Treaty on Open Skies is an agreement among 34 countries of the world concerning the flight permission granted to reconnaissance and rescue planes to fly over the regions of member states of the Treaty. The Treaty that was signed in March 1992, allows the member countries to fly over other countries, with prior notification, in unarmed reconnaissance sorties and to collect information about military forces and activities. Reconnaissance planes employed for such missions should be equipped with sensors that can identify important military equipment such as artillery, fighter jets, and armored vehicles. Although satellites can also collect such information but not all 34 member countries of the Treaty have satellite observation capability. The objective of the Treaty was to build confidence among member countries.
Incidents took place within the past several years that questioned the credibility of the Treaty. The irresponsible departure of the U.S. from the Treaty was one of them. What was the problem? Russia and the U.S. recriminate against each other for ignoring the terms and conditions of Treaty on Open Skies. Mike Pompeo, the U.S. former Secretary of State called Russia’s refusal to give flight permission to the U.S. planes to fly over Kaliningrad and regions in Georgia under Russian control as violation. Russia did not give the reconnaissance permission to the U.S. and Canada to fly over areas in central Russia where a military war-game was being held in September 2019. In October 2019 it was reported that Donald Trump was reviewing the U.S. departure from Treaty on Open Skies. The U.S. allies in NATO, particularly Ukraine, fearing that Russia refuses to give permission and to reduce reconnaissance flights of other countries or even prohibits them and thus the existing information of Russian military movements would be limited, raised their opposition to such decision. But Trump was heedless of these concerns and ultimately announced on May 21, 2020 that due to what he would call as Russia’s violation, the U.S. would officially withdraw from Treaty on Open Skies in October 2020.
Moscow announced it would abide by the Treaty despite Trump claims, which was welcomed by NATO members. Many experts admitted at the time that Moscow position was aimed at influencing Trump and if he withdraws the Treaty, Russia would also do the same.
Ultimately, Russia State TV channel announced in the last days of 2021 that the country exited Treaty on Open Skies on December 18, 2021, ceased its obligations under the agreement and from the date, the Russian military planes can’t make observatory flights over airspace of NATO member countries and all required rescue information needed by Russia would be collected by the satellites of the country in the space.
But the measure by the Americans which took place after their exit from Intermediate – Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) must be seen beyond the non-permission of Russia to the U.S. flights over the two regions. Americans who are engaged in transition period at international relations scene and are facing the rising Asian pole, may take measure which will be analyzed within this framework. The rising pole has two strong wings (China with economic wing and Russia with military wing) and the U.S. has planned its measures in line with controlling and containing the two wings. The continuation of Trump policy during Biden Administration on rejecting Treaty on Open Skies substantiates the writer’s claim that it is impossible to militarily contain Russia within the framework of cumbersome treaties. On the other side, the measure taken by Washington indicates that from Pentagon point of view, Russia is still a higher priority than China in terms of military threat.
Almost after the U.S. withdrawal from Treaty on Open Skies that took place following its departure from Intermediate – Range Nuclear Treaty (INF) arms competition has been activated for major confrontation at the end of present tossing transitional period at the international relations scene. According to Brzezinski in his book titled China, the U.S. has probably understood that the changing conditions at international relations scene will ultimately be engaged in Thucydides Trap or providing the conditions for major conflict. Therefore, the U.S. is seriously restructuring its old and worn out military arrangement. Withdrawal from Treaty on Open Skies has placed Washington in the direction towards an arm competition and also increases the probability of a nuclear clash.