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The US leaves the "Open Skies" treaty

Is arms control in Europe no longer of interest?

With one of the unconventional decisions that made him famous, Donald Trump decided, alone without informing Congress, that the United States will exit the "Open Skies" treaty, that is the international agreement in which 34 countries participate and which allows mutual control of the level of armaments through the agreed overflight of planes with certain electro-optical sensors as well as radar for the detection and recording of the position and relevance of military bases.

Entered into force in 1992, "Open Skies" (not to be confused with an airspace management program of the same name) has so far allowed an intense exchange of inspection visits through overflights (paid by the countries that perform them) which have committed most of the European Nations and the United States on the one hand and the Russian Federation on the other one.

The "casus belli" was yet another refusal made by the Russian Federation to the request of the other countries to fly over the areas where a complex military exercise of their armed forces was taking place.

The Western analysts' doubt is that the Russian Federation has vetoed it (foreseen in some situations by the treaty) to prevent the findings of "Open Skies" aircraft, combined with other intelligence information, from providing too precise a picture of the forces and the disposition of the federation's operating complexes. But for a doubt nobody breaks a treaty and not even for many doubts because history has shown that the alternative to treaties and diplomatic discussions risks being one.

From the historical point of view, the exit by the United States is at least singular if we consider that already at the end of the 1950s General Eisenhower, as President of the United States, had launched the idea of an "Open Skies" treaty that would allow the two superpowers to control their level of weaponry in a reciprocal way by flying over aircraft equipped with special instruments.

Set aside for many years, the idea of mutually agreed flights was back in vogue with the collapse of the Soviet system as an important complement to other treaties for the control of conventional arms in Europe.

From a technical point of view, implementing the treaty -AVIONEWS writes it- was not so simple.

Each Nation had to prepare its own plane, generally a medium-long range aircraft, a military transport or a commercial airplane, suitably adapted with the integration on board of a series of sensors that allowed shooting in the field of the visible but also of the infrared and, in the case of American aircraft, also with sophisticated radar sensors.

Once ready, the planes were viewed by teams of experts from other countries who had to agree on their compliance with the treaty.

Only subsequently each aircraft was able to be used constantly in the overflights of particular sections of the countries of interest.

However, the results were remarkable, all the participants always said they were satisfied with the information received and in the event of disputes, these were quickly resolved within the treaty.

It should not be forgotten that "Open Skies" has contributed to overseeing the enormous mass of armaments that the collapse of the USSR has left around in half of Europe. Deposits full of explosives and armaments of all kinds that could take the wrong paths.

A significant result of the detailed work of those who drafted the treaty at its inception, but also of those who with periodic meetings at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) in Vienna faced implementation difficulties and they always solved them through mediation. Lastly, "Open Skies" flights on many occasions have also made it possible to collect useful information for environmental control in Europe.

Precisely because of this general climate of collaboration that has just been rippled by the opposition on one side or the other, no one expected this disruptive decision by the United States that risks, as analysts say, having serious repercussions on the other arms control treaties in Europe and the rest of the world.

From an exquisitely operational point of view, the United States had equipped itself with two OC-135 aircraft, derived from the B-707, on which sensors and a series of consoles had been installed which allowed long-haul flights to cover each time an important part of the Russian Federation. To manage the treaty, of which it was the first signatory, Italy had structured a special office managed by personnel of the Armed Forces, in particular the Air Force, based on the Rome-Ciampino airport that provides the inspectors.

The exit of the United States -an Italian diplomat told to AVIONEWS- risks undermining the entire system, making it unstable and therefore ready for further abandonments.
Even in the US, the ratings on this surprise move by Trump are extremely different: on the one hand, it is emphasized that the Russian Federation has used "Open Skies" flights to accumulate valuable information to be able to attack vital US objectives in case of need and of their allies.

On the other, he complains that the decision was taken in an absolutely autocratic and illegal way because President Trump should have informed the Congress well in advance of his intent.

The more extreme fringes of the Republican party naturally supported Trump's decision by stressing that on a couple of occasions the Russian government had deliberately avoided "Open Skies" checks by preventing flights on the border of Georgia, a place of bloody conflict and on one of the largest military exercises of the federation preventing " transparency which is the primary objective of the treaty".

In an extreme attempt at mediation, the NATO secretary general, Stoltenberg, also intervened, who perhaps unintentionally hinted that Trump's should be read as a provocation (not the first certainly Ed) and in an official Alliance meeting asked the Russian government to restore the smooth functioning of the treaty, that is, to allow the required overflights, suggesting that if this happens, the United States could reconsider its position.

Meanwhile, as the first result of the political decision to abandon "Open Skies", the US has stopped the process of modernizing the two Boeing planes, an extremely limited economy, which could -AVIONEWS underlines it- have far-reaching political and diplomatic consequences.

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© AVIONEWS - World Aeronautical Press Agency Srl
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