The proliferation of cameras around the world has made it increasingly difficult for China and Russia to control the narrative in international disputes, according to Rear Adm. Mike Studeman, commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence. He spoke at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on April 5. The admiral said that photographs and other documentation of run-ins between Chinese and Russian forces and those of other countries have proven critical to debunking propaganda and holding Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin to account.
Documentation as a Tool for Accountability
Studeman cited several recent examples to illustrate his point. One was the footage captured by an MQ-9 Reaper drone after Russian Su-27 jets caused an in-air collision in March, leading to the drone’s crash in the Black Sea. The images were quickly made public and showed the erratic flight of the Russian jets, fuel dumping, and the final crash. This footage was essential in establishing a factual timeline and holding Russian authorities to account.
Another example cited by Studeman was the blinding attempt of a Philippine coast guard crew by a Chinese ship in February. He said that luckily, the Philippines and others are getting wise to this and recording incidents using cameras.
The admiral also pointed out that cameras have recorded alleged war crimes by Russian troops in Ukraine and intercepts of aircraft across the world. He noted that between 2021 and 2023, China conducted over 100 intercepts of U.S. aircraft in international airspace.
Studeman emphasized that cameras are now the best weapon system in international disputes. He said that a camera or video camera can show the world what is really happening, making it increasingly challenging for China and Russia to manipulate the narrative.
Staying Silent Is Not an Option
The United States military sees China and Russia as premier national security threats. As a result, it spends countless hours monitoring their respective maneuvers, fortifications, and investments. Studeman stressed that if bad-faith behavior is not exposed, it will continue to thrive in the shadows.
“Staying silent in this world that I just described, that China’s painting, is not an option,” he said, “and will not advance our security interests or those of any other nation out there.”
The power of cameras in international disputes cannot be understated. They have become an essential tool in establishing factual timelines, debunking propaganda, and holding bad actors to account. Rear Adm. Mike Studeman’s remarks at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference serve as a reminder of the importance of transparency in international affairs.