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Trump Removing US from Open Skies Treaty

With President of the United States Donald Trump. Date: 28 June 2019 Source: http://www.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/60842/photos Author: Presidential Press and Information Office

“I think we have a very good relationship with Russia. But Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty. So until they adhere we will pull out,” Trump said.

For 30 years, the Treaty on Open Skies allowed nations to fly unarmed surveillance flights over each other to scan for military buildups. The agreement brought together 35 states, predominantly European nations, but also including Canada, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and the US. American President Donald Trump said he will withdraw the US from the treaty based on allegations that Russia had not complied with it in its entirety, Reuters reported.

Noncompliance a Factor

“I think we have a very good relationship with Russia. But Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty. So until they adhere we will pull out,” Trump said.

Several US officials said Trump’s decision was the result of a six-month review that uncovered several occurrences whereby Moscow refused to honor the treaty. Specifically, they pointed to the restriction of US reconnaissance craft flying over Georgia and a Russian military installation in Kaliningrad.

“You reach a point at which you need to say enough is enough,” said Marshall Billingslea, the newly-installed special representative for arms control. “The United States cannot keep participating in this treaty if Russia is going to violate it with impunity.”

Ultimately, he wants to bring Russia back to the negotiating table to rehash the terms of the agreement, CNN reported.

“There’s a chance we may make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together,” Trump said. “I think what’s going to happen is we’re going to pull out and they’re going to come back and want to make a deal.”

The Open Skies treaty is the third arms control agreement Trump has removed the US from; in May 2018, Trump pulled the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and in October, he cancelled the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.

The origins of the Open Skies treaty predates both of them, having been proposed in 1955 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Reactions from former government officials widely-skewed unfavorable toward the decision to cancel US participation in it, CNN reported.

Limited Support

“This is insane,” tweeted retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former National Security Agency director and CIA director in the George W. Bush administration.

When the idea began circulating that Trump was considering the move, a trio of ex-officials wrote to Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Advise Robert O’Brien urging them to keep it in place. George Shultz, Secretary of State for former President Ronald Reagan, William Perry, Secretary of State for George H.W. Bush, and former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn called the treaty “a very useful tool for the United States and our allies to monitor Russian military activities.” 

They also wrote that America’s withdrawal “would undermine American allies and friends in Europe.”

Pssst, while you're here...

Sen. Ted Cruz, R–Texas, and former National Security Advisor John Bolton were lone voices of early support for Trump’s decision. 

“I applaud @realDonaldTrump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Open Skies Treaty. Russia will no longer be allowed to use our skies to spy on the American people – a win for U.S. national security and a blow to Putin’s espionage operations,” Cruz tweeted.

Bolton hailed it as “another great moment in arms control history.”

Strong Oversight

While much of the discussion surrounding the Open Skies treaty makes it sound like spy planes are flying freely overhead, the truth is that the accord strictly controls how flights are carried out.

The way the treaty works is less like espionage and more akin to a guided tour. When a signatory to the treaty decides to fly over another state, it must first have its equipment and plane inspected by that government, CNN detailed. So if the US wants to fly over Russia, Moscow must certify the cameras and plane, checking for the resolution to ensure they are in compliance. Then seals are placed over the doors so they can’t be tampered with. 

After the flight, the photos would not be exclusive to the US, but instead shared among all parties in the agreement. Proponents of the accord have argued it promotes confidence and stability in Europe through greeter transparency.

Not the Last Treaty to Fall

The Treaty on Open Skies had no expiry date and therefor wasn’t approaching a key moment for review or renewal. However, another treat with Russia is in fact nearing its expiration date. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) went into effect in February 2011, but was set to expire next February if Trump doesn’t renew it.

The deal limits the number of deployed nuclear weapons for both states to 1,550. Trump and Pompeo are maintaining their position that China must agree to the treaty if Washington is to renew it, The New York Times reported. However, Beijing is unlikely to join as it is in the midst of building up its nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, China only has 300 nuclear weapons so if it were to join, Russia nd the US would theoretically have to shed over 1,000 weapons. 

Despite upending two treaties already, the Trump administration has failed to negotiate substitutes for them. As he has less than a month left in his first term, the timeframe for ironing out new agreements is rapidly closing.

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Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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