President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty removes yet another pillar of the arms control architecture that supports international security and stability. This decision will erode the collective ability of the United States and our allies to monitor Russian military activities and facilities and undermine U.S. cooperation with key allies and partners.
Under the Treaty, which was originally conceived by President Dwight Eisenhower and signed under President George H. W. Bush, the United States has flown approximately three-times as many flights over Russia as Russia has flown over the United States, and other states parties have conducted more than 500 additional flights over Russia since 2002, producing valuable imagery that is available to any state party who requests it.
Any concerns about Russia’s compliance with the Treaty should be resolved using the mechanisms provided by the Treaty, as has been done successfully in the past. By rejecting the tools to resolve these issues, the United States breaks from our allies and worsens the U.S.-Russian strategic relationship which increasingly risks escalation, miscalculation and in a worst scenario, a catastrophic conflict.
Steps must be taken to reduce risk and enhance strategic stability. The most important and achievable step in the near term is to extend the New START Treaty between the United States and Russia to 2026—a decision that can be made by Presidents Trump and Putin alone. Without extension, there will be no limits on Russia’s nuclear weapons systems, and the United States will lose all inspection access to Russian nuclear facilities. New START must be kept in place, even as the administration pursues additional agreements with Russia and China, which will be complex and take many months, if not years, of negotiation to achieve.
Comprehensive, verifiable arms control agreements have enhanced U.S. national security over the past 50 years, through Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Tearing them up without viable alternatives threatens U.S. and allied security today and for years to come. At a time when the world is facing an unprecedented public health and economic crisis, the United States should be leading the international community, cooperating with allies, and avoiding actions that could further destabilize the international environment. The decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty does the opposite.