MI6 sends James Bond into the field to spy on a terrorist arms bazaar on the Russian border. Via television, SIS and the British military identify several wanted men, including American terrorist Henry Gupta, who is buying a GPS encoder made by the American military.
The British launch a missile attack on the arms bazaar, but then Bond points out there are two Soviet nuclear torpedoes mounted on a L-39 Albatros, the destruction of which poses potential local radioactive contamination. With the missile already in flight and unable to be aborted, Bond hijacks the L-39 and flies it to safety after a fight with its weaponeer, who tries to strangle him. Despite the missile destroying most of the terrorists and weaponry, Gupta escapes with the encoder.
Media baron Elliot Carver, head of the Carver Media Group Network (CMGN), begins his plans to use the encoder to provoke war between China and the United Kingdom. As the existing Chinese leadership is not receptive to giving Carver Media Group Network the exclusive broadcast rights in their country, Carver wants to use the war to eliminate them in favor of politicians more friendly to his plans. With the encoder Gupta deviates the frigate HMS Devonshire off-course in the South China Sea, where Carver's stealth ship and it's crew plan to steal some of its missiles. Carver's henchman, Stamper, sinks the frigate with a sea drill and shoots down a Chinese fighter jet sent to investigate the British presence. Thinking they have been attacked by the Chinese, Admiral Roebuck reluctantly gives M forty-eight hours to investigate before the Royal Navy retaliates.
M sends Bond to investigate Carver after Carver Media releases news with critical details hours before these have become known, and MI6 notice a spurious signal from one of his CMGN communications satellites when the frigate was sunk. Bond travels to Hamburg and seduces Carver's wife, Paris, an ex-girlfriend; the information she tells Bond helps him sneak into Carver's newspaper headquarters and steal back the GPS encoder. When Carver learns of it, he orders Paris and Bond killed; Paris is killed, but Bond escapes. Bond then goes to the South China Sea to investigate the wreck, discovering several missiles gone. He and Wai Lin, a Chinese spy on the same case, are captured by Stamper and taken to the CMGN Vietnam bureau; they escape and begin collaborating.
They inform the Royal Navy and the Chinese air force to explain what is happening, then find and board Carver's stealth ship in Phang Nga Bay to prevent his firing the stolen British cruise missiles at Beijing. During the battle aboard the stealth ship, Bond sets off an explosive damaging part of the ship and exposing it on radar, but Wai Lin is captured. Bond captures Gupta to use as his own hostage, but Carver kills Gupta, claiming he has outlived his contract, but Bond leads a large battle against the crew and Stamper, and Carver is killed by his own sea drill after trying to kill Bond on his own. As Bond begins to start the process of destroying the warhead, Stamper shows that he has held Wai Lin hostage. A fight ensues when he tries to drown her. Bond traps him in the missile firing mechanism and leaves him to die while saving Wai Lin as the stealth ship is destroyed by the Royal Navy. Bond and Wai Lin survive amidst the wreckage.
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