OPEN SKIES TREATY | Why USA plan to Quit?

United States of America (USA) has announced its exit from Open Skies Treaty (OST) due to continuous violation of the treaty by Russia.

OPEN SKIES TREATY | Why USA plan to Quit?

24th May 2020 Current Affairs

Source | The Hindu

GS Paper II: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.


Key Takeaways

  • It is an agreement that allows its 34 signatories countries to monitor arm development by conducting surveillance flights (unarmed) over each other’s territories.
  • Both US and Russia are signatories of the treaty.
  • India is not a member of this treaty.


Context: In a recent move, the United States of America (USA) has announced its exit from Open Skies Treaty (OST) due to continuous violation of the treaty by Russia and changes in the security environment.

What you need to know about the Open Skies Treaty?

The Open Skies Treat was signed in 1992 and entered into force on January 1, 2002, and currently has 35 party states. It establishes a program of unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of its participants.

  • This treaty is nowhere related to civil-aviation open skies agreements.
  • Both US and Russia are signatories of the treaty.
  • India is not a member of this treaty.

The 35 state parties to the Open Skies Treaty are:

BelarusBelgiumBosnia and HerzegovinaBulgariaCanada
CroatiaThe Czech RepublicDenmark (including Greenland)EstoniaFinland
LuxembourgThe NetherlandsNorwayPolandPortugal
RomaniaRussian FederationSlovakiaSloveniaSpain
SwedenTurkeyUkraineUnited KingdomKyrgyzstan (not yet ratified)

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Key Details about the issue regarding Open Skies Treaty

The USA has used this Open Skies Treaty more intensively than Russia. Between 2002 and 2016, the U.S. flew 196 flights over Russia as compared to the 71 flights flown by Russia. This move by the USA has further deepened doubts on extension of the New START treaty, which expires in February, 2021.

Throughout its term, the Trump administration has been skeptical of arms control agreements. In 2019, the U.S. and Russia walked away from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

US Stand

United States of America (USA) is expected to formally pull out of Open Skies in six months. The major reason ascertained by the USA is the Russia’s restrictions for US flyovers in neighbour Georgia and its military enclave in Kaliningrad (Russia).

  • It also blamed Russia for misusing its flights over the US and Europe to identify critical infrastructure for potential attack in a time of war.
  • Russia had an intention to to annex the Crimean peninsula and has designated an Open Skies refueling airfield in the region.
  • Yet, the USA has expressed willingness to make a new agreement.

Russian Stand

According to the Russia’s statement, it has denied the allegations and warned that the withdrawal will affect the interests of all of 35 participating countries. However, Russia also said that it intends to fully follow all the rights and obligations under the treaty as long as the treaty is in force.


Other Important Treaties you should know

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

  • Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was a nuclear arms-control accord reached by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987 in which the two nations agreed to eliminate their stocks of intermediate-range and shorter-range (or “medium-range”) land-based missiles (which could carry nuclear warheads).
  • It also covered all land-based missiles, including those carrying nuclear warheads but did not cover sea-launched missiles.
  • By May 1991, the nations had eliminated 2,692 missiles, followed by 10 years of on-site verification inspections.
  • The United States withdrew from the Treaty on 2nd August 2019.

New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) Treaty

  • The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is a treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on measures for the further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms.
  • The treaty entered into force on 5th February, 2011.
  • The treaty was a successor to the START framework of 1991 (at the end of the Cold War) that limited both sides to 1,600 strategic delivery vehicles and 6,000 warheads.
  • The USA has been worried that if it extends the New Start, it would negatively impact an arms deal with China and Russia.
  • It is also concerned that China’s nuclear stockpile could be doubled if the New Start Treaty continued as is, without including China.

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