U.S. to Withdraw from Open Skies Treaty: Is the World Less Safe?
US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty: reaction and comments
Democratic congressmen Eliot Engel and William Keating condemn the president’s decision
The United States officially ended its participation in the 1992 Open Skies Treaty on Sunday, as President Donald Trump warned other participants about six months ago..
The multilateral treaty allowed members to conduct observation flights over each other’s territories shortly after notification in order to collect data on their military forces.
USA: reaction and comments
Monday Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel and committee member William Keating published a statement criticizing this decision of the president.
“Once again, he pulled our country out of a critical arms control agreement, ignoring repeated warnings from defense and security experts, Congress, allies and partners about the dangers that a withdrawal could pose to the security of the United States and its allies,” the statement said. … “Thus, he not only endangered the national security of the United States, but also openly ignored and deliberately violated the law.”.
Congressmen recalled that the 2020 defense budget law signed by the president obliges him to notify Congress 120 days before announcing his intention to withdraw from the treaty, which he did not..
“Although the path will not be easy, the new administration should start the process of joining the United States to the Open Skies Treaty as soon as possible or find alternative methods to exchange important information that will be lost for the United States and our allies as a result of the withdrawal from this agreement,” they noted. Engel and Keating, adding that bipartisans in Congress advocate for the advancement of national security through effective arms control agreements.
Senator Democrat Robert Menendez in a statement called the administration’s decision “irresponsible”, noting that it makes the United States and its allies less protected from threats from Russia.
“For nearly twenty years, the Treaty, unanimously approved by the Senate, has provided the United States and our allies with important information about the Russian military. The administration’s decision to withdraw from the Treaty fits into the broader paradigm of abandoning arms control and non-proliferation agreements, causing our allies deep concerns about our commitment to their security. “.
“I am firmly convinced that President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Treaty is in violation of domestic law,” Menendez said, also citing defense law..
“I urge the future Biden administration to re-adhere to the Treaty in accordance with our constitutional structure, and I expect the new administration to consult with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a timely manner and frequently on matters related to this and other treaties,” he stressed..
Comments of American experts
Former US Ambassador to Russia and an expert at the Washington Atlantic Council Alexander Vershbow (Alexander Vershbow, Atlantic Council), who also previously served as NATO Deputy Secretary General, believes that the administration of President Joe Biden may want to return Washington to the treaty. However, this may turn out to be an unattainable move due to the possible position of the US Senate..
“The Open Skies Treaty is a real dilemma,” Alexander Vershbow said in a comment to the Voice of America Russian Service during an online event on Russian-American relations organized by the Atlantic Council on Monday 23 November. – I think the Biden administration would like to remain in the treaty, but the US withdrawal has just become official. And this was done in accordance with the legal requirements of the Open Skies Treaty, even if certain consultations in Congress were not held. “.
“Thus, it can be difficult to declare withdrawal [from the treaty] illegal and return to it,” added the former US ambassador to Russia. – For this you need to get two-thirds of the votes in the Senate, which is unlikely. So we may have to think about other forms of confidence-building and transparency measures. I am pessimistic that we can return to the Open Skies Treaty given the delicate balance in the Senate. “.
According to a leading military expert at the Hudson Institute in Washington Richard Weitz (Richard Weitz), the United States withdrew from the agreement because Russia did not fully comply with its terms.
“The main irritant was Moscow’s constant practice of restricting flights at certain times and in certain places over Russian territory. The treaty does not allow any part of the territory of a member state to be declared prohibited from entry. The impact of the US withdrawal from the OST will be limited in the short term, as no other country has abandoned it. In addition, arms control relations between Russia and the United States were already so bad that this step could hardly worsen them. “.
According to the American expert, Biden’s team considers the US withdrawal to be a mistake, arguing that the United States has not exhausted the ways of solving problems provided for by the treaty, and that the treaty is significantly beneficial to some NATO members and partners, so it would like to re-join the treaty. Nevertheless, according to Richard Weitz, the restoration of participation in the Open Skies Treaty is unlikely to be a priority for the new administration, given the emergency situation within the United States and more urgent foreign policy issues..
“Even in the area of arms control, the emphasis will be placed on the extension of the new START treaty. Of course, the Biden administration will only be able to re-join the treaty if it still exists. It is easier to stick to an existing contract than to conclude a new one. However, if Russia leaves it, the treaty will collapse, since it makes no sense for other states to remain parties to it, given that the main benefit from the treaty for them lies in monitoring Russia’s military activities “.
There is one more aspect that, according to the expert of the Hudson Institute, should be taken into account:
“The withdrawal of Russia may seem like a deliberate attack on the Biden administration, which did not want to withdraw from the treaty and wants to rejoin it. The exit will also deprive Russian observation aircraft of the ability to fly over US military bases in Europe. At this point, the Russian government insists that the United States will need to first accept all post-release changes to the OST before they can return to it, so the more changes to the treaty before that time, the more difficult it will be for the United States. will join him in the future “.
Analyst, American Arms Control Association Shannon Bugos (Shannon Bugos, Arms Control Association) considers the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Open Skies Treaty as an ill-considered move that jeopardizes effective arms control and joint security efforts. In her view, the Trump administration violated the law by announcing in May it intends to withdraw from the treaty without notifying Congress in accordance with the requirements of the Defense Act for FY2020..
“The Treaty directly contributes to national and international security by providing transparency, building confidence and maintaining strategic stability, and US allies and partners have repeatedly called on Washington to remain a party. Taking office in January, President-elect Joe Biden must immediately revise whether the Trump administration’s decision to leave is legally binding on the new administration, and what options are there for the United States to re-enter the agreement, “she said in a comment for the Russian Service. Voices of America by Shannon Bugos.
Russia: reaction and comments
The Kremlin expressed regret in connection with the withdrawal of the United States from the open skies treaty, the media reported, citing a statement by the press secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov. In his opinion, the document will lose its viability.
Alexander Golts: “Cutting contacts is quite simple, it is much more difficult to restore them”
Independent military analyst Alexander Golts believes that the treaty has lost much of its meaning after the US withdrawn from it. According to him, this agreement refers to measures of mutual trust and is of full value only when it covers all objects of military activity..
“And when the most important player in the security sphere – the United States leaves this treaty, it is only natural that it depreciates, – he added in a commentary to the Russian service of the Voice of America. – Especially in the eyes of Moscow, where they believe that NATO and the United States have aggressive designs towards Russia. To call a spade a spade, we have been in the state of a new cold war for a long time ”.
Now Moscow finds itself in an unequal position, and is unlikely to adhere to the terms of the agreement for a long time, believes Alexander Golts. “Yes, the parties exchanged mutual claims, and the US claims against Russia were well founded,” he admits. – But if there is good will, they could be settled in a joint commission for the implementation of the contract. I think that the withdrawal from the treaty is much more in line with the general ideology of the Trump administration “.
At the same time, the expert noted that the prospects for reviving the treaty to a large extent depend on the position of the new administration and the Congress in the new composition: “In the conditions of the Cold War, when the gap in understanding of values between the opposing sides is constantly increasing, the only reasonable channel for contacts is relations in the sphere mutual military confidence and arms control ”. Cutting these contacts is quite simple, it is much more difficult to restore them, summed up Alexander Golts.
Dmitry Danilov: “Another step towards the complete collapse of the previous arms control regime”
In turn, Dmitry Danilov, head of the European Security Department at the Institute of Europe, called the collapse of the treaty another step towards the collapse of the previous arms control regime. According to him, this regime has collapsed and cannot be restored..
“It is clear that this will not add to global security, regardless of how the arms control negotiations go further, primarily between Russia and the United States,” said the interlocutor of the Voice of America. “In the current unstable situation, the treaty was objectively beneficial from the point of view of global control and risk reduction policies, which the Euro-Atlantic countries and Russia adhered to”.
At the same time, if we talk about the details, then Russia actually loses a lot from the collapse of the treaty, since it will not be able to inspect the US territory and American military facilities on the European continent, Dmitry Danilov emphasized. In his opinion, Europe also finds itself in a difficult situation, as its prospects for preserving the possibility of patrolling the vast space to the East of the borders of NATO and the European Union become unclear..
“It is also difficult for Russia to try to preserve the treaty by participating in it with the Europeans,” he says. – And from a military-technical point of view, this is not too interesting for Moscow. Russia is losing the ability to fly over European territories where American bases are located. In this sense, of course, control flights practically lose their meaning, since they do not provide an opportunity to ensure transparency and control over the general operational situation “.
In addition, the collapse of the open skies treaty raises a huge number of questions: this is a “multi-level matrix”, summed up the head of the European Security Department at the Institute of Europe.
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Journalist «Voices of America». Prior to that, she worked for international non-governmental organizations in Washington and London, in the Russian-language version of the Estonian daily newspaper “Postimees” and as a spokesman for the Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Interests – international relations, politics, economics