Defining 'Deconfliction'

Communication is important in any relationship. But it’s especially important in a relationship that involves airstrikes.

As Krishnadev reported, Russia began bombing Islamic State and other terrorist targets in Syria on Wednesday, reportedly giving the Pentagon just an hour’s notice. The U.S., which, along with several other nations, is carrying out airstrikes for the same reason, responded by ordering senior defense officials to reach out to their Russian counterparts. On Thursday, both sides met for “deconfliction” talks.

So what’s deconfliction?

It’s “the deliberate process for avoiding collision of objects in space”—in this case, Syrian airspace. It is a rather clinical term for an all-too-real, potentially disastrous situation. A more honest definition would be something along the lines of “hey guys, let’s make sure we don’t shoot down each other’s planes by accident, OK? Because that would be really, really bad.”

Deconfliction requires a level of cooperation the U.S. has actively avoided with Russia since last spring. Here’s what that could entail, from The Military Times:

Cooperation could include sharing tactical information about flight plans or troop movements to avoid in-air collisions or inadvertent strikes. The two militaries could coordinate strategic plans to defeat Islamic State militants. And they could discuss military aspects of a long-term political solution to the four-and-a-half-year-old civil war.

That’s a tall order for two nations who fundamentally disagree on how to handle the Islamic State and the Syrian civil war. But the alternative is far worse. The U.S.-led coalition launches strikes nearly every day in Syria. Throw in an air campaign from a country known for its disregard for transparency, and the potential risk to military personnel and civilians alike is huge.