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Current Affairs

Open Skies Treaty

Date: 18 January 2021 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

Russia has announced that it was leaving the Open Skies Treaty (OST, which was an accord between over 30 countries that allows participants to fly unarmed reconnaissance flights over any part of their fellow member states.

 

Background

In November, the United States left the OST first after accusing Russia of violating the pact– allegations that Russia denied. Moscow has now blamed Washington for its own decision of leaving the treaty.

 

Details

  • The landmark treaty was signed in 1992 between NATO members and former Warsaw Pact countries following the demise of the Soviet Union.

  • It was proposed in 1955 by former US President Dwight Eisenhower as a means to deescalate tensions during the Cold War.

  • It went into effect in 2002 and had 35 signatories, including key players US and Russia, along with one non-ratifying member (Kyrgyzstan).

Aim of the treaty

  • 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.

 

Significance of treaty

  • The surveillance aircraft provide key information that still cannot be gathered by satellite sensors, such as thermal imaging data.

  • 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.

Reason for US exit

  • US President Donald Trump was unhappy that a Russian reconnaissance flew over his golf course in New Jersey State in 2017.

  • US has accused Russia of non-compliance with OST protocols, blaming Moscow of obstructing surveillance flights on its territory, while misusing its own missions for gathering key tactical data.

 

Russia’s exit

  • A contentious issue regarding Russia’s compliance with the OST was its alleged reluctance to allow flights over Kaliningrad, its exclave in Eastern Europe that sits between NATO allies Lithuania and Poland.

  • After the US left the OST, Russia sought assurances from NATO allies that they would not transfer data collected by their flights over Russia to Washington. These requests were not backed by the NATO members.

Open Skies Treaty

Date: 26 May 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

In a setback to the world’s arms control framework, the Trump administration said that it will withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty (OST).

 

Background

 The Open Skies Treaty (OST) is a 34-member accord that allows participants to fly unarmed reconnaissance flights over any part of their fellow member states.

 

Details

  • 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 currently has 35 signatories along with one non-ratifying member (Kyrgyzstan).

  • 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.

  • The OST was signed in 1992, much before the advent of advanced satellite imaging technology which is currently the preferred mode for intelligence gathering.

  • Russia’s departure could adversely impact Washington’s European allies, which rely on OST data to track Russian troop movements in the Baltic region.

  • The OST exit is only the most recent example in the list of important pacts that Washington has stepped away from during the Trump presidency, such as the Paris Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.

  • Experts are now contemplating the fate of the much larger US-Russia ‘New START’ nuclear arms control agreement, which is slated to expire in February 2021.