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PSR Decries Trump Administration Withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty

On May 21, the Trump Administration announced that it plans to withdraw from the multilateral Open Skies Treaty in six months. PSR opposes this decision because it increases the risk of potentially catastrophic conflict. PSR recommends that the Trump administration should use the diplomatic mechanisms provided by the treaty to resolve any issues, instead of unilaterally withdrawing from it.

The Open Skies Treaty was negotiated by the George H.W. Bush administration in 1992 and formally entered into force in 2002. The Treaty was intended to reduce tensions, increase transparency and build confidence among potential military adversaries. Thirty-four nations are currently parties to the treaty, including the United States, Russia, plus NATO and non-NATO European countries.  The treaty provides protocols for all the signatory nations to conduct short-notice reconnaissance overflights with unarmed aircraft over each other’s territory, to observe military deployments. Between 2002 and 2019, the treaty has facilitated over 1,500 such overflights.

This announcement follows the Trump administration’s regrettable pattern of withdrawing from valuable international agreements left and right, to the consternation of U.S. allies and to the detriment of world security.  It follows withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty and from the Iran nuclear deal.  In this case, the administration has also directly violated U.S. law, since Congress included a provision in the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act specifically requiring the administration to provide a warning to Congress 120 days ahead of such a withdrawal announcement.

Representatives Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Jim Cooper (D-TN), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces released a sharply critical joint statement on May 21. Here is an excerpt:  “The Administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Open Skies Treaty is a slap in the face to our allies in Europe, leaves our deployed forces in the region at risk, and is in blatant violation of the law. This decision weakens our national security interests, isolates the United States since the Treaty will continue without us, and abandons a useful tool to hold Russia accountable.”