US Formally Withdraws from Treaty on Open Skies

  • The "Open Skies Treaty" was signed between NATO countries and Russia in 1992 and entered into force in 2002.
  • On May 21 this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement accusing Russia of violating the Treaty.
  • Investigating US actions in Poland or Germany is attractive to Russia, so Russia is still willing to stay in the treaty despite concerns.

The United States officially withdrew from the Treaty on Open Skies on Sunday, six months after notifying parties to the treaty that it would do so. The treaty allows signatories to scout each other’s military installations, which is seen as an important measure to build mutual trust after the end of the Cold War.

The Treaty on Open Skies entered into force on January 1, 2002, and currently has 34 party states. It establishes a program of unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of its participants.

The Treaty on Open Skies was signed between NATO countries and Russia in 1992 and entered into force in 2002. The treaty allows 34 states parties, including the United States and Russia, to conduct “unarmed aerial reconnaissance” on each other’s territories.

Most NATO countries have signed the treaty. So far, there have been more than 1,500 air reconnaissance operations under the framework of the treaty, and Russia and the United States each conduct 42 air reconnaissance operations each year.

American Accusations

On May 21 this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement accusing Russia of violating the Treaty, and said that the United States will submit a notice of withdrawal decision and formally withdraw from the treaty six months later, unless Russia can perform it again.

US officials said that Moscow prevented reconnaissance aircraft from entering certain areas, including the Kaliningrad enclave of Russia and the border areas of Georgia. Russia also prevented reconnaissance of its military exercises, the American said.

US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, also stated that Russia systematically violated the treaty, preventing the US and its allies’ reconnaissance planes from flying over certain areas, and sending reconnaissance planes over US civilian facilities, the White House, and Camp David.

The Russian side stated that the US’s accusations were unfounded, and said that its requirements that Russian reconnaissance planes should not fly over US military bases in Europe are “absolutely unacceptable.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday:

“Washington has made its move. Neither European security nor the security of the United States and its allies themselves have benefited from it. Now many in the West are wondering what Russia’s reaction will be. The answer is simple. We have repeatedly emphasized that all options are open to us.”

Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov asked other NATO countries that signed the treaty to pledge in writing that they will not share any data collected with the United States from now on. He also stated that US bases in Europe cannot be excluded from the scope of Russian aerial reconnaissance operations.

The Treaty is Attractive to Russia

Mike Pompeo is an American politician, diplomat, businessman, and attorney who, since April 2018, has served as 70th United States secretary of state. He is a former United States Army officer and was Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from January 2017 until April 2018.

Investigating US actions in Poland or Germany is attractive to Russia, so Russia is still willing to stay in the treaty despite concerns. However, the United States believes that the treaty is becoming more and more meaningless and the cost is getting higher and higher.

At the same time, due to the availability of comprehensive satellite images, the United States does not rely on reconnaissance aircraft as much as Russia and other countries.

The German government condemned the United States’ withdrawal from the Treaty, and stated that Germany would stay in it. In the summer of 2019, the Luftwaffe took over a modified A319 for reconnaissance flight, the first time in 22 years.

Observers worry that withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies is only the beginning of several setbacks in promoting disarmament. The existing nuclear disarmament agreement between the United States and Russia will expire in February next year. Russia has repeatedly urged the United States to extend the agreement but to no avail.

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Benedict Kasigara

I have been working as a freelance editor/writer since 2006. My specialist subject is film and television having worked for over 10 years from 2005 during which time I was the editor of the BFI Film and Television.

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