Washington / Moscow / Brussels (dpa) – With the withdrawal of the United States from the important agreement on military observation flights, the agreement between most of the NATO countries and Russia faces an uncertain future .
The US release announced six months ago took effect today. The continuation of the treaty without the United States now depends on Russia – it would be invalid if nuclear power were to withdraw. This is why the focus is particularly on the winner of the US presidential election, Democrat Joe Biden, who is supposed to replace Donald Trump in the White House on January 20 – and who defends the agreement.
The Trump administration announced in late May that the United States would withdraw from the so-called Open Skies Treaty on military observation flights. Washington cited the Moscow violations as the reason. This is why the United States is no longer bound by the treaty. The announcement caused international irritation and concern.
The United States hadn’t even explained why it was pulling out of the contract, complained Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin during an expert panel in October. NATO states could continue to fly over Russian territory and pass all information to the Americans. Russia, on the other hand, should no longer receive information from the United States, but does not want to appear as a “fool,” Putin said. “Let’s talk honestly!” He proposed.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov then set the conditions for Russia to stay in the deal. On November 12, he demanded a written commitment from NATO states to no longer transmit data to the United States after observation flights over Russia. And he warned contracting parties against responding to US demands not to allow Russian observation flights over US military bases in Europe.
“This is a blatant violation of the treaty,” Lavrov said. The ability to watch US activities in Poland or Germany, for example, is seen as attractive to Russia, which is why the country remains in the deal despite massive concerns – at least for now.
Germany also wants to keep Russia in the deal. The federal government sees the Open Skies Treaty as “an important part of the European arms control architecture”, as Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in May. “It contributes to security and peace in virtually the entire northern hemisphere.”
The agreement was concluded in 1992 and entered into force in 2002. According to certain rules, it allowed the 34 signatory states to carry out several inspection flights per year in the airspace of the contracting parties. The United States and Russia could each perform up to 42 reconnaissance flights per year. There have been over 1,500 observation flights so far.
After long years of the Cold War, control flights were primarily aimed at ensuring transparency and trust. Russia could see from the sky how military bases are developing in Europe and the United States. Conversely, the Americans and their NATO partners were allowed to fly into Russian airspace for observation.
Disputes with Moscow were seen by US security experts as an argument made when Washington made the announcement. It was suspected that Trump would rather not be bound by international agreements than those that are complicated or do not correspond 100% to his interests. The United States has already abandoned many international agreements under the Republican. Among other things, they withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran, the Paris climate agreement, and the INF treaty banning medium-range land-based nuclear weapons.
Election winner Biden wants to revise this course. If the Open Skies treaty can be sustained over the next two months, the Democrat could consider a comeback maneuver – and thus send a strong signal to NATO partners after four years of Trump. “Without us, the treaty could collapse,” Biden warned after the Trump administration resigned in May.
The allies had made it clear that they wanted the United States to stay in the treaty. “An exit will exacerbate growing tensions between the West and Russia and increase the risks of misjudgment and conflict,” he said.
According to US think tank Brookings, Biden would need to get majorities in the US Congress to return. Russian political scientist Dmitri Susslow considers this “practically impossible” given the balance of power in Washington. “Biden will not go back on the INF or Open Skies contract,” he said. Still, Russia is hoping for Biden.
After the release of Open Skies, a major setback in arms control could still be imminent: the future of the last major nuclear disarmament treaty, New Start, is still pending. The contract will expire in early February 2021 if Russia and the United States do not agree on an extension. Russia has requested it on several occasions – without any tangible results so far.
The New Start Treaty limits the nuclear arsenals of the two countries to 800 vectors and 1,550 operational nuclear warheads each. In the past, Biden has spoken out in favor of extending the contract. However, after his inauguration on January 20, he has little time for this. If the deal expired, there would be no agreement for the first time in decades setting limits on the stockpile of strategic nuclear weapons.