues. As the United States clung to capitalism, the Soviet Union advocated socialism. These totally opposing views led to an ideological conflict that was fed by mutual fear and suspicion of one another. As the Soviets continued to invade and occupy surrounding territories, the rest of Europe tried to shut them out. The United States joined in an effort to keep the Soviet communist influence at bay. The U.S. decided to implement United States diplomat George F. Kennan’s idea of “containment”. As a part of this plan, the United States would provide physical, financial, and military aid to war ravaged European countries in order to keep their governments aligned with the West and to halt the spread of communism. It was this ideological struggle, combined with the mutual fear and suspicion, that dropped the “iron curtain” that Sir Winston Churchill spoke of in his speech so many years earlier. This “iron curtain” divided Europe, both physically and ideologically, and locked Western influence out of the Soviet Union.
However, with Western influence so strong on their borders, the Soviet Union needed to find a new way to break the confines of “containment.” They had to search for a new way to procure support from places far and wide and to bolster their influence in the global community. This new pathway took on the form of the world’s oceans. This was the perfect time for the Soviets to invest in their naval fleet and build up their maritime forces to an unprecedented level. The Soviet fleet became a force to be reckoned with on the world’s oceans. The showdowns between these two rivals now extended to places a little closer to home. As the Soviets were slowly gaining in military technology that was comparable to the United States, confrontations grew more serious in nature. As the Soviets and Americans aggressively pushed the boundaries and competed for space on the oceans, their contentious harassment of one another led to numerous accidents. These accidents and collisions took lives and damaged ships and aircraft on both sides. It was feared that, if something was not done, any one of these accidents could lead to World War III. The United States searched for a way to prevent these incidences on the oceans, when traditional diplomacy was doing little to solve the problem. The 1972 U.S./ U.S.S.R. Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Sea (I will refer to the agreement as INCSEA from this point forward) would provide the answer. It would provide a unique military-to-military diplomacy that would foster open communications, negotiations, and ease tensions between these two Cold War rivals separated by the “iron curtain.”
Background on the international Law of the Sea Treaty (L.O.S.T.)
In order to set the stage for this discussion on the bilateral USA/USSR (Russian) agreement on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas, a brief summary of the International Law of the Seas Treaty is in order.
Our planet is made up of approximately two thirds water in the form of the world’s oceans and seas. Also, there has been an exponential rise in the global population, in technological innovations involving access to these waters, and a corresponding vital need to harvest the ocean resources. It was therefore inevitable that arguments and conflict would arise between nations over these matters. In the past, there has been a history of attempts between nations to establish some sort of guidelines involving their uses of these strategic oceans. Until the first Law of the Sea negotiations done in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1958, none of these earlier attempts have been successful to any meaningful degree.
The current Law of the Sea Treaty (L.O.S.T.), which was previously known as the Third United Nations Convention of Law of the Sea (U.N.C.L.O.S. III), was adopted in 1982, in Geneva, Switzerland. The Law of the Sea Treaty codifies international laws for the access and use of the world’s oceans. It establishes jurisdictional limits on ocean areas that countries can claim as sovereign territory. The Law of the Sea Treaty also sets forth rules for exploration of the seas, access and harvesting of its natural resources, rules for business, commerce, and trade conducted on the high seas, procedures of safety for vessels on international waters, and controlling pollution in the marine environment. It touches on issues, such as: piracy, hot pursuit, right of innocent passage, duty to render assistance, and invalidity of claims of sovereignty over the high seas. Included in this treaty are enforcement issues and procedures for dispute resolution among nations. The Law of the Sea Treaty also calls for technology transfers and wealth transfers from developed to undeveloped nations. The United States felt that this portion of the treaty was unacceptable, and did not fit with their system of free enterprise. Therefore, the treaty has yet to be ratified by the United States. Although the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to be a part of the Law of the Sea Treaty in March of 2004, this issue has not gone before the entire Senate for a vote. However, since the Law of the Sea treaty is based on customary international law, the United States generally follows the provisions set out in the treaty.
Despite America’s opposition to the Law of the Sea Treaty, there has been spillover or spin-offs from this treaty into several other areas of maritime cooperation between America and other nations. The most effective and enduring of these spillover actions has been the 1972 bilateral agreement between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas, or INCSEA. The Geneva Law of the Sea Treaty was lacking in a couple of areas that the INCSEA agreement would eventually fill for the Soviet Union and the United States. Although the Law of the Sea Treaty contains provisions for the safety of sea vessels and rules for the prevention of collisions on the high seas, it does not address the insidious harassment that is so common amongst the military vessels of rival nations. Most importantly, the Law of the Sea Treaty does not have provisions for a multi-national, military working group that meets yearly to ensure that problems are solved. The following sections will provide the motivation, history, and structure of the INCSEA system. There will also be a discussion on the status of the agreement today and possibilities for its future implementations.
The bilateral U.S.A./U.S.S.R. Agreement on the Prevention
of Incidents On and Over the High Seas
Background and formation
Soon after the Law of the Seas Treaty was signed, there arose needs for other international, multilateral, and bilateral agreements or treaties that were associated or related to the LOS Treaty. With the meteoric rise of the Soviet Navy from the early 1960s and continuing through the 1970s, there occurred numerous incidents at sea between units of the American fleet and its new challenger, the Soviet Navy. The Soviet Navy’s growing visibility on the world scene during this period was accompanied by a much closer and more two-sided process of naval interaction than had previously been the case. Many felt that these incidents between the two super powers could be the spark to initiate an international incident at the least, or an escalation into World War III in the worse case scenario.
There were several incidents involving navy ships and aircraft of the United States and the USSR that led to the initiation of the INCSEA agreements. Many of these incidents occurred in the 1968-1971 time frame. During this period, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, commented that we and the Soviet navy “were engaged in an extremely dangerous, but exhilarating game of chicken”. Soviet and American naval units frequently harassed each other and aggressively interrupted one another’s naval exercises. Most of these actions were pure rivalry and aggressiveness, but some were caused by inexperience on the part of some commanding officers. Ships bumped or “shouldered” one another, cut each other off, interfered with refueling and supply exercises, shot flares or water cannons at each other, aimed guns or missiles in simulated attack mode, aircraft buzzed ships, flew through carrier flight patterns, and made threatening movements towards other aircraft. Many of these incidents led to ship damage or loss of life. These games of “chicken” became more intense each day.
There were several incidents that were more serious and dangerous than others. These incidences drew attention to the increasing need for preventative action. In May of 1967, the destroyer, USS Walker, was struck twice in two days by Soviet destroyers interfering with anti-submarine exercises. In Washington, House Republican leader Gerald R. Ford suggested that American ships be allowed to respond with weapon fire in response to such harassment by the Soviets. Something needed to be done before things escalated out of control and the United States began searching for a solution to these safety violations. The author’s father, Don C. East, was at sea and present on scene for several of the more publicized incidents that led up to the INCSEA agreements. He recounted to me what he had witnessed so many years earlier as he flew reconnaissance missions with his squadron over the open ocean.
“Specifically, in 1968, a Soviet Navy TU-16 Badger aircraft crashed while making a low altitude photo run on the U.S.S. Essex in the Norwegian Sea. I was flying in the same area at the time, keeping tabs on the Badgers and witnessed the crash. The Badger was too low in a tight turn and lost some altitude. It then drug a wing in the sea, thus cartwheeling and totally destroying the aircraft and killing all the crew.
Later, in 1970, I was operating in the Mediterranean Sea during one of the more volatile periods between the two navies. There were several incidents involving U.S. and Soviet Navy units that I was an observer to. The Soviet manned and Egyptian marked TU-16 and BE-12 aircraft were constantly threatening the safety of our aircraft carrier traffic pattern by flying through at low altitudes. On one occasion, a Navy F-4 Phantom aircraft had intercepted a TU-16 inbound the aircraft carrier operating area. The F-4 pilot, joined up on the Badger and hand signaled him to turn away. Instead of turning away, the Badger made a seemingly intentional hard turn into the F-4. It was only by the quick reaction of the pilot that the F-4 avoided a mid-air collision. They also used their navy ships to bump or “Shoulder” our warships. I was there on the aircraft carriers flying reconnaissance missions and saw or heard of these actions. While operating off the aircraft carriers, my primary mission was to warn the carrier battle group when these soviet aircraft and ships were approaching our operating area. Also, when flying peripheral reconnaissance missions against Russia, China or other rivals, we were routinely intercepted by their fighter aircraft. During these intercepts, the Soviets and others would sometimes come so close alongside as to cause concern. Other times, especially with the Chinese, they would perform a routine we called “thumping.” The thumping maneuver involved the Soviet or Chinese aircraft dropping below and behind us into our blind zone. Then, without warning, the interceptor would go into afterburner and zoom climb almost vertically directly in front of us, thereby shaking us violently with the generated turbulence.
Of the many INCSEA violation reports that I have been personally involved in, on one side or the other, one stands out in my memory as the most dangerous and bizarre. On 28 August 1976, my airborne electronic reconnaissance squadron aircraft was conducting maritime reconnaissance in the Mediterranean Sea. During this period, the US Navy frigate, Voge (a Knox Class if I remember), and other US Navy units were involved in an anti submarine warfare (ASW) operation, tracking an unidentified submarine contact. Both the submarine target and the surface ships and aircraft involved in the evolution were exhibiting effective tactics in their dynamic cat and mouse game. Then, without any warning, the target submarine (a Soviet Navy Echo II Class SSGN) came to broached depth with about half the sail above the water near the USS Voge. At an estimated 12-15 knots, the Echo II appeared to make a purposeful direct run on the USS Voge. The Echo II struck the Voge amidships. After the collision, the submarine’s sail tilted to one side, went under the frigate, and popped back to the vertical position on the other side. The collision broke the American frigate’s main propulsion shaft, thus leaving it dead in the water. The Soviet Echo II continued for a ways before diving again. We later located and photographed it at the nearby Kithera anchorage. There, we noted men using welding torches on the damaged area of the sail front. Since I was not a member of the INCSEA negotiating team at that time, I do not know the details of why the Soviet Navy Echo II submarine skipper make such a provocative and dangerous move. Was it an unintentional act done in the heat and competition of the ASW game, or was it an intentional act done out of the frustration of not being able to escape the effective US Navy tracking operation?”
One less visible, but powerful motivating factor for the creation of the INCSEA agreement was spawned by the very rapid growth of the “New” Soviet Navy under Admiral Sergei Gorshkov’s leadership. The Soviets, nor the Russians before them, were never in the same global sea power category as countries like England, Spain, and France. Now, with the rebuilding of the force into a major fleet, Gorshkov thought that signing an agreement with the world’s most powerful navy put them on the same level as the Americans at sea and legitimized the USSR’s role as one of the bi-polar superpowers. The Soviet Navy had come a long way, indeed.
After Stalin’s death in 1956, a great debate on both foreign and military policy occurred under the next Soviet leader, Nikita S. Khrushchev. Moving into this debate was the young Admiral, Sergei G. Gorshkov. As the newly-appointed head of the Soviet Navy, Gorshkov was able to translate the sea power principles of Alfred Thayer Mahan into a Soviet version that could be integrated with its foreign and military policy. Alfred Mahan (1840-1914) was a naval theorist, writer, and historian who advocated a theory that, whoever controlled the oceans, controlled the world. Gorshkov took serious consideration into Mahan’s ideas. Admiral Gorshkov successfully advocated to the Soviet government that it should place a large amount of its budget into the building of a global sea power. This would include a large and modern navy, merchant fleet, oceanographic research fleet, and fishing fleet.
Each of these maritime branches could be operating in conjunction with Soviet foreign policy to jump the constraining ring of western “containment.” With the construction of the four Soviet maritime branches, they could now escape the constriction of western policy and seeks friends and influence for communism globally. The international scene was ripe for this type of expansion because third world nations were emerging from the cloak of western colonialism. These nations would eventually wind up under the influence of one of the two bi-polar superpowers as they sought their futures. The new Soviet maritime branches were soon sailing the world’s oceans winning friends and influence for communism in the third world nations such as, the Middle East, Africa, and South/Central America. Because of Admiral Gorshkov’s key involvement in this major successful Soviet policy shift, he was able to remain in the post as head of the Soviet Navy for over twenty-eight years. It is therefore not surprising that his fingerprints were left on all aspects of the 1972 INCSEA agreement.
Admiral Gorshkov had indeed spent a long and distinguished career as the chief architect of the Soviet Navy. In addition to the hardware now visible on the high seas, he sought to advertise his nation’s new sea power through his writings. Using primarily the Morskaya Sbornik (Naval Anthology), he authored numerous articles and books, including “The Sea Power of the State” and “Navies in War and Peace.” These writings place him as the most sophisticated naval theorist in Russian history and the most influential naval writer since Alfred T. Mahan. His writings were designed, not only to convince the Soviet leadership to continue liberal funding of his fleet, but also to convey to western readers that the Soviet navy had arrived. Signing the INCSEA agreements with the top-ranked navy of the globe simply added the final note of international legitimacy to his fleet. His was now a force to be reckoned with – a force that even the United States navy must cooperate with. Gorshkov’s successor in 1985, Admiral Viktor N. Chernavin, fully shared Gorshkov’s view of the INCSEA agreements.
With the Soviet Navy’s rapid expansion into a world class fleet, there were some growth pains experienced. For example, with the building of a large number of newer, more technologically advanced ships, the Soviet Navy leadership had to make a hard decision about who was to command those ships. Instead of deciding to retrain all their older Navy officers who grew up in the much smaller and less technological coastal navy, they decided to fleet up the younger officers to command level, who were initially trained on these new ships and weapons systems. According to Winkler, as a consequence, some of the young commanding officers, “…did not posses the maturity or the ship handling skills required for command”. U.S. Navy Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., in his book “On Watch,” makes reference to this by noting that the INCSEA agreement, “…can be taken, for one thing, as a public admonition to peppery youngsters in both camps to behave themselves at sea”.
Process of initiating the INCSEA agreement
In summary, however, it was mostly just the large volume of complaints over time from both navies at sea that initiated the initial INCSEA talks. Throughout the late 1960’s, the United States made multiple requests with the Soviets to pursue safety at sea talks. In November 1970, Soviet diplomat Georgiy M. Korniyenko stated, in a meeting with the American charge d’affaires in Moscow, Boris Klosson, that the Soviets were ready to have these talks to prevent incidents at sea. Korniyenko suggested the meeting take place in Moscow in early 1971. He also stated that the head of their Soviet delegation would more than likely be a naval officer, not a traditional diplomat. February 19, 1971, Henry Kissinger issues National Security Study Memorandum 119 (see attachment) to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency directing a study to prepare for the upcoming talks with the Soviets. This study would gather input from various agencies about the issues, possible solutions, and negotiation plans for safety at sea.
During the planning sessions leading up to the talks, debates were under way about who was to lead the first Incidents at Sea talk. Like their Soviet counterparts, the United States finally decided it would be most appropriate for a naval officer to head the delegation, not a traditional diplomat. This element, combined with the fact that most of the delegation members had been or were current naval officers, ultimately proved to be the key to the INCSEA agreement’s success. The U.S. Secretary of Defense, Melvin R. Laird, insisted that the United States negotiating team leader be John W. Warner (then the Under Secretary of the Navy) mainly because of this young Virginian’s earlier experience with Law of the Sea conferences. Secretary of State William Rogers, accepted and then nominated, veteran diplomat Herbert S. Okun to serve as Warner’s deputy. Chief negotiator for the U.S.S.R. was Admiral Sergei G. Gorshkov. As discussed above, Admiral Gorshkov had been the Chief Naval Officer/Secretary of the Navy of the Soviet Navy since 1956 and was the architect of the powerful, modern fleet. His first deputy was Admiral Vladimir A. Kasatonov.
In May of 1971, President Nixon issued National Security Decision Memorandum 110 (see attachment) approving the final draft of the working groups and accepting it as the basis for the talks. The United States embassy in Moscow delivered word to the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs that they were ready to schedule the talks and gave the Soviets a list of their attending delegation members. The Soviets agreed, and the American delegation was scheduled to fly to Moscow.
The American delegation members found themselves amidst intense negotiations with their Soviet counterparts in Moscow in October of 1971. Days of intense negotiations on safety at sea finally led up to a Memorandum of Understanding between the Soviets and the Americans. The work, however, was not done yet. Both sides wanted to think things over and fine tune their proposals. The American delegation went back to the United States where, on November 11, 1971, Henry Kissinger issued National Security Study Memorandum 140 (see attachment). This document authorized a review of the recent talks and reevaluated the negotiating position with the Soviets. Kissinger then issued National Security Decision Memorandum 150 (see attachment), on February 11, 1972, which approved the results of the reviewing session and agreed to a second round of talks with the Soviets to finalize the draft of the United States/Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA). This second, finalizing round of talks began on May 3, 1972, with the Soviet delegation paying a visit to Washington. This visit focused on resolving their remaining differences and reaching a conclusion. A conclusion was finally reached and John Warner and Admiral Kasatonov initialed a draft of the completed document. Later, Warner would fly to Moscow for the Nixon-Brezhnev summit, where he (now the Secretary of the Navy) and Soviet Commander-in-Chief Admiral Gorshkov would sign the official INCSEA agreement on May 25, 1972.
Content of the INCSEA agreement
The agreement contained ten articles. Article I contained definitions pertinent to the content of the agreement, such as: “ship (which included unarmed naval auxiliary ships),” “aircraft,” and “formation.” Article II reminded navy officers to abide by the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (commonly referred to as the “Rules of the Road”) as defined by the1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas (now called the Law of the Sea Treaty or L.O.S.T.). Articles III – IV discouraged many types of behavior that would be considered hostile or harassing in nature. These included (for both aircraft and ships): refraining from interfering with the formations or exercises of the other party, maintaining a prudent distance when surveilling another vessel, using signals to convey intentions or warnings to the other party, not using lights to illuminate or blind the navigation bridges or cockpits of the other party, refraining from launching objects or flares at one another, abstaining from aiming guns and weapons at other vessels or aircraft, simulating attacks, or performing aerobatics over ships. Articles V and VI address the proper use of navigation lights and also require forewarning of intentions or danger through the use of signals, such as: radio communications, lights, flags, or sounds. Article VII required that information on incidences occurring at sea between ships and aircraft of the Soviet Union and the United States be exchanged through naval attachés in Washington and Moscow, not through diplomatic channels. Article VIII contained agreement renewal and termination clauses. Article IX established the annual bilateral review sessions that would turn out to be a key component to the agreement’s success. Article X set up an agreement that the U.S. and the Soviets would meet again in six months to reconsider instituting fixed distances zones around ships that would act as a buffer against the intrusion of other ships and aircraft (this is something the Soviets wanted, but the Americans disagreed). This is the overall content of the agreement that would set a precedent in improving military relations between these two superpowers.
So that the term “agreement” is clear, the three various levels of diplomatic understandings between nations are herein defined. First of all, a “treaty” is the most formal of all binding understandings between two or more states. According to the ‘Lectric Law Library, a treaty can be with reference to peace, alliances, commerce, or other international relations. In cases involving United States participation in a treaty, it must first be ratified by congress. The 1982 Law of the Sea Treaty (L.O.S.T.) is a pertinent example. The next level of diplomatic understanding is a “convention.” A convention is an understanding between states for the regulation of mutual matters. Examples of common conventions are the 1936 Monteux Conventions governing the transit by international maritime traffic through the Turkish Straits of the Bosporus and Dardanelles, and the 1917 Balfour Conventions which created the state of Israel. Finally, at the lower end of the spectrum, or the most informal end of understandings between states is the “agreement” An agreement is the act of coming to a mutual understanding on an exchange of promises relative to a specific subject matter. The INCSEA agreements are perfect example of this vehicle. The INCSEA agreement did not require senate committee hearings or senate ratification to come into effect. According to David N. Griffiths, the result of the INCSEA negotiations was an operational agreement between navies, and not a diplomatic treaty or a convention. Another diplomatic term that can be associated with all three of the above vehicles is a “protocol.” A protocol is generally a vehicle which supplements or adds additional provisions to an earlier treaty, convention, or agreement. A perfect example of a protocol is the INCSEA protocol of 1973.
The original agreement has since been modified by a 1973 protocol to the agreement and a 1998 exchange of diplomatic notes. The protocol, which was implemented at the first annual review session, extended certain provisions of the agreement that included non-military ships. The 1998 exchange of diplomatic notes changed some of the language of the agreement to reflect the Soviet’s (now called the Russian Federation) geopolitical changes and also extended the terms of the agreement to commercial airlines. In June of 1989, the United States and the Soviet Union signed another bilateral military-to-military agreement that was related to the INCSEA agreement. This Agreement on the Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities (PDMA) was very similar to INCSEA in that it established ways to reduce inflammatory interactions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. and it set up regular review sessions to ensure the agreement’s implementation. The main difference was that the PDMA agreement included activities over land and territorial waters. Also, the PDMA agreement was made between all military forces, not just a navy-to-navy agreement. Defense attachés would serve as points of contact, not necessarily naval attachés.
On November 10, 2008, a document was issued from the office of the Chief of Naval Operations titled “OPNAV Instruction 5711.96C”. This document clarified some of the components of the INCSEA and PDMA agreements. Changing times called for some updates. For INCSEA, OPNAV Instruction 5711.96C clarified who the terms in the agreement applied to (that is, for the United States): the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, Military Sealift Command (MSC), and the U.S. Coast Guard as long as they are in or over international waters. It states that submarines are a part of the terms only when operating on the surface. The instructions clarify which flags vessels must display for identification. They also considered technological advancements. Clarifications now forbade the use of lasers to damage ships, aircraft, or personnel and prohibited the intentional interference with Russian communication systems. OPNAV Instruction 5711.96C reiterates the use of approved systems of communications between American and Soviet/Russian ships and aircraft, which includes the Table of Supplementary Signals and the International Code of Signals. These instructions also give an overview of the reporting system for INCSEA and PDMA incidents. It details how to report an incident, when, to whom, and what exactly must be included in the incident report.
The incident reporting system for the INCSEA agreement was very thorough. The agreement called for an electrical message to be sent by any United States or Soviet naval unit at sea that was harassed or endangered by a unit of the opposing side. These electrical messages would soon be followed by a detailed written report. These written reports were to include such data as: a chronology of events, units involved, their speed and position, signals/communications used, voice recordings, photographs, videos, charts, and a comment section. These items were used to conduct an investigation into the proposed incident. Incident complaints were filed with the naval attachés of the prospective country. OPNAV Instruction 5711.96C clearly states, “These exchanges are not diplomatic protests and should not be characterized as such. If a diplomatic protest is appropriate, diplomatic channels are used”. Diplomatic protests were the old way of reporting incidents at sea before the INCSEA system was implemented. The complaining country had a short time to get this written report submitted so that both countries would have ample time to investigate the matter. If a solution was not reached by the time of the annual review session, the incident would be placed on an agenda to be worked out at the annual review.
The annual review sessions were to be held once each year, alternately in Washington D.C. and Moscow. Each of the American and Russian teams present at these review sessions would be made up of navy Captains and Admirals divided into surface and air working groups. At these annual review sessions, each of the violation reports that were not worked out during the past year would be brought up before the group, analyzed, and resolved. Later, this information would be consolidated by each side and transmitted to their operating forces at sea so as to prevent further similar occurrences. Along with the official actions that took place at these working review sessions, a heavy dose of social interaction and cultural events took place between the two navies. Two countries that were worlds apart were finally beginning to understand one another.
Interview of Captain Don C. East, United States Navy (retired), explaining his experience with INCSEA working group sessions
To best describe the need for the INCSEA agreement, its structure, and inner workings, I arranged an interview with my father, Captain Don C. East, U. S. Navy. Captain East was one of the members of the INCSEA working group team in the late 1980s and was probably involved in, or present for, more violations of the INCSEA agreements by both navies than any other U.S.A. or U.S.S.R. navy officer. Among other relative items, this interview provides a first-hand and personal account of the seventeenth annual INCSEA review session that was held in Washington D.C. in 1989.
Attached is a pamphlet provided by Captain East showing the program for the seventeenth annual review of the US/USSR Incidents at sea Working Group of 1989, where he was a member of the Air Working Group.
QUESTION: What was your background that led to your selection to the U.S./U.S.S.R. Incidents At Sea Working Group Team?
CAPTAIN EAST: By the time of my selection to the team, I had been in the U.S. Navy for a total of thirty three years.
The first eight of those years was as an enlisted man serving as a Cryptologic Technician, specializing in gathering intelligence on the USSR and specifically the Soviet Navy. By that time, I was fairly proficient in the Russian language, the Russian military apparatus, and an expert in the Soviet Navy. I acquired a wartime commission as an Ensign, Naval Flight Officer in 1967 during the Viet Nam conflict and continued in the field of signals intelligence, concentrated on the Soviet Navy. I was assigned to, and later commanded, two different Navy airborne electronic reconnaissance squadrons (VQ-2 and a special unit), involved in detailed surveillance and reconnaissance of the Soviet Navy.
During these flight operations off aircraft carriers and land-based sites, my missions were up close and personal against the Soviet Navy. During many of these missions, we were tasked specifically to collect technical intelligence against their new platforms, weapons, electronics and the tactics of their groups conducting training or special operations in the world’s oceans. In conducting these types of missions, we routinely flew at extremely low altitudes and in very close proximity to Soviet ships and aircraft, resulting in us receiving frequent warnings from their flares and water cannons. Some of these flares and water cannon shots were close enough to be considered dangerous and would have been reportable incidents under INCSEA. However, since we had also violated the INCSEA parameters in order to prompt the flare and water cannon shots, we never reported those encounters. In other words, we were unofficially exempt from the INCSEA agreement provisions so long as we maintained some degree of self restraint. After thousands of hours flying in these kinds of up close collection operations against the Soviet Navy, I knew and could anticipate the actions of their ships and even their specific Commanding Officers equally as well as I could those of my own Navy.
Between these flying tours involved in electronic reconnaissance and signals intelligence, I was assigned to shore tours involved in technical and operational analysis of the Soviet Navy. During these shore assignment periods I was also sent to further my education with BA and MA degrees in International Relations, with a concentration on the Soviet Union, and a second MA on Soviet Studies. I also attended both the United States Air Force Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery, Alabama and the United States Navy War College in Newport, Rhode Island, where I continued to study and write about the Soviet Union and the Soviet Navy. In addition, I was later assigned as a Professor of Naval Science at both the Naval War College and the USAF War College in Montgomery, Alabama. Among other subjects at these two War Colleges, I taught electives on the U.S.S.R. and/or the Soviet Navy to the O4-O6 grade students.
In 1989, as one of the U.S. Navy’s most experienced experts on the Soviet Navy, I was asked to be a member of the U.S.A./U.S.S.R. Incidents at Sea Negotiating Team Delegation. At that time I was assigned to the Naval Technical Intelligence Center at Suitland, Maryland. I joined the team as a U.S. delegate for the seventeenth annual review of U.S./U.S.S.R. incidents at sea, held in Washington, D.C. I was assigned as a member of the Air Working Group.
QUESTION: Please describe the composition of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. negotiating teams and how these annual INCSEA review sessions were conducted.
CAPTAIN EAST: The U.S./U.S.S.R. Incidents On and Over the High Seas Agreement called for a negotiating team from each nation to meet each year, alternately in Washington D.C. and Moscow, U.S.S.R. These sessions were to discuss and reach conclusions/resolutions on any potentially dangerous incidents at sea between the two navies that occurred during the past year. These were referred to as “Reviews,” and were numbered one up beginning in 1972.
Each U.S. and U.S.S.R. team would be comprised of a head of delegation and 8 to 12 working group members, normally divided into air and surface working groups. The head of delegation would normally be a three star U.S. Navy Admiral or Soviet Navy equivalent. All members of the working group would be of the Admiral or Captain level (Soviet Navy – Captain First Rank or Colonel in the case of Soviet naval Aviation). Each member of the US working group would be paired with an equivalent Soviet Navy officer of similar experience and background. For example, for the seventeenth annual review, I was paired with a Soviet Naval Aviation Colonel, Valentin Derbenev. We were encouraged to get to know our equivalent well and develop a friendship of sorts in order to enhance a free exchange of information.
The sessions in Washington and in Moscow would last around 10 days, with two of those days being travel time. So basically, it was two 4-day weeks of face-to-face negotiating, a full day off for a special trip to a nearby attraction, and both weeks were interspersed with many embassy parties and short tours set up by the host navy. The number of working group days would depend largely on how many INCSEA violation messages had been sent by both parties during the past year. During the Washington. D.C. seventeenth annual INCSEA review in 1989 where I joined the team, the highlight for me was a formal dinner at the Russian Embassy. My wife and I were among the very few non-diplomatic foreign personnel to ever set foot inside this dark and mysterious building.
The working group sessions were highly structured and went quite smoothly. The session would begin with the reading of the first of the INCSEA violation message reports from a Soviet or U.S. Navy ship or aircraft that had been unnecessarily harassed or endangered by one from the opposition. These electrical messages were designed specifically to report violations of the Bi-Lateral Incident at Sea Agreement. These messages were sent by the naval unit on the receiving end of the harassing action during the past year. The messages were formatted and had a lengthy remarks section. The messages were designed for use by each nation to report on the perceived actions of the opposition that violated the bilateral agreement and could therefore result in harm to personnel on scene and/or international incidents between the two nations.
After the reading of the first violation message, there would be a moderated discussion between the naval officers of the two working groups. After this discussion period, there would be a summary of the incident and a recommendation to reduce the possibility of such a situation occurring in the future. Then, the second message would be read, and the process repeated until all incidents reported by both parties during the past year were discussed and resolved during the working sessions.
Sometimes the discussions in these groups would be somewhat heated and/or animated because all of the members of the working groups had been there and done that before at sea. In my case, I had to bite my tongue on numerous occasions because it was the actions of myself and my old squadron that led to many of the violation reports and it was some of the Soviet officers present sitting around the table that were on the receiving end of our close-in collection operations.
At the end of the second week, all the reported incidents would have been discussed and resolved and copies of the results would be handed out to each member of the delegation for review and concurrence. A signing of that years working group action report by the Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations level would then conclude the meeting and the Soviet delegation would return to Moscow via commercial airline.
Later, the key findings of these annual working groups would be consolidated into new or additions/modifications to existing naval operating regulations by each nation and distributed to their units at sea.
QUESTION: Other than the official actions and interactions with the Soviets, was there anything on a more personal nature that stood out for you regarding the Soviet delegation?
CAPTAIN EAST: Yes, but first let me set the stage by briefly covering what we did to entertain the Soviet delegation on their free time. This free time was on the Friday and weekend between the two week day session, and on some week day evenings. During these periods, the Soviet delegation would be entertained quite lavishly, using U. S. State Department funds. There would be various formal dinners and cultural events. This same sort of activity was conducted for the Americans on the years when the sessions were held in Moscow. The Russians seemed to take this special treatment in stride, mainly because at that time in the U.S.S.R., the military was still in the elite of the social and economic hierarchy, and their higher ranking officers were accustomed to special treatment.
However, I did notice one aspect of our outings with the Soviet Navy delegation that has remained with me till this day. As we remember from the media, the troubled 1980s in the U.S.S.R. were plagued with shortages of almost all consumer goods. Further, in those days, even officers in the military rarely had individual houses or automobiles, not to mention household appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, etc. Most of the Soviet Navy members during my initial session with the working group in 1989 were also new to the group and had not been outside the Soviet Union before. Because of normal sea/shore rotations, members of both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Navy INCSEA working groups would have a major personnel turnover from year to year. For example, Due to my career cycle, I was able to spend only one year on the working group. As it turned out, my year of being on the working group (1989) was a year that in my recollection, all the Soviet Navy working group members were new and were on their first trip to the United States.
Before we began our show and tell trips, we polled the Soviet group to find out what they wanted to see on their free time. Sort of surprising to us, first on their list was to visit a typical American shopping mall. So, on the first free day we picked the group up at their hotel in a bus with some of our U.S. working group members acting as hosts (including myself), and went to one of the large shopping malls in the D.C. area (In Virginia). Along the route to the shopping mall, we passed an area where there were several automobile dealerships with vast lots of new cars. This began the heart of a discussion that was persistent during the day among the Russians. They felt sure that these automobile dealerships and the huge shopping mall they later saw were not real, but were set up by the C.I.A. to fool the Russians into believing how affluent the American citizens were. They felt the entire shopping mall and all the people in it were on the C.I.A. payroll and all the new automobiles were placed only to impress them. They felt it was all a “Potemkin (or Pometkin) Village.”
This idea of a Potemkin Village has its roots in a Russian historical myth that began in the late 1700s under the reign of Catherine The Great. When the Russian Czarina was taken on a tour of the newly conquered land to the south in the Crimea, her minister of that area, one Gregory Potyomkin, was eager to impress the Czarina on the quality of life in this new region. Supposedly, he had hollow shells or facades of up-scale villages constructed along the route he would take the Czarina so as to impress her. This trick has supposedly been used as attempts by Russian and Soviet governments since that day to fool foreign visitors into believing things were better off than they really were in the country.
Even today, visitors to Moscow and St. Petersburg, such as myself, are always impressed by the upscale and hi-end stores, shops, etc of these two cities. These shops would rival even those of our own in cities such as New York, San Francisco, etc. Today, Moscow is the most expensive city on the planet. However, those visitors to Russia that are fortunate enough to travel to rural and small town areas away from Moscow and St. Petersburg, quickly realize that all of Russia is not as well off as the two major cities. As a matter of fact, conditions in the Russian outback today are quite dismal. Each time I have travelled to Moscow or St. Petersburg in recent times, I am always reminder of the “Potemkin Village” story.
When turned loose in the large Virginia shopping mall, it was soon evident how pitifully small the selection of consumer goods was in Russia at the time. They quickly spent their money on items they could not find in Russian stores. Such simple and common items as sewing thread, thimbles, needles, and ball point pens were high on their lists.
QUESTION: Did you have any further contact with the Soviet and later Russian Navy after your service on the INCSEA team that would shed any personal light on the success or failure of the INCSEA program?
CAPTAIN EAST: Yes, fortunately I had three subsequent opportunities for contact with the Soviet/Russian Navy from 1989 until 1994, one of these was even after my retirement in 1992. Because of my Russian language qualification and education and experience with the U.S.S.R. and Russia, I was assigned to three additional interactions with that nation. Because of what I experienced during these interactions, I can strongly attest to the fact that the influence of the INCSEA arrangements “broke the ice,” or at least partially paved the way for more free exchange of ideas between the two rival nations.
First, in 1990, while a professor at the United States Air Force War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, I was assigned to be the organizer, guide and translator for the initial group of USAF War College students to take a two-week study trip to the U.S.S.R. Because of the lack of precedent, the mistrust between the two nations, and the traditional red tape involved at that level, it was indeed a very difficult task. However, contacts I had made on the INCSEA team smoothed some of these rough spots out and in the end, the two-week trip was successfully made to Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in the autumn of 1990. As it turned out, the beginning of the breakup of the U.S.S.R. and communism occurred during our trip, thus making it a very interesting odyssey.
During tours of various Soviet government and non-government institutions on this trip to Russia, I would often by chance meet a Soviet Navy Officer. I used these meetings to inquire about the INCSEA agreements and how they were going from the U.S.S.R. Navy perspective. I always got positive feedback on the program from them.
My second interaction was in 1991, when I was assigned to be the only active duty U.S. Navy officer invitee to attend a two-week working group in Moscow entitled “An International Conference on The Armed Forces and Military Service in a Democratic State.” A secondary duty at that conference was to be the executive assistant to my boss at Maxwell, Air Force Base, Major General Charles Boyd. He was the head of U.S. Air Force education at the time. The conference was held in a U.S.S.R. Council of Ministeries Dacha 20 miles west of downtown Moscow in the suburb of Petrovo-Dalnee.
There were military officers from approximately 20-25 countries at the conference. With the breakup of the U.S.S.R. and Communist Party going on all around them each day, the Russians were looking for ideas on how to re-organize their armed forces, now or very soon to be in a free and democratic state. Of the dozens of Soviet military officers attending the conference, approximately half of them were from the Soviet Navy. Being the only active duty U.S. Navy officer in attendance (and in uniform), I was besieged by Russian Navy Officers anxious for a rare opportunity to talk to an American counterpart about official and unofficial, personal matters.
A personal highlight for me during this conference occurred when a Soviet Admiral I had befriended confided to me that I should make it a point to be in downtown Moscow in Red Square that night at midnight. When I inquired why I should be in Red Square at midnight when it was cold and snowing outside, he was very evasive, saying only that I would not regret taking the trip because I would see history being made. My curiosity got the best of me and I decided to go. I informed my boss, United States Air Force Major General Charles Boyd, of the situation and he invited himself along.
I arranged for a ride in a taxi, with a moonlighting Soviet Navy Commander as the driver, to take us the long trip to downtown Moscow and into Red Square. As midnight approached and the three of us stood there in the middle of the 20 acres of cobblestone known as Red Square in a heavy snow, there was no one else around. I began to think a practical joke had been played on me by the Soviet Admiral. But then as the clock chimed at midnight, I noted the large hammer and sickle flag of the U.S.S.R. lowered from the flag pole atop the brightly lighted dome of the Soviet Parliament building inside the Kremlin walls. Seconds later, the equally large tricolor flag of the Russian Republic was hoisted up the same flag pole. It was then that we realized that we had indeed witnessed history – we had witnessed the lowering of the last hammer and sickle flag of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the raising of the Russian Federation tricolors, marking the end of the U.S.S.R. and 75 year of communism.
The next day I thanked the Soviet (now Russian) Navy Admiral and inquired why he was so secretive about the event. He told me the government was fearful that if the official end of the U.S.S.R. and communism was publically announced to the people, there may be demonstrations and some violence.
The subject of the INCSEA system came up frequently between myself and the various Soviet Navy officers during discussions at that conference. Again, I heard nothing but good remarks on the progress of the agreement, which were continuing in their nineteenth year at that time.
A third and final interaction with the now Russian Navy came in June 1994, after my retirement in July of 1992. I was recalled to duty and asked to be one of the U.S. Navy representatives to a bilateral conference with members of the Russian Navy. This conference was entitled “A Joint U.S.A./Russian Navy Conference on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) in Shallow Coastal Waters.” This was one of both our navies' toughest problems and one that we decided to work on jointly. I know for a fact that the idea for this sensitive conference was first surfaced at one of the INCSEA annual working sessions. Also, I feel very strongly that such a conference, involving such a close-held operational navy mission, would not have been possible without the previous confidence gained during the previous INCSEA meetings.
All the representatives from both navies at this conference were of Admiral or Capitan rank. We did our work cloistered in a fenced facility with sleeping quarters and a staffed kitchen facility in a remote area of Delaware. Here I worked with several Russian Navy Officers that I had worked with on previous occasions, making the discussions more personal, frank, and open than some of the earlier ones.
One of the more infamous INCSEA violations came up during one discussion with a Russian Captain first rank that was once the Commanding Officer of their aircraft carrier, the Minsk. This was a serious, but semi-humorous incident that involved an INCSEA violation report on myself and my airborne electronic reconnaissance crew. In the year 1979, the Soviets had put their second of the Kiev class ships, the Minsk, to sea along with several other new ships. They made the decision to show off this collection of two new carriers and other impressive new ships to the world by having a large exercise in the Mediterranean Sea. I was the Commanding Officer of an aviation ocean reconnaissance squadron at the time and was assigned to cover the large Soviet naval exercise to collect technical and operational information on the new ships and systems.
I was one of the crewmen on our P-3 (Orion) aircraft assigned to this evolution. At the conclusion of the Soviet exercise, unknown to us at the time, Admiral Gorshkov himself came down to proudly review the cream of his new fleet. On mid-morning of 12 April 1979, before exiting the Straits of Gibraltar and returning to their home ports in the Northern and Pacific Fleets, the huge array of Soviet naval units formed a long line, each ship put their dress parade flags up, and put the men in their dress uniforms to man the rails on the starboard side. Then a helicopter from the Minsk transported Admiral Gorshkov at a deck-level altitude up the starboard side of the long line of ships so that he could salute, and receive hand salute honors from all hands manning the rails. Noting and photographing this evolution, after the helicopter bearing Gorshkov landed, I directed my aircraft to make the same low pass up the long line of Soviet ships because this was an unprecedented photo opportunity. As we did so, the Soviet sailors also rendered us a hand salute, which I though was a nice touch for brethren of the seas. What I didn’t know at the time was that one of my enlisted crewmen, had dropped his trousers and pressed his sizeable naked butt into one of the aircraft’s large observation windows on the port side of the aircraft in what we euphemistically referred to as a “pressed ham” or a “sky moon.” I found out from my Russian Navy friend at this conference that the helicopter bearing Admiral Gorshkov had landed by this time on the Minsk and the Admiral was walking across the deck as our aircraft passed by. Apparently several photos of our aircraft were made, and when later developed, they showed the “pressed ham” made by my crewman. Thus Admiral Gorshkov and thousands of Soviet sailors were subjected to seeing the vulgar “pressed ham” from our close-in American aircraft. To protest such a vile act, the Soviets submitted an INCSEA violation electrical message, accompanied by a very clear photo of the “pressed ham.” This message and photo went to such high level addressees as the American Embassy in Moscow, where it was forwarded on to such United States addressees as the State Department and the Chief of Naval operations.
Arriving back at my home base after the exercise, I fully expected to get rave reviews on the large volume and quality of data we had collected from the huge Soviet Navy exercise. Instead, I was called to the Wing Commander’s office as soon as we landed. Standing at attention in front of the Wing Commander’s desk, an enlarged, and very clear photo of the “pressed ham” was pushed forward on the desk, along with a large stack of strong electrical messages condemning the act. I was shocked beyond words because up until that time, I did not know this “pressed ham” act was performed on my aircraft that day.
After receiving one of the best butt chewings I ever received in my long naval career, my career was miraculously spared. If this incident had occurred in today’s “politically correct” Navy, I am sure I would have been sacked. I returned to my squadron hangar, called everyone from that day’s mission together and finally got a confession from the guilty man. I then tried to keep a straight face as I did some butt chewing of my own. Otherwise, I never further disciplined the responsible sailor.
When this incident was brought up by the former Commander of the Kiev at the Anti-Submarine Warfare conference in Delaware, we both had a great laugh when each told our sides of the story. Afterwards we then “buried the hatchet” by having several shots of Russian vodka.
During several discussions on the current operations of the INCSEA system at this conference, I was again satisfied that it was an effective system that had perhaps kept us from initiating an unfortunate spark of war at sea between the superpowers.
QUESTION: Did working with the Soviet and Russian Navy personnel over the years, specifically with the INCSEA agreement, have any particular impact on your navy career?
CAPTAIN EAST: Yes it did, especially in one area – Indirectly, it influenced my decision on when to retire from the U.S. Navy. From my earliest days as an enlisted man and throughout my officer years, my specialty was always some aspect of Russia or the Soviet Union, especially their Navy. As fate would have it, one particular Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union (equivalent to our Chief of Naval Operations and Secretary of the navy combined) took his post the same year that I entered the U.S. Navy. Admiral Sergei Georgievich Gorshkov remained in that pivotal and influential position for over two decades until 1985, when he retired and died later in 1988.
Admiral Gorshkov was very instrumental in arguing for the INCSEA agreements. Without his consent, these agreements would not have been possible during those cold war years. I spent so many years of my life studying that man and his navy until I felt I knew him personally. Keeping up with the Soviet/Russian Navy just wasn’t as exciting in the post-Gorshkov years.
Two years after Gorshkov’s death in 1988, on one of my official trips to Moscow, I felt a need to convince myself that Admiral Gorshkov was indeed gone from the scene and was not hidden away in the Kremlin, still pulling the Soviet Navy strings. On one of my few days off, I decided to go in search of the grave of my nemesis, so I could at last acquire closure. I hired the same taxi driver that I mentioned earlier that was a Soviet Navy Commander. He was still moonlighting as a taxi driver to have an income because the government had not paid their military in several months at that time of the country’s extreme turbulence. Being a career Navy man, he knew approximately where Admiral Gorshkov’s grave was located, and off we went to the Novodeviche (New maiden) Convent and Cemetery on the south side of Moscow. This is the cemetery where the top Russian/Soviet officials, writers, musicians, military heroes, etc are buried.
Although it was a huge cemetery with no locator scheme posted, we finally found Admiral Gorshkov’s grave. It was a low tombstone with his photograph behind glass on the front with the inscription “Double Hero of the Soviet Union, Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union, Sergei Georgievich Gorshkov, 1910-1988.” This tomb has since been replaced by a much more elaborate and larger one that also contains the information on his wife, Zinaida Vladimirovna, who died in 1997 and is buried beside him
Standing there that day in a heavy winter snowfall, I decided this would be a very appropriate scenario to cement closure between myself and my lifetime of operations against Admiral Gorshkov and the Soviet Navy he built. Therefore, upon my return to the United States, I submitted my papers for retirement in 1992 after 35 years of active duty service.
End of interview
Over the years since 1972, INCSEA has not prevented all incidents at sea, but nevertheless it has proven itself as an effective tool to keep incidents from getting out of control. In his book “Cold War at Sea,” author David Winkler includes a chronology of various incidents at sea between 1945 and 1989. Also, in this section of the book, he lists each of the INCSEA annual review sessions from the initial one in 1972 through 1988. In most cases, the number of incidents brought up for review were provided. Using these figures as typical averages, one can conclude the general tempo of naval activity for each of these years. During this period, the number of annual U.S. reports of Soviet violations per year averaged twelve, while those of American violations averaged three. These numbers remained within this average range until the dramatic and dynamic events of 1991-92, during the breakup of the U.S.S.R. and the communist system. After that, there was a decline in Russian Navy units operating at sea and a corresponding drop in INCSEA reported incidents by each side.
After a long hiatus, the now stabilized Russia, with better international political times and with a major inflow of their gas and oil money, is flexing its military muscle again. This environment is allowing the Russian bear to once again take to the world’s oceans. Past performance and logic tells us the numbers of INCSEA incidents will probably rise again.
Noting the success of the U.S.A./U.S.S.R. (Russian) agreement, many other nations began to follow suite. Starting in 1986, Great Britain signed an INCSEA with the U.S.S.R. In 1988, Germany negotiated an INCSEA agreement with the Soviets, and Poland did so in 1990. Eventually Russia signed INCSEA agreements with nearly a dozen countries, including Canada, Japan, and South Korea. In 1998, the United States signed a long needed agreement with the People’s Republic of China that was very similar in nature to the INCSEA agreement. Following the same model as the Soviets did under Admiral Gorshkov in the 1960s and 1970s, China has put an impressive Navy and merchant fleet to sea. This negotiation between the U.S. and China was called the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement. This agreement faltered after the 2001 incident where a Chinese pilot sideswiped an EP-3E reconnaissance plane over international waters (causing the death of the Chinese pilot and the emergency landing of the U.S. aircraft on Chinese territory). China continues to be a force to be reckoned with, as the United States revisits the idea of an updated Military Maritime Consultative Agreement with China. INCSEA agreements have also been considered for adoption between such traditional adversaries as, Turkey and Greece and between India and Pakistan. As of current times, the United States has issued H.Con.Res.94, which is a proposal to start an Incidents at Sea agreement with Iran. This resolution is presently being reviewed by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. There have also been moves toward multinational and even worldwide INCSEA arrangements. Even the idea of an international INCSEA agreement has been discussed at the United Nations because of the success of the original U.S./ U.S.S.R. Incidents at Sea agreement.
The INCSEA concept has also been proposed for use in space. Space, like the world’s oceans, is an arena for all nations to use for both military and non-military purposes. However, also like the oceans, there have been conflicts arising over time because of the lack of rules for everyone to follow. As we put more and more hardware into space, a set of agreements on harmful interferences with man-made space objects would be perfectly analogous to the INCSEA agreement. Undoubtedly, we will hear more on this subject as the number of space-capable nations increases.
The subject of including submarines in some form of INCSEA agreement is still under debate. In 1992 there was a collision between a Russian Sierra Class SSN and the US SSN Baton Rouge, while both were operating submerged. A few months later, the Russians submitted a draft to bring submarines into an INCSEA agreement. However, that subject remains under discussion. There have been quite a few other submerged bumps between U.S. and Soviet submarines in the past, but none of these have raised the intensity level to a serious attempt for inclusion into the INCSEA agreement. The major reason for this exclusion appears to be the veil of secrecy within which a nation’s submarine force operates. The submarine’s primary defense is the secrecy of its dark, underwater world. Adding submarines to the INCSEA agreements would cause the agreement members to allow a peek into these very secret operations, therefore, neither side has pushed the issue.
The degree of friendship and cooperation acquired through the early years of contact between the two navies in the INCSEA agreements played a huge role in other areas of U.S./Soviet cooperation. Another productive, cooperative effort spawned by the INCSEA agreement contacts was a series of port visit exchanges between the two navies. The idea for this series of port visit exchanges first surfaced during one of the INCSEA annual reviews. The US/U.S.S.R. Navy port visit idea began officially at a summit meeting in the United States in July of 1988. At that time, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Crowe, and his Soviet counterpart, Marshal Sergei. F. Akhromeyev, agreed to a naval port visit exchange program. The program began with Soviet Navy port visits to Norfolk, Virginia in July of 1989, San Diego, California in 1990, and Mayport, Florida in July of 1991. At the same time, the American Navy visited the Soviet/Russian ports of Sevastopol in the Black Sea in 1989, Vladivostock in the Pacific in 1990, and Severomorsk of the Northern Fleet in 1992. Large crowds of American and Russian citizens were able to get their first glimpse of the other superpower through these well publicized port visits.
The author was able to see the Soviet fleet as they came to visit the navy base at Mayport, Florida. Soviet navy Admiral F. N. Gormov, the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy Northern Fleet, was present for this four-day visit. His flagship was the guided missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov. Also visiting the port was the guided missile destroyer Simferopol and the fleet oiler Dnestr.
These port visit exchanges continued even after the breakup of the U.S.S.R. and the fall of communism. This illustrates the strength of the bond between the two navies initiated by the 1972 INCSEA agreement. The Russian navy cruiser Varyag most recently made a goodwill port visit to San Francisco when Russian President Medvedev made his visit to the United States in June of 2010.
Recently, on January 26th 2011 at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, the United States and Russian military signed a Joint U.S.-Russia Work Plan. This took American and Russian military cooperation to the next step. This understanding was signed by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and General Mikolay Makarov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Building on the trust and confidence gained through the years with INCSEA and its follow on programs, this latest, broader military cooperation effort is designed to create a positive political environment in which real dialog and engagement on a number of shared military interest can be established. This program was intended to aid in correcting a “dangerous drift” in U.S.-Russian ties and to focus on the common interest of the two superpower military organizations. Such common interest subjects as arms control, counterterrorism, counter narcotics, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and cyber-security are covered in this latest agreement.
The cooperation between the Soviet/Russian and American navies nurtured by the INCSEA agreements, port visit exchanges, and these other follow on contacts, have allowed a large number of Russian and American seamen a glimpse into each others mysterious world. In particular, the port visit exchanges not only affected the naval personnel involved, but also educated and enlightened large crowds of civilians of both nations that hosted the visiting sailors. In these days of a more relaxed international environment between the two global super powers, the INCSEA sessions and port visit exchanges put a human face on relations between rival nations.
This series of military-to-military exchanges opened up the two nations for a peek inside. To each side, the other nation had always been an intriguing mystery. To the west, Russia has always been a mysterious land. It has always been a country of contradictions. The double eagle of the czars looks both toward the east and to the west. Sir Winston Churchill perhaps said it best in describing Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. For the Americans, the INCSEA and related interactions helped pull the “iron curtain” aside for a peek inside the Soviet Union/Russia. Similarly, for the Soviets, the stringent controls on the media and things western inside the Soviet Union made for an almost total blackout of the west. Therefore, the INCSEA agreement started a chain of interactions that would, at long last, provided them a glimpse through Peter the Great’s long sought after “window to the west.”
As early as the 1970s, it became obvious that the Soviet Navy was a force to be reckoned with. The sudden existence of the modern Soviet/Russian Navy prompted Senator Henry M. (Scoop) Jackson to comment that “for the first time the Soviet Union is now a global military power”. Prompted by such thinking, both sides had good reasons for adopting the INCSEA agreements and following spin-offs of naval cooperation. The various INCSEA arrangements have made operating on and over the high seas safer and also provided an invaluable, non-political opportunity to explore other avenues of cooperation on matters of mutual interest.
Not only does the INCSEA concept continue to be a valuable tool for confidence-building at sea, its key components also provide a framework for current and future negotiations between nations with troubled relations. The main elements of INSCEA that have given rise to its success and endurance are: simplicity, lack of publicity, a non-political negotiating environment, and yearly navy-to-navy talks.
One crucial element of the agreement’s success that cannot be forgotten is that the negotiations and the resulting agreement were rooted in the mutual respect and professionalism of the participants. After the signing of the agreement in 1972, the Deputy Chief negotiator, Herbert Okun commented “The makeup of the two delegations was the principal reason for the eventual positive outcome. Naval officers from each country dominated the delegation and they share the common bonds held by all seafarers”.
Mr. Okun was right on in this assessment. If an agreement between any two adversaries could possibly be successful, it would be one between two professional navies. The reasoning runs deep for such cooperation and mutual respect among mariners. No matter what language they speak or what country they hail from, all professional sailors are cut from the same cloth. This unique bond is a result of the environment and conditions they must operate in and the knowledge and skills they must acquire for success and survival. The famous Admiral Lord Nelson probably said it most succinctly when he referred to his navy men as a “band of brothers.”
The opposing sides in the original INCSEA agreement may not have exactly been Lord Nelsons “band of brothers,” but after thirty-nine years of working within the program, they have achieved a degree of success not previously found in any other cooperative endeavor between these two superpowers.
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982. Oceans and Law of the Sea, Division for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea. These are just a few of the many provisions set out in the Law of the Sea treaty.
David F Winkler. Cold War at Sea: High Seas Confrontations Between the United States and the Soviet Union. (Annapolis, Maryland: The Naval Institute Press, 2000), 55. House Republican Leader ,Gerald Ford, would later become 38th president of the United States.
Agreement Between the Government of The United States of America and the Government of The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas. U.S. Department of State: Diplomacy in Action. The Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affairs. See attachment for the full text of the agreement.
Winkler, Cold War at Sea: High Seas Confrontations Between the United States and the Soviet Union, 177-210. David Winkler includes an impressive chronology at the conclusion of his work that details reported incidents at sea from 1945 to 1989.
Winkler, Cold War at Sea: High Seas Confrontations Between the United States and the Soviet Union, 158-159.
33 Eller, Ernest McNeill, RADM USN (Ret.). The Soviet Sea Challenge. Washington, D.C. Cowles Book Company, Inc: Chicago,1971, 282.
34 Griffiths, David N. Catalyst for Confidence: 25 Years of INCSEA. NOAC: 1998
Chief of Naval Operations. Understanding Soviet Naval Developments.
Washington D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office: Philadelphia, PA, 1991.
Eller, Ernest McNeill, RADM USN (Ret.). The Soviet Sea Challenge. Washington, D.C. Cowles Book Company, Inc: Chicago,1971.
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