NATO allies had long been warned by the Trump administration that it didn’t see the value in staying in the Open Skies Treaty that allows the 34 signatories to fly over each other’s territory in an effort to boost transparency and trust. But unlike the unity that was eventually achieved by the time Washington withdrew from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty last year, Europeans have not empathetically accepted the decision to dump Open Skies, which they consider an effective contribution to global security.
After a special NATO session on Friday to discuss next steps, the statement read out by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was little more than a compilation of long-held views reconfirming NATO’s commitment to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation and a relatively mild rebuke that Russia’s “selective implementation” of its obligations “has undermined” the treaty. NATO noted US plans to “reconsider its withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance,” and pledged further efforts toward convincing the Kremlin to do so, which it suggested should happen at “the earliest date possible”.
The post-Cold War treaty, sealed in 1992 with the aim to increase trans-Atlantic trust and transparency, permits signatories to conduct a certain number of military surveillance flights over each others’ territory at little notice.
The US and, to a less vocal degree, its European partners, have long taken issue with the Kremlin’s refusal to grant access to observation flights around the enclave of Kaliningrad and within 10km of its border with the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The US has argued that Russia has also blocked unarmed overflights of US military exercises and has accused Moscow of abusing its surveillance rights over US territory will work out.”
Other governments appear to be less certain of that outcome.
At Friday’s NATO meeting, French ambassador Muriel Domenach read out a statement signed by 11 governments, including Germany, France, Finland and Sweden.
“We regret the announcement by the US government although we share their concerns about implementation of the treaty clauses by Russia,” said Domenach.
Retired German Colonel Wolfgang Richter sees Open Skies as essential for transparency. DW