US withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies : Was Building A Wall Not Enough Privacy?

At a time when the world needs more cooperation and transparency than ever, the President of the United States of America has decided, at his own convenience, that he does want to allow other nations to conduct surveillance flights over the United State’s sovereign territory, essentially disallowing “non-superpower” nations to gather intel and perceive what goes around in America. According to President Trump, the major caveat is Russia’s non-compliance with the provisions of the original treaty.

The U.S. alleges that Russia is in violation of the treaty for limiting permitted flight lengths over Kaliningrad. The United States,in turn, announced plans to limit Russian flights over military facilities in Alaska and Hawaii. Later, the U.S. also announced that Russian crews were not welcome for overnight stays at its bases in the states of Georgia and South Dakota. In response, Russia announced that U.S. planes would be barred from launching flights from three military bases within its borders, from which previous Open Skies flights had been conducted. 

The important point to note here is that the US is equally to blame. The reason being that, as part of the Treaty on Open Skies, an Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC), an autonomous body with one representative from each member state, was established. The OSCC was deemed to be incharge of addressing contentions  related to the compliance, or here, non-compliance with the provisions of the treaty. The sole purpose of the commission was defeated when the US took matters in its own hands. 

While this withdrawal will have minimal or no effect on either Russian or American surveillance capabilities, the other 32 nations will be severely affected. The reason behind this being the availability of sophisticated satellite imagery machinery with precision close to, if not equal to that of aerial surveillance. One important point in the Treaty on Open Skies was the availability of all surveillance data to all member states. If the treaty no longer remains in force, it would essentially render most of these nations incapable of carrying out these “trust-building” reconnaissance flights. After all, Uncle Sam wants his privacy.

Did the cold war ever end? At a time when the world needs more cooperation and transparency than ever, the President of the United States of America has decided, at his own convenience, that he does want to allow other nations to conduct surveillance flights over the United State’s sovereign territory, essentially disallowing “non-superpower” nations to gather intel and perceive what goes around in America. According to President Trump, the major caveat is Russia’s non-compliance with the provisions of the original treaty.

The U.S. alleges that Russia is in violation of the treaty for limiting permitted flight lengths over Kaliningrad. The United States,in turn, announced plans to limit Russian flights over military facilities in Alaska and Hawaii. Later, the U.S. also announced that Russian crews were not welcome for overnight stays at its bases in the states of Georgia and South Dakota. In response, Russia announced that U.S. planes would be barred from launching flights from three military bases within its borders, from which previous Open Skies flights had been conducted. Comprehending these facts might make one wonder whether these are the two superpowers of the world or two 6-year olds snatching toys from each other?

Who is to blame here? The interesting point here is that the US is equally to blame. The reason being that, as part of the Treaty on Open Skies, an Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC), an autonomous body with one representative from each member state, was established. The OSCC was deemed to be incharge of addressing contentions  related to the compliance, or here, non-compliance with the provisions of the treaty. The sole purpose of the commission was defeated when the US took matters in its own hands. 

While this withdrawal will have minimal or no effect on either Russian or American surveillance capabilities, the other 32 nations will be severely affected. The reason behind this being the availability of sophisticated satellite imagery machinery with precision close to, if not equal to that of aerial surveillance. One important point in the Treaty on Open Skies was the availability of all surveillance data to all member states. If the treaty no longer remains in force, it would essentially render most of these nations incapable of carrying out these “trust-building” reconnaissance flights. After all, Uncle Sam wants his privacy.

Sources and References : 

  1. ttps://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/openskies
  2. https://www.nti.org/learn/treaties-and-regimes/treaty-on-open-skies/
  3. https://www.state.gov/on-the-treaty-on-open-skies/
  4. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/IN10502.pdf
  5. https://fas.org/nuke/control/os/news/opnskicc.htm
  6. https://www.osce.org/oscc
  7. https://www.rferl.org/a/us-russia-open-skies-treaty/30685486.html

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