Trump pulls out of Open Skies surveillance treaty

Washington, May 22:

The Trump administration notified international partners on Thursday that it is pulling out of a treaty that permits 30-plus nations to conduct unarmed, observation flights over each other’s territory overflights set up decades ago to promote trust and avert conflict.

The administration says it wants out of the Open Skies Treaty because Russia is violating the pact, and imagery collected during the flights can be obtained quickly at less cost from US or commercial satellites. Exiting the treaty, however, is expected to strain relations with Moscow and upset European allies and some members of Congress.

President Dwight Eisenhower first proposed that the United States and the former Soviet Union allow aerial reconnaissance flights over each other’s territory in July 1955. At first, Moscow rejected the idea, but President George H.W. Bush revived it in May 1989, and the treaty entered into force in January 2002. Currently, 34 nations have signed it; Kyrgyzstan has signed but not ratified it yet.

More than 1,500 flights have been conducted under the treaty, aimed at fostering transparency about military activity and helping monitor arms control and other agreements. Each nation in the treaty agrees to make all its territory available for surveillance flights, yet Russia has restricted flights over certain areas. Earlier this month, 16 former senior European military and defense officials signed a statement supporting the treaty, saying that a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty would be a blow to global security and further undermine the international arms control agreements.

The officials asked the U.S. to reconsider its exit. But if the U.S. leaves, they called for European states to stay in the treaty, fulfill obligations under the treaty and refrain from restricting the length of observation flights or banning flights over certain territories.

Senior administration officials said Trump last fall ordered a comprehensive review of the costs and benefits of US participation in the Open Skies Treaty. At the end of an eight-month review, which included extensive input from allies, it became clear that it was no longer in America’s interest to remain party to the treaty, the officials said. The US notified other members of the treaty on Thursday, and the United States will formally pull out in six months.

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