May 21, 2020

Cardin Statement on the Open Skies Treaty

“Pulling the U.S. from Open Skies is the latest example of the Trump administration recklessly and unilaterally abandoning multilateral treaties with seemingly little regard for the effects.”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement on the Trump administration’s announcement on the Open Skies Treaty.

“Today the Department of State announced that the United States will announce its withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty due to concerns over Russian violations of the agreement and restrictions on U.S./allied observation flights.  Thirty-four nations are parties to Open Skies, including nearly every NATO member – many of whom have expressed grave concerns about a threatened U.S. withdrawal.  Former Secretary of State James Baker once referred to Open Skies as ‘the most direct path to greater predictability and reduced risk of inadvertent war.’

“Pulling the U.S. from Open Skies is the latest example of the Trump administration recklessly and unilaterally abandoning multilateral treaties with seemingly little regard for the effects. Two years after deserting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the permanent membership of the UN Security Council (plus Germany), Iran’s regime remains defiantly committed to its malign activities throughout the Middle East. Since President Trump retreated from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) last summer, Russia has not only been free to develop new weapons banned by the treaty, it has been able to portray itself through state propaganda as a country whose peaceful ambitions were thwarted by an aggressive United States. The administration’s track record of abandoning multilateral agreements raises further concerns that President Trump also is planning to turn his back on New START, the last remaining major arms treaty between the U.S. and Russia.

“As I said in 2016, there are legitimate questions about Russia’s wanton disregard for its treaty obligations.  However, these questions should not lead us to the conclusion that all arms control agreements should be discarded. While not perfect, these treaties afford us visibility into Russian intentions, and almost as importantly, provide similar visibility to our allies.  As we seek to bolster European unity in the face of Russian aggression, pulling out of Open Skies sends the wrong message to our friends and our adversaries.”

Open Skies, negotiated in 1992 and ratified in 2002, is a critical confidence building measure that permits signatories to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other’s territory for arms treaty verification purposes. President Eisenhower proposed an Open Skies agreement in 1955 to reduce the risk of war. As the world emerged from the Cold War in the late 1980s, the United States supported increased transparency to reduce the chances of military confrontation. It is considered one of the most wide-ranging international efforts to date to promote openness and transparency of military forces and activities.

The parties to the Open Skies Treaty have conducted 1,500 flights through early October 2019. Some parties to the treaty provide their own aircraft, but the parties can also join overflights on aircraft provided by other nations.  Withdrawing the U.S. from Open Skies will leave many of our allies in the dark if they lack properly equipped aircraft to conduct their own reconnaissance flights.  Further, the parties can invite flights over their territories in special circumstances, as Ukraine did in 2014, when Open Skies flights helped monitor activities along the Ukraine-Russian border.

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