International arms control continues to crumble

The building of international arms control is threatened with further demolition. After withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran and the bilateral INF Treaty on the Prohibition of land-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles agreed with Moscow, the US also wants to withdraw from the multilateral agreement on trust-building military observation flights, known as open Skies. President Donald Trump announced this on Thursday evening and referred to alleged violations of the treaty by Russia. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that the federal government, together with European allies, would try to prevent Washington from withdrawing from the treaty, which would take place in six months.

The “Open Skies” contract has been in force since 2002. It allows its 34 contracting states-USA, Canada, Russia and a further 31 European countries – several times a year short-term announced surveillance flights in the entire airspace “between Vancouver and Vladivostok”. Over the last 18 years, more than 1500 such flights have taken place, in which representatives of both the observing and the observed States always participate. The surveillance flights are intended, among other things, to monitor compliance with the Treaty on the limitation of conventional weapons and armed forces in Europe (CfE), which was also agreed in 1990 within the framework of the CSCE.

The Trump Administration accuses Moscow of restricting control flights over the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad – where Washington suspects the deployment of intermediate – range nuclear missiles-and over the border area between Russia and Georgia, which is disputed between the governments in Moscow and Tbilisi. This would" reduce transparency in a highly militarized area, " the Pentagon said. The Russian foreign Ministry criticized trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Treaty as “absolutely unfounded”.

NATO has also voiced criticism of Moscow since 2018. At the same time, however, the military alliance underlined the importance of the treaty for Arms Control Policy and appealed to Washington to stick to the treaty. However, due to the different developments in armaments and surveillance technology since the treaty was negotiated, it is now of varying importance for the partners in the NATO alliance. Unlike the Europeans, the US now has surveillance satellites that allow it to monitor and spy on all Russian military activities much more accurately and reliably than with aircraft. Conversely, Russia has focused on improving aircraft-based surveillance technology and, according to experts, may already be able to take aerial photographs with resolution accuracy below the 30-square-centimeter limit set in the “Open Skies"Treaty. According to the New York Times, US President Trump was very upset about a Russian Air Force flight over his Golf Resort in the state of New Jersey in 2017.

The"Open Skies “agreement was negotiated between 1990 and 1992 by the then 35 member states of the” conference (today: Organization) for security and cooperation " (C/OSCE) and until its entry into force in 2002 was finally signed and ratified by 34 states: the then 16 NATO states, all members of the former Warsaw Pact and eight of the then twelve non-aligned CSCE members. Austria, Switzerland, Cyprus, Lichtenstein and Andorra stayed away from the agreement.