The United States formally withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty on Sunday, six months after President Donald Trump announced the decision. The State Department has declared that the United States is no longer a party to the Treaty on Open Skies, a decades-old treaty that permits member countries to conduct short-notice, unarmed, reconnaissance flights over other countries to collect data on military forces and activities.
The treaty was first pitched way back in 1955 by the then US president Dwight Eisenhower, proposing that the United States and the erstwhile Soviet Union would allow reconnaissance flights over each other’s territory. Moscow rejected the proposal, saying the initiative would be used for extensive spying. George H.W. Bush revived the idea in 1989 and negotiations between the NATO and the Warsaw Pact started in February 1990.
The treaty was finally signed in 1992 but came into force on January 1, 2002. Currently, 34 states are party to the treaty while Kyrgyzstan has signed but not ratified it. On May 21, 2020, the State Department said that the Trump administration may reconsider the withdrawal if Russia returns to “full compliance with the Treaty.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had accused Russia of “flagrantly and continuously” violating the Treaty in various ways for years. The top American diplomat had said in a statement that Russia has been a serial violator of many of its arms control obligations and commitments and the violations are not limited to the Treaty on Open Skies.
Pompeo had claimed that instead of using the treaty as a mechanism for improving trust and confidence through military transparency, Russia weaponised the treaty by making it into “a tool of intimidation and threat.” He accused Kremlin of targeting critical infrastructure in the United States and Europe with “precision-guided conventional munitions” by using using the Open Skies imagery.
“After careful consideration, including input from Allies and key partners, it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in America’s interest to remain a party to the Treaty on Open Skies,” he added.