Spy ballon or scientific mission?


Noah Amidon, opinions editor

Just north of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska on January 28, a small white spot was spotted in the sky. What was first thought to be a shooting star or a plane, was soon realized to be a large surveillance balloon. The balloon floated across Alaska into Canadian airspace when it then re-entered US airspace over northern Idaho on January 31. It would continue to drift across the US until it was eventually shot down over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina. Once discovered Beijing claimed the balloon to be utilized for meteorological purposes, however, the US public expects that the balloon was being used for intelligence gathering.

China’s claims that this balloon was used for purely scientific purposes would be a much less far-fetched tale if it was an isolated incident, however, following the elimination of the first balloon, three more unidentified foreign objects have been shot down by US fighter jets over North America. These incidents are leading many to believe that China is trying to gain information about US military systems especially due to the flight path of the first balloon (figure below). 

When most first examined the flight path of this balloon, they were skeptical about any surveillance efforts China had. Why would the Chinese be interested in examining the nation’s breadbasket? To most Americans, that area of the country is synonymous with wide open plains and pure nothingness. If China truly wanted to spy upon the American military wouldn’t they send balloons over more critical areas, such as Washington DC or San Diego (the largest US naval base in the Pacific)? But, no, China sent its balloon over the states of Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Missouri. Why would they do this?

David J. Wishart in his Encyclopedia of the Great Plains writes, “across the Great Plains, from northern Colorado into western Nebraska and throughout Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana, are the missile fields of the United States nuclear program.”

When hearing this many opinions of the Chinese program changed. It now makes complete sense why China would send an intelligence vessel over to this part of the US, they are trying to gather information on the US nuclear capability. This could be extremely damaging information that could destroy the idea of mutually assured destruction that has protected this world from a nuclear attack since the end of World War II.

Mutually assured destruction is described by Encyclopedia Britannica as, “the principle of deterrence founded on the notion that a nuclear attack by one superpower would be met with an overwhelming nuclear counterattack such that both the attacker and the defender would be annihilated.”

The problem is that if China possesses US nuclear secrets the potential exists for an engineered attack by China that would eliminate the US’ counter-attack potential. This would completely destroy the idea of mutually assured destruction and open up a new period in history in which there is to assure retaliation for the carrying out of a nuclear strike.

But is it time to make big statements and react to this supposed encroachment by China? I argue yes. China wouldn’t make this big of a move that will greatly harm US-Sino relations if they weren’t preparing an attack; whether it be against Taiwan or the US directly nobody knows. The US should begin to prepare for an attack; this “meteorological device” cannot go unnoticed by American leaders.