United States Formally Withdraws From Open Skies Treaty

The agreement allows the 34 countries parties to carry out aerial reconnaissance on each other’s territory.

The United States formally withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty, an agreement that aimed to build confidence by allowing the 34 participating nations to observe each other’s armies through unarmed overflights.

On Sunday, a spokesperson for the US State Department said six months had passed since the United States in May notified countries parties to the agreement of their withdrawal.

On Sunday, “the United States is no longer a state party to the Open Skies Treaty,” the statement read.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on Twitter, said “America is safer” because of the pullout, while adding that “Russia remains in breach of its obligations.”

Russia has been accused of repeatedly violating treatment by blocking surveillance flights around certain areas, including the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the border with Georgia, as well as refusing flights over Russian military exercises.

The arms control agreement, negotiated in 1992, allowed participating countries, including the United States and Russia, to conduct unarmed observation flights in each other’s territory. Each country has an annual quota for the number of flights it must accept and the number of flights it can perform.

While critics say the pullout is a blow to U.S. allies, it doesn’t necessarily sabotage the deal, as Moscow has shown more interest in aerial surveillance of European states than surveillance of the United States.

Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demanded written assurances from remaining NATO members that the data they now collect will no longer be shared with the United States. He also said American bases in Europe would not be exempt from Russian surveillance missions.

One more shot for arms control

Writing on Twitter, Steven Pifer, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative, called the withdrawal a “new blow” by US President Donald Trump’s administration to arms control efforts, and called called on President-elect Joe Biden to join the treaty.

In an article, Pifer notes that although US reconnaissance satellites are superior to aircraft allowed in the Open Skies agreement, the treaty has “several advantages.”

This includes giving “US allies and partners, who lack sophisticated imaging satellites, the ability to collect trusted data,” said Pifer, who also noted that planes have “greater flexibility. That satellites and flights can be used as political statements.

In May, Biden derided Trump’s decision to withdraw from the treaty, saying that despite Russia’s violations, the United States and its allies “benefit” from the deal.

“Our allies have made it clear that they want us to stay in the Treaty and work together to resolve compliance issues with Russia,” he wrote in a statement in May. “Without us, the Treaty could collapse. The withdrawal will exacerbate growing tensions between the West and Russia, and increase the risk of miscalculations and conflict. “

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