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Cold War at sea: The maritime confrontation on and over the high seas between the United States and the Soviet Union, 1945-1989

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posted on 2023-09-06, 02:58 authored by David Frank Winkler

Because of the freedom for all nations to travel on and over the high seas, U.S. and Soviet naval and air forces came into to daily direct contact during the Cold War. This contact was not always peaceful. During the late 1940s and 1950s, a U.S. surveillance effort at times penetrated Soviet airspace, provoking Soviet attacks. The narrative details the air incidents and follows the diplomatic efforts to contain the violence. Both sides exchanged notes and used the U.N. as a forum to air grievances. Traditional diplomatic efforts produced mixed results. During the 1960s, the Soviet Union became a major sea power with merchant, fishing fleets and a blue water navy. U.S. Navy ships and aircraft came into contact with these vessels worldwide. Each side charged harassment and collisions occurred. In April 1968, the U.S. proposed safety at sea talks. The Soviets accepted the proposal in November 1970 and an Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA) was signed in Moscow in May 1972. The agreement passed its first major test during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. During the 1970s and 1980s, naval officers met annually to discuss the effectiveness of the accord. After several benign years, changes in U.S. policy and strategy placed U.S. and Soviet ships into greater contact. As Afghanistan, KAL 007, and other events soured U.S.-Soviet relations, INCSEA became the only direct military-to-military contact and served as a venue to discuss other issues of concern. With small exceptions, the behavior of naval and air forces remained correct and professional. During the 1980s, the United States implemented an aggressive Freedom of Navigation (FON) program, testing Soviet territorial claims. During a FON demonstration in the Black Sea during February 1988, two Soviet warships rammed two American warships. The resolution of this incident concluded the Cold War at Sea. In contrast to conventional diplomatic channels, the navy-to-navy channels established under INCSEA had greater success in modifying the behavior of the two navies. This dissertation examines this observation and concludes by looking at the implications of the Cold War at Sea in the post-Cold War world.







Ph.D. American University 1998.


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