Balloon farce is another 'WMD lie' coined by US
Published: Feb 08, 2023 06:21 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Editor's Note:

Some US politicians are playing the bait and switch game, using the Chinese balloon to get American afraid so that they can support their anti-China policies, said Scott Ritter (Ritter), a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer. In an interview with Global Times (GT) reporter Yu Jincui, Ritter said the balloon is not a real threat to the US, but politicians trying to score cheap political points are politicizing Americans' ignorance of China. The following is his full views about the ongoing balloon issue between China and the US and why a weather balloon has made Americans so scared.

GT: Can you talk about current public opinion and political atmosphere in the US regarding the so-called Chinese spy balloon incident? As a huge number of media outlets, hawkish politicians are exploiting this issue to fan the "Chinese threat" theory, has general US public been influenced? 

Ritter: I think what we have to recognize from the start is that the American people collectively aren't very sophisticated when it comes to international relations. What I mean by that is that they are very susceptible to non-nuanced points of view about nations that are at odds with the policies of our own government. We've seen this, for instance, with Iraq and Saddam Hussein, where American public had been predisposed to accept anything negative about Iraq and Saddam Hussein so that our [US] government could lie about weapons of mass destruction and American people would accept these lies without question. 

We see it again today in regards to Russophobia. There is ignorance that exists in the US about Russia, and its leadership. This ignorance is such that no matter what the government says about Russia that's in a negative light, the American public will accept this without question. Unfortunately, the same holds true about China where the US government can say anything they want about China in a negative light and the American public will accept it.

So here we have a situation. First of all, any rational thinker would say, what is the threat posed by the balloon? And it's clear that there is virtually no threat posed by this balloon. If it's a surveillance balloon designed to collect intelligence, I would welcome the Chinese to get all their intelligence capability and just put it on a balloon. That means you'll have no intelligence, because it's the worst possible platform for collecting Intelligence Information against the US that one could imagine. Satellites do a much better job, and it's my understanding that the Chinese have very good satellites. So there's no intelligence threat. 

There're people who say this could be used to deliver a nuclear weapon, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to blind the American defenses and anticipation of a Chinese preemptive nuclear strike. It's an absurdity in the extreme. No responsible nation would ever put a nuclear weapon on a platform that is inherently unstable. And to think that China is preparing a preemptive nuclear strike is to show ignorance about the Chinese nuclear posture and nuclear doctrine in general.

But when you're an American citizen who is largely ignorant about China, and you are predisposed to believe anything negative about China, these extreme scenarios suddenly become plausible, and the very plausibility of them amongst an ignorant population transforms it into a political weapon.

And here's the big problem in America - the ability to politicize ignorance. The Democrats and the Republicans now are accusing each other being weak in the face of Chinese aggression as if a balloon is somehow Chinese aggression. They say that China is bullying the US, bullying the US with a balloon. Do these people even think about what they say? If the US is so weak that it can be bullied by a balloon, then we have bigger problems than simply a balloon flying over our airspace. But we have politicians trying to score cheap political points. So republicans immediately started accusing Joe Biden of being weak. You're a weak president. Why aren't you shooting this balloon down? How dare you allow this threat to American national security to emerge? The one thing that we are doing during this time is asking the Chinese: Hey, what's going on? Why is this balloon here? What happened? Tell us more about this balloon if you can please, and open up a line of communication. Calm head should prevail at that point. 

GT: Although the Chinese government issued a statement saying that the weather balloon strayed into the US due to westerly wind, the episode was an accident caused by force majeure, the US ordered an F22 fighter jet to shoot it down. In your opinion, has the US overreacted?

Ritter: Does the United States have a right to be concerned about an object entering its airspace without permission? 100 percent, just like China would have a right to be concerned about an American object in its airspace. Does that concern have to manifest itself in a manner which raises tensions at a time when the last thing we need is raised tension? We have enough tensions raised in the South China Sea, and in Taiwan and elsewhere. We don't need to artificially raise the temperatures, especially in a manner which manifests in a military action against a civilian target.

After the balloon left an area of concern, it entered the Atlantic Ocean. It was no longer a threat to the US. Therefore, why do you need to shoot it down other than to show the American people how tough you are against China? This is a very dangerous situation. Now we have the Biden administration in an effort to explain that what had happened was not weakness, but somehow claiming that the balloon was detected only because Joe Biden ordered new surveillance measures that enabled not only this balloon to be detected, but here's the political part to detect the presence of three earlier balloons that overflew the US during the administration of Donald Trump showing that Trump was weaker on China than Biden. 

Now we have this ridiculous game where Republicans and Democrats are determining who was weaker in the face of "Chinese aggression," republicans or democrats. What is the Biden administration going to do next? In a time when diplomacy is so essential, when the secretary of state of the United States, Anthony Blinken should be traveling to China to meet with his counterparts, diplomacy is forced to stop at a time when we should be talking. What we're doing is shouting. At the time when we should be listening, all we're doing is shouting, finger-pointing. This balloon incident is not a threat to America's security, but this balloon incident is a threat to international peace and security, because of the irresponsible way that the US has responded.

GT: CNN said in a commentary that "For the first time, Americans experienced a tangible symbol of the national security challenge from Beijing." The US has more than 400 military bases around China. Why is a weather balloon making Americans so scared?

Ritter: This issue isn't about reality. This is about perception. Again, we have a situation where Americans have been programmed to fear China. We've been told to fear China virtually in every aspect of our lives. We've been told to be afraid of TikTok. We've been told to be afraid of the Chinese exports and Chinese control of supply chains. We've been told the Chinese are stealing our secrets. Chinese are stealing our intellectual property. China is bad. 

You've been given this picture of the Chinese threat that's all encompassing in every aspect of your daily life, if the Chinese are spying on our social media, how can we ever feel safe? And then a balloon shows up. And for most Americans, that's a physical manifestation of all the fear. They've been programmed to have all these intangibles, China's evil, China's this, China's that, and then the balloon shows up and it's real. We can see it. And so we fear it, and it's been exploited. 

But again, any rational thinker would not be afraid of the balloon, would not be afraid of any aspect of what happened there. The national security challenge to the United States from China, any honest person will say primarily comes from the economy. China is doing a better job competing with the US in the global economic context. But how do we tell the American people that we're getting beat economically that the greatest capitalist nation on the face of the earth is getting trounced by communists?

GT: Some American media and analysts tend to compare the balloon incident with the U2 incident during the Cold War. In the eyes of some Americans, have China and the US already entered a new cold war? Is there still room for improving relations with China under this mentality?

Ritter: When Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union, he was flying a U2 spy plane that was committing acts of espionage against the Soviet Union. Not only did the United States lose this aircraft, but a pilot was captured. This was proof positive that this was a real Cold War. This wasn't fake, this wasn't propaganda. This was real. And a lot of people don't talk about it, but hundreds of Americans lost their lives in this hot Cold War. We had aircraft that were shot down by Soviet fighter planes. We had aircraft crashed in Soviet territory. We have American bodies that have yet to be recovered because of this. 

That's what a real cold war looks like. We had American forces and Soviet forces facing off in Europe, ready to go to war in a moment's notice. We had nuclear weapons actively targeting each other. That's what a Cold War looks like. 

The US and China are not in a full Cold War yet, and hopefully they will never be. There's no reason for them to be. But there seems to be certain element within the American body politics that seeks to exploit the tensions between the US and China over the South China Sea, Taiwan, trade to create a cold war like atmosphere that can be exploited politically to gain political benefit. This is about domestic American politics, not about genuine national security. This is about how Republicans can accuse Democrats of being weak, or Democrats can accuse Republicans of being weak.

But in order to have the notion of strength and weakness, you have to have an enemy that you have to be strong against or be weak against. That enemy right now is China. This is a dangerous situation, but we can get out of it. If people recall back, in may 2001, an American navy surveillance aircraft collided with a Chinese fighter airplane, causing the plane to crash, the Chinese pilot died, the American plane landed on a Chinese airfield and the crew was taken prisoner for 10 days.

We got over that, we got through that because we're not in a cold war. We shouldn't be in a cold war. I believe we'll get through this balloon incident, I think, right now, because this isn't real, because it's not a real security threat. I think, at the end of the day, when American politicians use security as a domestic political foil, it's a lot like a cat with a laser beam. I don't know if you've ever seen it.

When you shine a laser beam, the cat chases the laser beam around, and it's mindless. That's what an American politician is with security threats of this nature. They're distracted by it. They chase it, but then they're gonna get bored with it and move on to the next thing, because it's not real. This balloon is not a real threat. This balloon is not a national security threat. It is a politicized issue where nothing has been made into something, which will turn back into nothing. As time passes, something else will happen. The politicians will move on to that. This is not the beginning of a new cold war.