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Treaty on Open Skies

Treaty on Open Skies

Context:

Russia and the other members of the Treaty on Open Skies held a video conference to discuss the framework's future following America's announcement that it plans to withdraw from the agreement.

Background

  • Earlier, the USA has also announced its withdrawal from WHO. The withdrawal is a year-long process.
  • In 2019, the United States withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF).
  • In 2018, the United States withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the ‘Iran nuclear deal’.
  • The U.S.' withdrawal raised concern that global security architecture will continue to collapse.

Summary of the Debate

Open Skies Treaty

  • The idea of the Open Sky Treaty was first proposed by US President Dwight Eisenhower 1955 to allow US and Soviet Union aerial reconnaissance flights over each other's territory.
    • However, the idea was finally revived by President George H.W. Bush of the US and the treaty was signed.
    • After ratification, the treaty came into effect in 2002. It has 34 members and the 35th Kyrgyzstan has not ratified it yet.
  • The Open Skies Treaty builds on the original concept of “mutual aerial observation” proposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  • Flights per country are based on quotas, both active (those a country can conduct) and passive (those a country must accept)
  • The OST allows for members — the United States, Canada, Russia, and various European countries — to conduct unarmed surveillance flights in each others’ air space.
  • The treaty was designed to enhance mutual understanding, build confidence, and promote openness and transparency of military forces and activities.

Why the treaty is in the news?

  • USA’s Allegations: USA announced that it is pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty (OST) because Russia is breaching its OST commitments.
    • According to the USA, Russia had not allowed U.S. observation flights within a 10-kilometer corridor along its border with the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
    • Russia has also denied permission to flights over the Kaliningrad area.
    • As per the USA, it is against the fundamental principle of the treaty, and in such a way it is not benefitted to live with this treaty.
  • Russian stand: The flights over the Kaliningrad region were used to just circle those territories for many times in the row. The area of that territory is small and those flights were the significant disruption for the Russian military and some time for the Civilian activity.
    • Russia also accused the USA for its more sweeping restrictions on observation flights over Alaska.
    • For Russia, it is a political move by President of the USA for the upcoming election.

Analysis of the current situation

  • The USA has announced that it will withdraw and the withdrawal process would take 6 months. There is less time to stop this and by seeing the pattern of USA’S withdrawal from the multilateral platforms it is quite sure that this treaty has the same fate.
  • Absence of China in these treaties: China is not a part of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) and Open Skies Treaty (OST). On the other side, it has grown in military power, military innovation and technology.
    • China is producing many nuclear warheads, ballistic missiles and is set to emerge 3rd great nuclear power in the world.
  • As the power equation is changing after the cold war, the USA is focusing on China more than Russia.
    • The USA wants China to abide by the rules of these treaties, but China is refusing this with time.
    • So without containing China such treaties are of no more use.
  • The USA is also going to see the election in the coming months, so this is also one of the reasons for the conservative government to have such policies to influence the voters.
  • Russian Stand: Russia has refuted all the allegations made by the USA. Russia declared that it wants a treaty and would try to keep the treaty even after the withdrawal of the USA. But if the US wants to be in the treaty with some amendments than it is not possible.
  • Other stakeholders: Other members of the treaty are worried about the move of the USA and expressed deep regret over this.

INF Treaty

  • Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), the nuclear arms-control accord reached by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987 in which those 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 was the first arms-control treaty to abolish an entire category of weapons systems.

New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty)

  • It is a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation.
  • The treaty calls for halving the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers.
  • A new inspection and verification regime will be established, replacing the SORT mechanism.
  • It does not limit the number of operationally inactive nuclear warheads stockpiled by Russia and the United States, a number in the high thousands.

Way Forward

  • USA and Russia should keep the dialogue and sort out their issues peacefully.
  • After the end of such treaties, the world would become unsafe and the trust from multilateral platforms would break. So world leaders must pay attention to this in time.
  • Countries like China should join these treaties to maintain the balance of world power.

Mains points made by the Guests:

1. Ashok Sajjanhar, Former Ambassador 

  • The Open Skies Treaty builds on the original concept of mutual aerial observation.
  • It promotes transparency and certainty. USA and Russia should keep the dialogue and sort out their issues peacefully

2. Vassily Kashin, Senior Research Fellow, National Research University, Russia 

  • Russia has refuted all the allegations made by the USA. Russia declared that it would keep the treaty even after the withdrawal of the USA.
  • But if the US wants to be in the treaty with some amendments than it is not possible.

3. Patrick Buchan, Director, Center for Strategic and International Studies, US 

  • The power equation is changing and the USA is focusing on China rather than Russia.
  • The USA wants China to abide by the rules of these treaties, but China is refusing this with time.

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