US formally withdraws from Open Skies Treaty: All you need to know about decades-old treaty

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The United States officially withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty on Sunday, six months after President Donald Trump announced the decision. The State Department said the United States is no longer a party to the Open Skies Treaty, a decades-old treaty that allows member countries to conduct short-notice, unarmed reconnaissance flights overhead other countries to collect data on military forces and activities.

The treaty was first initiated in 1955 by then-US President Dwight Eisenhower, proposing that the United States and the former Soviet Union allow reconnaissance flights into each other’s territory. Moscow rejected the proposal, saying the initiative would be used for intensive espionage. George HW Bush revived the idea in 1989 and negotiations between NATO and the Warsaw Pact began in February 1990.

The treaty was finally signed in 1992 but entered into force on January 1, 2002. Currently, 34 states are party to the treaty while Kyrgyzstan has signed it but has not ratified it. On May 21, 2020, the State Department said the Trump administration may reconsider the withdrawal if Russia returns to “full compliance with the treaty.”

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had accused Russia of “flagrantly and continuously” violating the Treaty in various ways for years. The senior US diplomat said in a statement that Russia has serial violated many of its arms control obligations and commitments and that the violations were not limited to the Open Skies Treaty.

Pompeo had claimed that instead of using the treaty as a mechanism to improve confidence through military transparency, Russia armed the treaty by making it “a tool of intimidation and threat.” He accused the Kremlin of targeting critical infrastructure in the United States and Europe with “conventional precision guided munitions” using Open Skies imagery.

“After careful consideration, including the contribution of Allies and key partners, it has become very clear that it is no longer in America’s interest to remain a party to the Open Skies Treaty,” a- he added.

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