Anytime President Trump goes to cancel a treaty, it sure causes a ruckus. Open Skies, a treaty we’ve had with Russia and 32 other countries since 2002 (although the idea traces back to 1955) that allows flights by very specific aircraft with very specific imaging equipment to fly anywhere over the countries of the signatories. It was designed as a mutual-trust building measure to help the then-Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries build trust with their NATO counterparts.
Now President Trump doesn’t see any point to it. Similar to the INF Treaty, Open Skies has outlived its usefulness, for a lot of reasons:
China is a bigger threat. Yup, China. China is absolutely loving the world created for it by the post-World War Two winners, and has benefited tremendously. Not being constrained by Open Skies, INF, START, or a host of other treaties, it remains openly belligerent to its neighbors. Dropping out of US-Russia agreements allows us to restart negotiations and add in China.
We have other surveillance. Open Skies flights are announced in advance, and both sides take steps to limit what can be observed. The actual usefulness of the flights is pretty limited. Plus, with advances in satellite technology, the flights don’t add much value unless you don’t have access to any satellite imagery. Given that you can purchase public imagery, the Open Skies treaty is increasingly becoming irrelevant.
It’s a swipe at Russia. Russia continues to behave aggressively. Ukraine? Georgia? Still missing pieces of territory. If you’re in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, you’re not exactly comfortable with this trend. This, on top of Russia’s push to legitimize tactical nuclear weapon use, makes them increasingly dangerous. Why reward that behavior?
Open Skies is like Comcast Cable. The subscription gives you so little, yet benefits the other side an awful lot. You know you can do better, but that inertia to keep it remains.
We need to cut the cord on Open Skies and all other deals until Russia stops invading its neighbors.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.