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The Black Sea drone incident highlights the loose rules around avoiding ‘accidental’ war

The Black Sea drone incident highlights the loose rules around avoiding ‘accidental’ war

The extraordinary footage of a Russian jet intercepting a US drone over the Black Sea earlier this week demonstrates just how potentially disastrous such encounters outside actual war zones can be.

Released by the Pentagon, the drone’s own video captures the Russian aircraft apparently spraying the drone with fuel, then deliberately colliding with it. The incident matches similar aggressive displays by the Russian air force in the region, the Pentagon claimed.

But beyond such acts of brinkmanship connected to the war in Ukraine, the Black Sea confrontation highlights just how easily these military interactions might lead to war breaking out “accidentally”.

We are seeing these close encounters of the military, naval and aviation kind increasingly often, too. In 2021, it was reported Russian aircraft and two coastguard ships shadowed a British warship near Crimea.

And last year, Australia’s defence ministry said a Chinese fighter jet harassed one of its military aircraft in international airspace over the South China Sea. The risk of these dangerous “games” triggering something more serious is clear – but there are few rules or regulations preventing it.

Reckless behaviour

All militaries must comply with basic international law on questions of safety, but there are large exemptions and separate arrangements that fill the gaps.

Historically, the US and Soviet Union led the way in creating some rules to control...

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