US withdraws from landmark 1992 Open Skies treaty

written by Sandy Milne | May 22, 2020
An F/A-18F Super Hornet, attached to the “Gladiators” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106, prepares to land on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (Source: US Military)

On Thursday, US officials signalled the country’s intention to abandon a historic treaty that permits parties to conduct short-notice reconnaissance flights over one another’s territory.

The ‘Open Skies’ agreement, signed in 1992, counts 35 ratifying states – soon set to be 34.

“Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty, so until they adhere, we will pull out,” said US President Donald Trump. “We’re going to pull out, and they’re going to come back and want to make a deal.”

The Australian ABC news organisation reports that a six-month review of the treaty by the current US administration alleges that Russia:

  • Restricted US overflights of Georgia and its military enclave in Kaliningrad; and
  • Used its own recon flights over American and European territory to identify “critical US infrastructure for potential attack in a time of war”.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in America’s interest to remain a party to the treaty on Open Skies” and cited a timeline for withdrawal.

“Effective six months from tomorrow, the United States will no longer be a party to the treaty,” said Secretary Pompeo. “We may, however, reconsider our withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance with the treaty.”

Russia and the US have long alleged that one another are in violation of key provisions of the treaty.

In 2017, Republican congressman Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, released a statement saying the Trump administration had notified him of pending new restrictions to the treaty, which he applauded.

“There is no good reason to allow the Russians to have nearly unfettered access to American airspace for intelligence collection,” Thornberry stated.

“My colleagues and I repeatedly raised concerns with the Obama administration and no action was taken. I am encouraged to see President Trump take a tougher stand to defend our security.”

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