US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The United States announced its withdrawal from yet another international agreement. On Thursday evening, German time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the decision of the United States to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty with a transitional period of six months.
“However, we will reconsider our decision if Russia again begins to fully comply with the treaty,” Pompeo wrote on the website of the US government.
Several members of the Democratic Party have already called the planned withdrawal of the United States from the treaty without appropriate consultation with Congress and NATO partners illegal.
The Open Skies Treaty (DON), due to its low fame, refers to unpretentious agreements in a wide range of arms control measures. And although it does not limit or prohibit any categories of armaments and thereby, by definition, does not apply to instruments related to disarmament and arms control, it greatly contributes to transparency and confidence-building in the transatlantic system.
The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002, regulates inspection flights over the territories of 34 participating countries, including all NATO countries, Russia, Ukraine, and some non-aligned states.
The data received during such flights are exchanged by the inspecting state and the state under inspection, they also subject the data to technical quality control. Last but not least, such data is of high value to those countries that are parties to the treaty that do not have their own intelligence satellites.
In addition, the images obtained are reliably protected from manipulation, which is of great importance in the era of widely practiced fakes.
At the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the treaty proved its practical use. In 2014, the United States, with the help of a flight in the framework of the Don, recorded the invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine and brought this information to the partners of the Treaty at diplomatic and public forums.
US hopes for recordings from commercial satellites
Nevertheless, the US government and some members of the Republican Party Congress a few months ago questioned the relevance of the treaty. On the one hand, they pointed to the possibility of using images from commercial satellites, which in terms of technical quality are at least equivalent to data obtained as a result of flights within the framework of Don.
On the other hand, they indicated that Russia was violating the treaty by restricting flights over the highly militarized exclave of Kaliningrad to a range of 500 kilometers and banning flights over the border regions of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia, in turn, accuses the United States of numerous violations of the treaty.
Perhaps US problems are rooted not only in breaches of the treaty, but also in Russia’s technological superiority in applying the Open Skies Treaty. While the United States is flying its sixty-year-old OS-135V aircraft and has not yet switched to the use of digital cameras, Moscow has equipped its Tu-154 with the latest sensory technology, the compliance of which is constantly being questioned, which is unfair.
Until recently, the impression was created that the United States was going to switch to digital sensor systems and purchase new aircraft for flights within the framework of the Don, but now these plans have lost relevance due to the country’s withdrawal from the Treaty.
Supporters of the Treaty believe that it has significantly strengthened European security and made it possible to detect long-term changes at military facilities and, if necessary, raise a question about them at public and diplomatic platforms. But these objections are not echoed, as is the fact that the United States, having withdrawn from the Treaty, will inflict even greater harm to already unstable relations with European partners.
At the same time, from the European point of view, the US refusal from the Treaty should not be a surprise. Already the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty in 2019, which followed in response to the deployment of a new Russian medium-range missile, as well as their unilateral denunciation of the atomic agreement with Iran, were clear signals that US security was not particularly interested in Europe. And the indifference with which the US government looks at the future of START III, the last classical arms control agreement, indicates a significant depreciation of any multilateral agreements to the detriment of the Europeans and the transatlantic alliance.
Germany must stand up for the Treaty
For Germany, the Treaty is of great importance. The German government takes the leading position in the field of DON application, having invested 120 million euros in the development of a new aircraft, such as the Airbus A319 with a long range and with digital sensor equipment. But Germany is interested in preserving the treaty not only because of costs, even if the United States will no longer participate in it.
European states benefit from direct military exchanges with Russia. At the same time, this agreement is one of the few confidence-building measures that still exist, guaranteeing at least minimal transparency and contact between military personnel and aircraft crews, including during crises.
The cancellation of the Treaty will not only be a blow to those states that do not have their own spy satellites, but will also mean further surrender to the constant erosion of the transatlantic security system.
Therefore, Germany, together with its European partners and Canada, should actively advocate for the preservation of the Treaty, even if Russia’s withdrawal from it in response to American actions is very likely. There are a number of suggestions on how to achieve this.
In this context, the question arises of developing its own security policy with Russia, which Germany has so far avoided. At the same time, NATO partners should not enter into bilateral agreements with the United States that allow the exchange of photographic materials obtained under the Don, roundabout routes. This can lead to further rapid erosion of the treaty.
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