The US military would have been within its rights to shoot down Russian aircraft that flew close to one of its warships in the Baltic Sea, Secretary of State John Kerry says.
Two Russian jets flew within metres of the ship on Monday, US officials said.
Russia’s defence ministry said the Su-24 fighter jets “turned away in observance of all safety measures” after observing the USS Donald Cook.
Mr Kerry criticised the gesture and said contact had been made with Moscow.
“We condemn this kind of behaviour,” he told the Miami Herald and CNN Espanol in a joint interview.
“It is reckless. It is provocative. It is dangerous. And under the rules of engagement, that could have been a shoot-down.”
He added that the US “is not going to be intimidated on the high seas” and that a message had been conveyed to Russia over the danger of such a gesture.
Individual Nato members’ rules of engagement should clearly outline what are defined as “actions that might be construed as provocative”, according to the organisation’s own guidelines.
Applying those rules of engagement “requires commanders at all levels to exercise considerable judgment”, Nato says.
Mr Kerry did not specify why the US Navy did not fire at the jets.