Another Mistake 

21 May 2020


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

US Withdrawing from Open Skies Treaty


The Trump administration has never met a multilateral agreement that it liked. It has withdrawn from numerous such agreements like the Paris Accords on climate change and the Iran nuclear deal. Most troubling in terms of immediate American national security is the penchant for tearing up treaties with the Russians. Pulling out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement that was announced last year was folly. This morning, the White House announced the US would quit the Open Skies agreement with the Russians and Europeans. All that is left is the START treaty on limiting nuclear weapons, and that expires shortly after the January presidential inauguration. This undermines the security of the US and its allies.

The Open Skies agreement goes back to the Eisenhower days (although the Soviets balked at it then), and allows for overflight of every signatory's territory to ensure that there is no military activity in the offing. It is a confidence-building agreement that works.

Naturally, there are shortcomings. The New York Times says, "American officials have long complained that Moscow was violating the Open Skies accord by not permitting flights over a city where it was believed Russia was deploying nuclear weapons that could reach Europe, as well as forbidding flights over major Russian military exercises.

"And, in classified reports, the Pentagon and American intelligence agencies have contended the Russians are also using flights over the United States to map out critical American infrastructure that could be hit by cyberattacks."

The solution, however, to these issues is not to withdraw. The solution is to enforce the agreement. The Russian refusal to permits over-flights should simply be ignored. Turn on live broadcast cameras and fly over anyway. There would be proof of any Russian resistance, and Russia does not want war with the US. The flight would go ahead. As for the Russians using the flyovers to map out targets, they already have satellites in orbit doing the same thing.

If America leaves the deal, its European allies will still be parties to the agreement. However, it is almost certain that the Russians will curtail cooperation with them. The departure of one member of the alliance will have an effect on the others. European overflights of Russia will yield data certain to wind up with the Americans, but Russia will not have access to gleaned from overflights of the US because those will stop. The Russian leaders are many things, but fools they are not.

What is particularly galling about this move is the lack of a replacement. When the US announced its departure from the INF treaty, it did so because China was not a party to the deal and because China has a growing intermediate-range missile capacity. The mistake is to pull out rather than to amend the treaty to allow Chinese accession. This time, there is no way forward, no change that could save what has been a useful part of global security arrangements.

Mr. Trump learned what little he knows of negotiation in New York real estate, a market full of amateurs and fools with more money than sense. A few are sharp, but very few can play at the level needed to succeed in avoiding global thermonuclear war. The stakes are very high, and the world needs better actors than Washington has.

© Copyright 2020 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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