Save the Open Skies Treaty

Save the Open Skies Treaty

Mary Chesnut

Security, Europe Middle East

Established in the wake of the Cold War, the Open Skies Treaty has provided the United States, Russia, and dozens of other countries in Europe with reassurance regarding each other’s intentions and capabilities. What happens when it goes away?

Established in the wake of the Cold War, the Open Skies Treaty has provided the United States, Russia, and dozens of other countries in Europe with reassurance regarding each other’s intentions and capabilities. Signed in 1992 and entering into effect in 2002, the treaty provides for overflight rights by surveillance aircraft on short notice over the territory of the signatories. These overflights help the signatories identify deployments of military equipment and infrastructure, thus providing early warning of impending attack and transparency with respect to military buildups. Together with a raft of other treaties (including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), New START, and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE)), Open Skies helped create an architecture for managing security concerns in post-Cold War Europe.   

Recently, however, the treaty has come under attack from opponents within the United States. Other parts of the security architecture have already fallen away, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the CFE, and most recently the INF. Every arms control agreement crystallizes a particular strategic and technological reality, and not every agreement can survive geopolitical and technological changes. The Open Skies Treaty, however, represents a low-cost answer to an age-old problem of international security, providing a mechanism for monitoring deployments of military forces and providing assurance to vulnerable nations. Discarding the treaty would represent a surrender to anti-arms control fetishism, rather than to a careful assessment of the security interests of the United States.

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