US withdraws from Open Skies Treaty: What is Treaty of Open Skies, why did US withdraw?

Treaty of Open Skies is an agreement that seeks to foster trust by allowing unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of the participating countries. 


Created On: Nov 23, 2020 13:27 IST
Open Skies Treaty
Open Skies Treaty

The United States has formally withdrawn itself from the Treaty of Open Skies. The US Department of State spokesman 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 Deputy Spokesman of the US State Department Deputy Cale Brown said in an official statement that the US 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 notification date. 

The statement ready that as six months have passed, the US withdrawal took effect on November 22, 2020 and the US is now no longer a State Party to the Treaty on Open Skies.

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

What is the Treaty of Open Skies?

Negotiated in 1992 and signed on January 1, 2002, the Treaty of Open Skies is an agreement that seeks to foster trust by allowing unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of the participating countries. 

The treaty was signed by 35 nations including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Russia. 

Open Skies Treaty Benefit

Under the treaty, all participating countries can observe one another's militaries through aerial surveillance.

The treaty allows the participating nations to fly 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 has an annual quota for how many flights it must accept and how many it can conduct. The overflights are largely determined by the size of the participating nations. 

All signatories of the treaty have the right to conduct an equal number of observation flights over any party nation that overflies it and multiple states-parties can take part in one overflight. 

Open Skies Treaty Signatories

The signatory nations of the treaty include the US, UK, Russia, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Turkey, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Croatia, Belgium, Belarus, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Slovenia, Georgia, Estonia, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Iceland and Luxembourg. Kyrgyzstan is the only nation that has signed the treaty but not ratified it. 


The Open Skies Treaty aims to boost mutual understanding among the participants by giving all of them an equal opportunity to gather relevant information regarding the military forces of the other nations. The treaty also promotes openness and transparency of military forces and activities.

The basic idea behind the treaty is to prevent conflict, as the more rival militaries will know about each other, the lesser chances there are of conflict. 

Why did the US withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty?

US President Donald Trump had claimed in May that Russia has not stuck to its part of the deal. So, Trump had stated that the US will pull out until Russia adheres to the treaty.

As per the Trump administration, Russia 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.

According to the US, Russia has refused access to observation flights within a 10-kilometer corridor along its border with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia has also reportedly restricted flight distance over Kaliningrad, which a base of its short-range and medium-range nuclear-tipped missiles. 

In 2019, Russia had also denied a shared observation flight by US and Canada over a large Russian military exercise in 2019.

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


The US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treat is the third US pullout from an arms control pact since Donald Trump took the office of the President of the United States. Critics have called the move a major blow to US allies, as Russia has shown more interest in aerial surveillance of European states than the US. 

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had earlier this month demanded written assurances from remaining NATO members in the treaty that any data they gather under the treaty will not be shared with the US. He had also clarified that the US bases in Europe will not be exempt from Russian surveillance missions.

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