The Friendly Skies No Longer ‘Open’ As US Exits 1992 Helsinki Treaty

On the 57th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the United States officially ended its participation in the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, signed in Helsinki,  that grew to partnerships with 34 member nations to conduct observation flights over each other’s territory. The Trump Administration cited Russia’s noncompliance with the Treaty over U.S. facilities in Europe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that the ally parties present the legal guarantees to suspend flight data supply to the United States with immediate effect on November 22, according to the sources of Russia’s state-run agency TASS.

In a press release in May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Tomorrow, the United States will submit notice of its decision to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies to the Treaty Depositaries and to all other States Parties to the Treaty. Effective six months from tomorrow, the United States will no longer be a party to the Treaty. We may, however, reconsider our withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance with the Treaty.

NATO allies, that support the treaty, had appealed to the United States to stay party in the alliance.

At its core, the Treaty was designed to provide all signatories an increased level of transparency and mutual understanding and cooperation, regardless of their size. Russia’s implementation and violation of Open Skies, however, has undermined this central confidence-building function of the Treaty – and has, in fact, fueled distrust and threats to our national security – making continued U.S. participation untenable, according to Sec. Pompeo.

An official document issued by Russia’s ministry of defense read, “We will seek firm guarantees that the remaining parties to the Treaty on Open Skies meet their commitments. First, on ensuring the possibility of observing their entire territory and second, on non-transfer of files on observation flights to third countries, which are not participants of the Treaty on Open Skies.”

As the State Department held firm on its stance, Secretary Pompeo said that Moscow had acted in a selective manner and had violated provisions. Following Sec. Pompeo’s statement, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the US “arrogantly ignored our proposals on ironing out these problems,” adding, “they interrupted the consultations and began accusing our country of violating the Treaty.”

An official notice of the America’s intent to exit the Treaty was dispatched in May as President Donald J. Trump said in a press conference, “Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty, we will pull out.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added that “it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in America’s interest to remain a party to the Treaty on Open Skies.”

File photo of the Open Skies Tupolev 154M-Lk-1 of the Russian Air Force © Flickr/Papas Dos (CC 2.0)

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