The Nation: Playing Chicken of the Sea

Sailors with the U.S. Sixth Fleet call it chicken of the sea. It is a seaborne version of the highway hot-rodders' "chicken" that is frequently played in the crowded Mediterranean by Soviet and American warships. Typically, a Russian vessel will dart and weave among U.S. ships, trying to frighten their skippers into turning sharply to avoid collision. These episodes usually end harmlessly—but not always.

One day last August a Soviet Echo Il-class submarine cruising almost submerged trailed a slowly steaming American frigate, the U.S.S. Voge, for nearly an hour. Suddenly, the sub turned straight toward the Voge and sped up sharply. The...

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