The following is the speech U.S. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick delivered to the U.N. Security Council before the Soviet Union admitted one of its fighter jets had shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 on Sept. 1, 1983.
Most of the world outside the Soviet Union has heard by now of the Korean Flight 007 carrying 269 persons between New York and Seoul which strayed off course into Soviet airspace, was tracked by Soviet radar, was targeted by a Soviet Su-15 whose pilot coolly, and after careful consultation, fired two air-launched missiles which destroyed the plane and, apparently, its 269 passengers and crew.
This calculated attack on a civilian airliner -- unarmed, undefended, as civilian airliners always are -- has shocked the world. Only the Soviet people have still not heard about this attack on KAL-007 and the death of the passengers because the Soviet government has not acknowledged firing on the Korean airliner. Indeed, not until Sept. 5 did Soviet officials acknowledge that KAL-007 had disappeared in its icy waters. The Soviet government has not been silent about the plane. It has merely lied.
On Sept. 1, Foreign Minister Gromyko announced that:
"An unidentified plane coming from the direction of the Pacific Ocean, entered the airspace of the Soviet Union over the Kamchatka Peninsula and then for the second time violated the Soviet airspace over the Sakhalin Island. The plane did not have navigation lights, did not respond to queries and did not enter into contact with the radio control service. Fighters of the Anti-Aircraft Defense, which were sent aloft towards the intruder plane, tried to give it assistance in directing it to the nearest airfield. But the intruder plane did not react to the signals and warnings from the Soviet fighters and continued its flight in the direction of the Sea of Japan."
The next day, Sept. 2, TASS repeated Gromyko's charge that Soviet airspace had been rudely violated by "an unidentified plane" which "in violation of international regulations ... flew without navigation lights..." TASS referred to efforts to establish contacts with the plane using generally accepted signals and to take it to the nearest airfield in the territory of the Soviet Union. Over the Sakhalin Island, a Soviet aircraft fired warning shots with tracer shells along the flying route of the plane. Soon after this the intruder place left the limits of Soviet airspace and continued its flight toward the Sea of Japan. For about 10 minutes it was within the observation zone of radio location means, after which it could be observed no more..."
Yesterday, when Soviet general Romanov finally admitted that the Korean plane had crashed killing "numerous" people, he asserted "the jetliner was flying with its lights out..."
This is what TASS said, but we do not have to wonder about what really happened to the airliner, or when it happened, of what the Soviet pilots who intercepted the Korean airliner over Sakhalin said to their ground controllers during the 50 minutes period from 1756 GMT to 1846 GMT on August 31 while they tracked, discussed and destroyed the Korean airliner and its 269 passengers.
The U.S. government in cooperation with the government of Japan had decided to spread the evidence before the Council and the world. It is available on the video tape I am about to play. On this tape you will hear the voices of the pilots of Soviet interceptors -- which included three Su-15 Flagons and one MiG-23 Flogger, including the Su-15 pilot who pulled the trigger which released the missiles that destroyed Korean Air Lines Flight 007.
While it is obvious that the pilots are acknowledging instructions from ground controllers, those instructions are not audible. What I am about to play back for you is the intercepted tape of the actual air-to-ground reports; it is of course in Russian; on the monitor screens you will see, simultaneously, the original Russian and the English translation; through your audio system you will listen to these voices in translation into all the working languages of the United Nations. Immediately following my presentation, Mr. President, the Russian-to-English transcript will be made available to all who may wish to study it. At the close of this session of the Security Council an audio cassette on which voices are still clearer will be provided to any interested mission.
Nothing was cut from this tape. The recording was made on a voice-activated recorder and, therefore, it covers only those periods of time when conversation was heard.
The transcript we have just heard, Mr. President, needs little explanation. Quite simply, it establishes that the Soviets decided to shoot down this civilian airliner, shot it down, murdering the 269 persons aboard, and lied about it.
The transcript of the pilot's cockpit conversations illuminated several key points.
The interceptor which shot KAL-007 down had the airliner in sight for over 20 minutes before firing his missiles.
Contrary to what the Soviets have repeatedly stated, the interceptor pilot saw the airliner's navigation lights and reported that fact to the ground on three occasions.
Contrary to Soviet statements, the pilot makes no mention of firing any warning shots, only the firing of the missiles which he said struck the "target."
Contrary to Soviet statements, there is no indication whatsoever that the interceptor pilot made any attempt either to communicate with the airliner, or to signal for it to land in accordance with accepted international practice. Indeed the Soviet interceptor planes may be technically incapable of communicating by radio with civilian aircraft presumably out of fear of Soviet pilot defections.
- Perhaps the most shocking fact learned from the transcript is that at no point did the pilots raise the question of the identity of the target aircraft. Not at any time did the interceptor pilots refer to it as anything other than the "target." The only activity bearing on the identity of the aircraft was a statement by the pilot of the attacking interceptor that "the target isn't responding to IFF." This means the aircraft did not respond to the electronic interrogation by which military aircraft Identify Friends or Foes (IFF). But, of course, the Korean airliner could not have responded to IFF because commercial aircraft are not equipped to do so.
We know the interceptor which shot down KAL-077 flew behind, alongside, and in front of the airliner, coming at least as close as 2 kilometers, before dropping back behind the place and firing his missiles.
At a distance of 2 kilometers under the condition prevailing at that time, it was easily possible to identify a 747 passenger airliner. Either the Soviets did not know the Korean plane was a commercial airliner. Either he knew what he was firing at or he did not know his target was a civilian passenger airliner.
If the latter, then he fired his deadly missiles without knowing or caring what they would hit. Though he could easily have pulled up to within some number of meters of the airliner to assure its identity, he did not bother to do so. In either case there was shocking disregard for human life and international norms.
In the days following the destruction of KAL-007, Soviet leaders and the Soviet press have said they do not understand what all the fuss is about. They began by accusing the U.S. of creating a "hullabaloo" about nothing, and more recently they have accused us of "provocation" - implying, though never quite saying, that we "provoked" them into shooting down an airliner that strayed into their space, "provoked" them into violating the internationally agreed upon standards and practices of behavior.
They have spoken as though a plane's straying off course is a crime punishable by death. They have suggested that "like any self-respecting state, they are doing no more than looking after their sovereignty which they shall permit no one to violate." (The statement is from the UREMYA newscast, Sept. 4, 1983, Moscow Domestic television series).
They have claimed, still without acknowledging that they shot down the Korean airliner, that "our anti-aircraft defense has fulfilled its duty for the defense of the security of our motherland." They have suggested that they may have mistaken the Korean airliner for an American reconnaissance plane, but still do not admit that they attacked and destroyed it.
But none of these lies, half lies and excuses can withstand examination. Straying off course is not recognized as a capital crime by civilized nations. And no nation has the sovereign right to shoot down any person or vehicle that may stray across its border in peacetime. There are internationally agreed upon standards for intercepting unwelcome aircraft. They call for serious efforts at identification, verification, warning, and if the case is serious, for intercepting the intruder and forcing it to land or to leave one's airspace. Sovereignty neither requires nor permits shooting down airliners in peacetime.
Recently the Soviets have implied that the KAL-007 may have been mistaken for a U.S. (aerial) reconnaissance flight. But that is no more persuasive. The Korean Boeing 747 was on a routine scheduled flight. At the time it was shot down the U.S. reconnaissance plane referred to by the Soviets had been on the ground fifteen hundred miles away for more than an hour.
Moreover, the U.S. does not fly reconnaissance missions in Soviet airspace. We do regularly operate aircraft in international airspace to monitor Soviet compliance with SALT and other arms agreements. The Soviets know what our usual flight patterns are and can readily identify these missions.
Finally, neither the U.S. nor any other country upset about the slaughter of the 269 passengers of KAL-007 is creating a hullabaloo by exaggerating the importance of the events. We are protesting very important violations of the norms of civilized conduct on which international aviation rests, without which it will not be possible for any of us to board airliners, fly across continents and oceans without fear of being the object of a murderous attack. To a degree we rarely consider, international air travel depends on networks of mutual trust that we will not shoot down one another's airliners, kidnap, jail, or poison passengers and crews.
Why did the Soviet Union violate these norms -- why have they lied about it? Two reasons most often advance to explain why the Soviet pilot shot down the airliner. One is that it was a mistake -- the mistake of a trigger happy pilot who with his ground controller followed a philosophy of shoot now, identify later.
But if pilot error was responsible for this tragic mistake, why has the Soviet government not said so? Why has it lied, and why is it complementing the murderous attack on KAL-007 with a lying attack on the United States for provocation and aggression?
As I considered this question my mind returned to a debate that took place in this Security Council twenty-one years ago when my distinguished predecessor, Adlai Stevenson, called the attention of the council to the "unmistakable evidence" that a series of facilities for launching offensive nuclear missiles were being installed in the Western hemisphere. Soviet representative Zorin flatly denied the charges and, as Soviet representatives so often do, coupled his lying denial with a vicious attack on the United States. Our calling attention to threatening Soviet behavior, Zorin asserted, only marked the United States' own aggression and piracy. But Adlai Stevenson, too, had the evidence to back his charge -- as irrefutable as the audio tapes we have today. (Photographic evidence)
The fact is that violence and lies are regular instruments of Soviet policy. Soviet officials regularly behave as though truth were only a function of force and will. As if the truth were only what they said it is; as if violence were an instrument of first resort in foreign affairs. They occupy Afghanistan and accuse the U.S. of interference in internal affairs. They create massive new European vulnerabilities with the SS-20s and accuse NATO of seeking to upset the balance of power.
We think otherwise. We believe that truth is as vital to cooperation and peace among nations as among people.
It is depressing to consider seriously our global prospects if they must be built on relations devoid of a world in which a major nation equipped with the most modern weapons believes it has a sovereign right to fire on a commercial airliner lost over its territory. The Soviets actions and claims illuminate the Soviet conception of appropriate relations among nations in peacetime. They illuminate the world in which we live and work and make policy.
Of course, some sophisticated observers believe that the destruction of Flight 007 was neither the work of an isolated Strangelove, unconcerned about human life, but was instead a deliberate stroke designed to intimidate -- a brutal, decisive act meant to instill fear and hesitation in all who observed its ruthless violence much as the destruction of Afghan villagers or the imprisonment of the Helsinki monitors are intended to secure compliance through terror.
Whichever the case -- whether the destruction of KAL-007 and its passengers reflects only utter indifference to human life or whether it was designed to intimidate -- we are dealing here not with pilot error but with decisions and priorities characteristic of a system. Not only did Soviet officials shoot down a stray commercial airliner and lie about it, they have callously refused offers of international participation in search and rescue efforts in spite of clearly stated "International Standards and Recommended Practices" of the International Civil Aviation Organization, which call on states to "grant any necessary permission for the entry of such aircraft, vessels, personnel or equipment into its territory and make necessary arrangements ... with a view to expediting such entry."
We are reminded once again that the Soviet Union is in a state based on the dual principle of callousness and mendacity. It is indicated to the rule of force. Here is how Lenin described the "dictatorship of the proletariat" in 1920: "The scientific concept of 'dictatorship' means nothing more than unrestrained power, absolutely unimpeded by law or regulations and resting directly on force." (The fifth Russian edition of Lenin's Collected Works, Vol. 41, p.383)
It is this principle of force -- this mentality of force -- that lies at the root of the Korean Airline tragedy. This is the reality revealed to the world by this horrible tragedy. It is a reality that we all must ponder as we consider the threats to peace and human rights that face all of us today.
The United States deeply believes that immediate steps should be taken here in the United Nations to decrease the likelihood of any repetition of the tragedy of KAL-007. We ask our colleagues to join with us in the coming days in the effort to wrest from the tragedy of KAL-007 new clarity about the changes of our world, and new efforts to render us all more secure.
UPI. 1983. "The following is the full text of the speech..." UPI Archives, Sept. 6, 1983. https://www.upi.com/Archives/1983/09/06/The-following-is-the-full-text-of-the-speech/9884431668800.