Both the US and Russia have opted out of the Open Skies Treaty.
First proposed in 1955 by former US President Dwight Eisenhower as a means to deescalate tensions during the Cold War, the landmark treaty was eventually signed in 1992 between NATO members and former Warsaw Pact countries following the demise of the Soviet Union. It went into effect in 2002 and had 35 signatories, including key players US and Russia, along with one non-ratifying member (Kyrgyzstan).
The 34 state parties to the Open Skies Treaty are Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark (including Greenland), Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
The Treaty on Open Skies establishes a program of unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of its participants. The treaty is designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them.
The idea of allowing countries to openly surveil each other is thought to prevent misunderstandings (e.g., to assure a potential opponent that one’s country is not about to go to war) and limit the escalation of tensions. It also provides mutual accountability for countries to follow through on treaty promises. Open Skies is one of the most wide-ranging international efforts to date promoting openness and transparency of military forces and activities.
What the Treaty Says?
It allowed its nearly three dozen signatories to carry out short-notice flights over one another’s territory to monitor potential military operations.
The OST aims at building confidence among members through mutual openness, thus reducing the chances of accidental war. Under the treaty, a member state can “spy” on any part of the host nation, with the latter’s consent. A country can undertake aerial imaging over the host state after giving notice 72 hours before, and sharing its exact flight path 24 hours before.
The information gathered, such as on troop movements, military exercises and missile deployments, has to be shared with all member states. Only approved imaging equipment is permitted on the surveillance flights, and officials from the host state can also stay on board throughout the planned journey.
Siginifance of US and Russia quitting:
The failure of the Open Skies Treaty follows the demise of another significant arms control accord, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, after both the US and Russia left it in 2019.
The INF Treaty was signed between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987, in which both powers agreed to destroy two categories of lethal missile systems from their own stocks as a means to decelerate the nuclear arms race.
Experts now worry about the fate of the much larger US-Russia ‘New START’ nuclear arms control agreement,which is slated to expire on February 5, 2021.