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US to withdraw from Open Skies Treaty

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US to withdraw from Open Skies Treaty

Open Skies
Photo: Charles J. Haymond/ US Air Force

The US formally withdraws today from the Open Skies Treaty (OST).

The 2002 OST allowed signatory states to conduct unimpeded reconnaissance flights over other signatories’ territory in order to monitor military movements. Together with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), these international agreements form the bedrock of international arms control between the US, Europe and Russia. The US has now withdrawn from two of these agreements. The US cites Russian violations, such as limiting flights over Russian territory, as the reason for leaving the treaty. OST includes the sharing of intelligence gathered during overflights between treaty members.

US withdrawal leaves 33 signatories, namely EU member states and Russia, to preserve the treaty. Costs associated with conducting OST overflights will be shifted onto European member states, and the intelligence gathered will no longer be able to be shared with Washington, leaving the US out of this critical intelligence-sharing network. A Biden administration will need to address this security gap and provide additional reassurances to European allies confronting an aggressive Russia. Assurances may come in the form of re-entering the treaty or increasing troop numbers in Europe.

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