US to review withdrawal from Open Skies, as Russia's plans to exit Treaty

Russia had announced in mid-January that it would withdraw itself from the treaty. The Open Skies treaty allows signatories to carry out unarmed surveillance flights over each other's territories.

Created On: May 12, 2021 17:04 IST
Open Skies Treaty, Reference Image
Open Skies Treaty, Reference Image

The United States informed on May 12, 2021 that it was reviewing the previous administration's withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty. This comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin formally submitted draft legislation to the parliament that proposes Russia's exit from the post-Cold war treaty after US withdrawal. 

The United States formally withdrew itself from the Treaty of Open Skies in November 2020. The US Department of State spokesman had informed on November 22, 2020 that six months had passed since the US notified the countries party to an agreement about its decision to withdraw.

The previous US administration under former President Donald Trump had exercised its right under Article XV of the Open Skies Treaty by providing notice to all treaty depositaries of its decision to withdraw from the treaty, effective six months from the notification date. The administration had claimed that  Russia was violating the agreement that allows the two powers and their allies to monitor one another's airspace.

The then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had tweeted saying that America is more secure because of the withdrawal, as Russia remains in non-compliance with its obligations.

Key Highlights

•The current administration of President Joe Biden has stated that it is taking another look at the decision in consultation with US allies.

•The current State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the administration has not made a decision on the future of American participation in the Open Skies Treaty. He informed that they are actively reviewing matters related to the treaty.

•He further stated that Russia's continuing non-compliance with the treaty is one of several pertinent factors that will be reviewed as they take stock of things.

•He further stated, "As this process continues, we encourage Russia to take steps to come back into compliance with the treaty."

Read more -US withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty: What is Treaty of Open Skies, why did US withdraw?

Russia moves to exit Open Skies Treaty 

•Russia had announced in mid-January that it would withdraw itself from the treaty. The Open Skies treaty allows signatories to carry out unarmed surveillance flights over each other's territories.

•Russia cited a "lack of progress" on maintaining the functioning of the treaty after the United States withdrew from it last year.

•Russian President recently submitted a bill to the Parliament that proposes withdrawal from the treaty. 

•According to Russia, the US withdrawal "upset the balance of interests" of signatory states and serious damage was caused to the observance of the treaty and as a result, Russia's national security was under threat.

About Open Skies Treaty

•The Open Skies Treaty was signed by 35 nations including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Russia after the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

•The treaty was negotiated in 1992 and came into force on January 1, 2002. 

•The treaty seeks to foster trust among the signatories by allowing unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of the participating countries. 

•Under the treaty, all participating countries can observe each other's militaries through aerial surveillance. All participating nations can conduct overflights over the entire territory of the party-state and no territory can be declared off-limits by the host nation. 

•Under the treaty, each country is given an annual quota of flights that it must accept and can conduct. 

•All signatories also have the right to conduct an equal number of observation flights over any party nation that overflies it.

•Multiple states/ parties can take part in one overflight. 

•Participating nations can also request copies of images taken during surveillance flights carried out by other members.

•The host nation is generally given 72 hours' warning ahead of an overflight and 24 hours' notice of the flight path. The host nation is allowed to suggest modifications in the flight path. 


US President Joe Biden had taken office pledging to hold a firmer line with Russia. He has however brought the US back into many of the agreements it had withdrawn itself from earlier under Trump's administration. 

For eg, Biden had extended the New START nuclear treaty by five years in his first few days in office. The New Start treaty is one of the last remaining arms reduction pacts between the former Cold War rivals.

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