First it was China, now it’s Russia

02 November 2015 2:46 pm

Admiral John Richardson, chief of US naval operations, has told the Financial Times that the US navy is now reassessing its global posture in the face of the Russian activity, which stretches from the Black Sea and Mediterranean to the Pacific. Amid China's island-building in the South China Sea (30% of global trade), and Russia's highest level naval activity in 20 years in the Mediterranean (20% of global trade), Richardson has warned that the "ambiguous motivations" of China and Russia raised fears about the health of a global system that ensures freedom: "It again perturbs that global system," he said, adding that "the current model... has been threatened?"

US officials are particularly concerned that Russian submarines are monitoring critical telecommunications cables on the Atlantic seabed, in activity that Adm Richardson said would be “very concerning”.

“It’s very hard to reconstitute that type of traffic in any other channel,” he said. “That would be a threat against the other global system, the information system . . . which is linked to prosperity, linked to security.”

The communications cables criss-cross tens of thousands of miles of ocean to relay Internet and phone data between continents. The concerns arose in September, when a Russian spy ship armed with two unmanned submersibles was detected in the vicinity of the cables, as reported last week by the New York Times.

All this comes at a time when Russia is engaging in strong rhetoric by cautioning the United States from starting a proxy war in Syria. The statement from Russia was in direct response to President Barrack Obama’s announcement that the United States would send special forces into Syria.

Of course, if Russia was to cut any cables, it would crash systems around the world, damaging western economies.

TeleGeography researcher Tim Stronge says such a hypothetical attack could be construed as an act of war.

"If the Russians deliberately attacked all 16 cables across the Atlantic simultaneously, then I suspect that we have far greater problems on hand than internet outage," he says.