The United States will withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, an agreement signed in 1992 with Russia and then joined by 32 other countries. The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002, allows the opening of airspace to mutual reconnaissance flights, after notification of flight plans within a relatively short time.
The objective? Check the military movements and the arms limitation measures of each other, playing on the understanding and mutual trust given to the participants. Besides the United States, Canada, Russia, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan, most of the signatories are from European countries, such as France, Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
Very political timing
“Russia has not respected the treaty” declared, Thursday, May 21, the American president. “So as long as they don’t respect it, we will withdraw”. The United States government officially informed the signatories of the Treaty of their decision Friday, May 22, which will open a period of six months before the final withdrawal of the agreement from the United States. This timing ensures that even if Donald Trump loses the election in November, the United States will have left the treaty before a democratic administration took office.
Washington has long denounced many treaty violations by Moscow, starting with restrictions on overflights over southern Chechnya, the Kaliningrad enclave and the secessionist republics of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and some Russian military exercises.
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According to the Pentagon, Russia was using these flights over the United States to map sensitive infrastructure that could be targeted by conventional weapons or cyber attacks. Donald Trump is also said to have overshadowed a Russian flight over his Gulf of Bedminster, New Jersey.
Europeans faced with fait accompli
Russia announced it will remain a party to the treaty, despite the US withdrawal, and pointed “ a blow to the foundation of European security ”. In the United States, the Democratic opposition denounced “A slap for our allies in Europe”. The ambassadors of the NATO member countries were to meet on Friday, May 22, to examine the consequences of this decision.
Once again, faced with the fait accompli, the European allies consider that the treaty provides a useful mechanism for cooperation with Russia and that its limits do not justify withdrawal. Germany called on the United States to “reconsider” its decision, while calling on Russia to comply fully with its obligations.
New Start treaty to expire soon
It is the third international agreement from which Donald Trump withdraws, after the agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, denounced in 2018 and the Treaty on the nuclear forces with intermediate range (FNI), abandoned in 2019. This new withdrawal precedes some months before the expiration of the New Start, a much larger treaty to reduce strategic weapons, which came into force in February 2011, for a period of ten years.
For more than a year, the Trump administration has argued that the United States will only renew this treaty if China also signs on, a possibility ruled out by Beijing.
US envoy for arms control negotiations Marshall Billingslea said he would soon meet with his Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Riabkov, and said he was confident of China’s inclusion in next negotiations. Despite these good words, the New Start treaty, the last nuclear agreement still in force, could well expire in early 2021.