US President Donald to withdraw US from Open Skies treaty: What is it and why is it important?

The Open Skies Treaty allows unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of the participating countries. 

Created On: May 22, 2020 16:38 ISTModified On: May 22, 2020 16:39 IST
US President

US President Donald Trump announced on May 21, 2020 that he plans to withdraw the United States from Open Skies Treaty with Russia. The 18-year-old treaty was signed to improve military transparency and confidence between the two superpowers.

The US President claimed that Moscow has not stuck to its part of the deal. So, Trump stated that the US will pull out until Russia adheres to the treaty. This would be the third US pullout from an arms control pact ever since Donald Trump took the office of the President of the United States. 

Russia reacted to the announcement by saying the US withdrawal from the treaty will damage European security and harm the interests of US allies. All NATO ambassadors, whose members are also a part of the treaty, have called an urgent meeting to discuss the consequences of the US move on European Security. 


The Open Skies treaty contributes to security and peace in almost all of the northern hemisphere. 

Key Highlights

• US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US will formally notify its intent to withdraw from the treaty on May 22. The US withdrawal will be effective after six months from the date of the formal notification. 

• Pompeo’s statement claimed that while the US and its allies and partners that are state parties to the treaty have lived upto their commitments under the treaty, Russia’s approach to the Treaty has been fatally undermined it as a confidence & transparency-building measure.

• It stated that the nation continues to violate its obligations under the treaty and implements it in ways that contribute to military threats against the United States and its allies and partners.

• The US statement read that Russia has refused access to observation flights within a 10-kilometer corridor along its border with the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

• Russia has also designated an Open Skies refueling airfield in Crimea, Ukraine, which is seen as an attempt to advance its claim of the annexation of the peninsula, which the United States does not accept. 

• Russia has also reportedly illegally placed a restriction on flight distance over Kaliningrad, which is the base to short-range and medium-range nuclear-tipped missiles.

• Russia also unjustifiably denied a shared United States and Canada observation flight over a large Russian military exercise in 2019.

• The US Secretary of State, however, confirmed that the US may reconsider its withdrawal if Russia agrees to return to full compliance with the Treaty.

Open Skies Treaty: All you need to know!

What is the Open Skies Treaty?

The Treaty of Open Skies was signed on January 1, 2002. The treaty has 35 signatories including Russia, the US, the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. The treaty allows unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of the participating countries. Under the treat, all of the party state’s territory can be flown over territory can be declared off-limits by the host nation.

Why is the Treaty important?

The Open Skies Treaty was signed to boost mutual understanding and confidence among the participants by giving all of them regardless of their size an equal opportunity to gather relevant information regarding the military forces of the other nations.

Which are the signatory countries?

The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Turkey, Sweden, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine are the signatory countries. 

Which country has not ratified the treaty?

Kyrgyzstan is the only nation that has signed the Open Skies Treaty but not ratified it. 

What is the significance of the Open Skies Treaty?

The Open Skies treaty promotes openness and transparency of military forces and activities. The key idea that the more rival militaries will know about each other, the lesser chances there are of conflict.  

What are flight quotas?

Under the Open Skies Treaty, every state-party is obligated to accept a certain number of overflights each year, which is largely determined by its geographic size. Each signatory state has the right to conduct equal number of observation flights over any party nation that overflies it. The treaty allows for multiple states-parties to take part in an overflight. 

When was the first observation flight launched under the treaty?

Russia had conducted the first observation flight under the treaty in August 2002. The United States had launched its first overflight in December 2002. The state-parties celebrated their 500th flight in 2008. Till 2019, over 1500 overflights have been conducted. 


The Open Skies Treaty will be the third important arms control pact that the US has decided to withdraw from after Donald Trump became President in 2016. 

Previously, the US withdrew itself from the 2015 nuclear agreement to prevent Iran from conducting its nuclear activities and the 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.

The US President withdrew the US from the treaties each time after accusing the other side of violating the treaty’s requirements. 

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