Open Skies Are Now Closed

In May, the United States informed the nations that are parties to the Treaty on Open Skies that it will be withdrawing from treaty. The six-month notification period has come to an end and now the US is officially removed from Open Skies. This marks the second Cold War era treaty with Russia that the US has withdrawn from. The reason given for leaving Open Skies is essentially the same as it was for the INF Treaty: Russian non-compliance.

The Treaty on Open Skies came about in 1992 and has 34 signatories, most being former NATO or Warsaw Pact member-states. The agreement centers on the idea of allowing countries to openly surveil each other is thought to prevent misunderstandings that could heighten tensions and potentially a conflict. Almost since the beginning, Russia has been accused of interfering with US Open Skies flights. The trend has continued off and on throughout the years. But in recent years especially, Russia has been accused of blocking US surveillance flights  around certain regions including the Georgian border, and Kaliningrad. Moscow even denied the US permission to conduct Open Skies flights over Russian military exercises, something expressly allowed by the treaty.

There have long been loud voices of protest coming from the Pentagon, and US military services about the disparities between US and Russian observance of Open Skies rules. Over the summer, the US Department of Defense even issued a statement on the matter. “It has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in the United States’ best interest to remain a party to this treaty when Russia does not uphold its commitments.”

To be fair, Open Skies is not similar to the INF Treaty. In fact, they were two entirely different creatures. Nevertheless, there are a considerable number of experts…..and of course self-declared ‘experts’ on social media…..calling the move dangerous and stating their belief that an incoming Biden administration should rejoin the treaty as quickly as possible.

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