United States Withdraws from the Treaty on Open Skies

open skies

The United States on Sunday has officially withdrawn from the Treaty on Open Skies after giving notice six months ago on May 22.

A statement on state.gov said that the withdrawal which took effect on November 22, was not taken lightly and is the culmination of a months’ long review process that included extensive consultations with other States Parties.  

The United States’ decision to withdraw was triggered by the behavior of Russia whose actions are directly responsible for the erosion of the European security and arms control architecture. 

According to Thomas Dinanno, Senior Bureau Official and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense Policy, Emerging Threats and Outreach, Russia’s violations of the Treaty on Open Skies are merely one part of a pattern of Russian violations of its arms control obligations and commitments. These include:  Russia’s material breach of the INF Treaty; its aggressive actions against Georgia and Ukraine, which are flagrantly contrary to its commitments to the principles set forth in the Helsinki Final Act; its purported suspension of its obligations under the CFE Treaty; and its selective implementation of the Vienna Document. 

The US has also accused Russia of denying flights within 6.2 miles of the Georgia-Russia border, and denying a previously approved flight over a major Russian military exercise.

“Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty, so until they adhere, we will pull out,” Trump told reporters outside the White House in May.

America’s European allies, however, value the treaty, as it gives them the ability to collect aerial reconnaissance information that they would not necessarily have access to outside of the treaty.

In a lengthy May statement explaining the US decision to exit the agreement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US understands Europeans still value the treaty, saying that it was one of the reasons the US stayed in the treaty for some period despite Moscow’s unwillingness to adhere to it.

The treaty gave US allies and partners without sophisticated satellite capabilities a way to gather and share — all the member countries could access imagery gathered on flights.

Pentagon officials have told CNN that the US military intends to share some of its intelligence and reconnaissance data from assets such as satellites with European allies in order to help compensate for any loss of critical information from the cessation of Open Skies flights.

Image: Artyom Anikeev | Getty