International law encompasses many aspects that seek to regulate the behavior among states during both times of war and peace. When a state proceeds to act outside of the set of international norms, the international community may act in a multitude of ways from one extreme to the other. This is what the world saw with the downing of a civilian flight in 1983. On September 1, 1983, Korean Airlines Flight 007 was on its last leg of a flight from New York City to Seoul, South Korea. At some point during the flight, for reasons that are highly speculative, the aircraft veered, off course, and crossed over the Kamchatka Peninsula into the Soviet Union. The peninsula housed a top-secret military installation and fighter pilots were sent to intercept the plane. The Soviet Union makes claims that it had tried to communicate with the plane and when they received no response, the fighter pilot fired two missiles: a heat seeking missile and a radar guided missile. It is unclear which missile struck the plane or if both missiles struck the plane, but the plane went down into the Sea of Japan and all 269 passengers and crew members were killed.
Four hours after the flight took off, the flight entered into Soviet airspace but the fighter pilots were unable to locate the aircraft, ran low on fuel, and returned to their base. The flight ended up continuing unaware that it was in Soviet airspace. When it re-entered Soviet airspace, the fighter pilots went back up assuming it was a military aircraft. The pilots had been instructed to shoot in down this time. Tokyo had ordered the plane to climb to 35,000 feet which the Soviets viewed as an evasive maneuver and that sealed the fate of the aircraft.
The downing of Flight 007 was not the first time the Soviet Union had interfered with a civilian plane. In 1978, the Soviets forced a passenger jet down over Murmansk, killing two people. After the incident in 1983, the Soviet Union claimed they had no knowledge of the plane being a civilian plane. The United States maintains that the Soviet Union knew the plane was a civilian one. Former President Reagan called the incident a massacre and released the following statement in the days after the incident: “the Soviets have turned against the world and the moral precepts which guide human relations among people everywhere.” After the incident, the Reagan administration suspended all Soviet passenger air service to the United States and dropped several agreements being negotiated with the Soviet Union.
Some of the facts surrounding KAL Flight 007 are well known while others are murky. For instance, it is known that the flight departed from JFK Airport in New York bound for Seoul, South Korea with a stop in Anchorage, Alaska. The passengers on board were from 14 different states and included Lawrence P. McDonald, a Democrat for the U.S. House of Representatives. Shortly after departure from Alaska, the plane deviated off course and crossed into restricted Soviet...