U.S. to pull out of Open Skies Treaty?

U.S. to pull out of Open Skies Treaty?

The U.S. administration is looking into the possibility of withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel said.

"I am deeply concerned by reports that the Trump Administration is considering withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty and strongly urge you against such a reckless action," Engel said in a letter to White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.

The U.S. lawmaker said that the treaty has provided important military transparency for its  signatory countries since it entered into force in 2002. According to him, American withdrawal would only benefit Russia and be harmful to our allies’ and partners’ national security interests. Engel recalled that the Open Skies Treaty allows the U.S. and its allies and partners to monitor Russian military deployments, while observation flights  have generated additional information regarding "Russian action in Ukraine."

According to him, the withdrawal from the treaty will split the trans-Atlantic union and undermine the trust in the United States as a reliable partner in ensuring European security.

"If the Administration is indeed considering a change of status on the Treaty, it must be part of a transparent process that includes a thorough interagency review and consultation with Congress, and that provides other signatories a clear understanding of your intentions," reads the letter, whose text was released by Engel’s office.. 

The lawmaker noted that the White House has not held significant consultations with its allies and partners on this matter, however such consultations are a prerequisite to successfully navigate any major policy shift with the Treaty.

The press offices of the White House and the Department of State did not comment on the letter’s contents. However, a high-ranking U.S. government source did not directly reject the information, citing the policy of not commenting issues which are now under discussion.

The Treaty on Open Skies was signed in March 1992 in Helsinki by 24 member nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). 

The senior research fellow at the European Research Centre of the International Relations Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Olenchenko, speaking to Vestnik Kavkaza, noted that the Open Skies Treaty is one of the elements of mutual trust that were created in the 1990s to ensure stability and security in the world. "Another treaty, unfortunately, has already lost force - I mean the INF Treaty. And the Open Skies Treaty provided for the possibility of conducting aerial surveillance flights, according to the established schedule," the expert emphasized.

According to him, Washington’s intention to withdraw from the treaty means a reduction in the elements of trust and control, verification of the military-political situation. "This is an alarming signal, therefore, it is necessary to immediately respond to it, to make it clear that it is unacceptable to us. It is unlikely that it will be acceptable to other countries participating in this agreement. Therefore, I would react quickly and categorically against this statement," the senior research fellow at the European Research Centre of the International Relations Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences said.

A military observer of the TASS news agency, retired Colonel Viktor Litovkin, also noted that the Open Skies Treaty, like other treaties on strategic arms reduction, on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles and so on, is a treaty on trust. "When the parties have the opportunity to check whether their opponent is preparing for war or aggression, this allows both sides to live in peace. The Open Skies Treaty provided an opportunity for the United States, Russia, European countries, Canada, all OSCE members to conduct aerial surveillance flights and fix certain military facilities, check whether the data provided to Vienna correspond to the real state of affairs," he explained.

The expert stressed that if the U.S. leaves the Open Skies Treaty, no one will be able to fly over their territory, and everyone will be unaware what the United States is preparing, for example, against Russia. “At the same time, the U.S. is in a better position compared to Russia, since they have NATO allies, which were able to fly over Russian territory and share information with the United States. But Russia's allies, for example Belarus, will not be able to fly over the territory of the United States. And Russia will only be able to determine what is happening there through satellites," he said.

Viktor Litovkin added that the United States today considers itself above all in its foreign policy, believing that no one can limit them, therefore they withdraw from all treaties that somehow limit them.