Open Skies Treaty ‘No Longer In America’s Interests,’ US Will Reportedly Withdraw, Citing Russian Violations

A Predator drone operated by U.S. Office of Air and Marine (OAM), takes off for a surveillance flight near the Mexican border on March 7, 2013 from Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona.
John Moore / Getty Images

The United States will withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty because of repeated violations from Russia, Reuters reported on Thursday. The pact consists of 35 nations and permits countries that participate in it to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over participating nations in an effort to boost confidence among participating nations.

Because of the treaty’s terms, the U.S.’s withdrawal will happen in about six months. The move comes after the Trump administration pulled the country out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia last year. Anonymous administration officials told reporters that an investigation into Russia’s compliance for the last half a year found several occasions of Russia failing to comply with the terms of the pact.

“During the course of this review, it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in America’s interests to remain a party to the Open Skies treaty,” an official said.

The way that Russia has participated in the treaty could lead to military threats against the U.S. and allies, according to officials. Russia has refused to allow access to all areas, instead only letting flights survey certain areas within its borders. Russia faced accusations of banning flights over Kaliningrad and near Georgia.

According to a BBC News report, the Russian Foreign Ministry called the Trump administration’s decision “very regrettable.” It further accused the U.S. under Trump of trying to thwart all arms control agreements.

The agreement allows participating countries to collect information about each other’s troop deployments and military facilities using unarmed flights. Proponents of the pact said that the U.S. should work to fix it instead of pulling out altogether, especially since the U.S. has satellite capabilities to see Russian activity.

President Dwight Eisenhower originally proposed the pact in 1955, but it wasn’t signed until 1992, and it took effect ten years later in 2002. The 33 other nations included in the treaty are Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark (including Greenland), Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and Ukraine. The withdrawal could cause tensions between the U.S. and some of its European allies.

In addition to making moves to withdraw from the pact, the U.S. plans to consider new nuclear arms negotiations with Russia.

“The goal is to get a robust set of teams together to begin crafting the next generation of nuclear arms control measures. The United States is committed to arms control. We are committed to European security. And we are committed to a future that puts meaningful constraints on nuclear weapons,” said one official.