US says it's pulling out of Open Skies surveillance treaty

The Trump administration notified international partners on May 21 that it's pulling out of a treaty that permits 30-plus nations to conduct unarmed, observation flights over each other's territory overflights initially set up to promote trust and avert conflict between the U.S. and Russia.

The administration says it wants out of the Open Skies Treaty because Russia is violating the pact and imagery collected during the flights can be obtained quickly at less cost from U.S. or commercial satellites. Exiting the treaty, however, is expected to strain relations with Moscow and upset some members of Congress and European allies, which benefit from the imagery collected by Open Skies flights conducted by the U.S.

President Dwight Eisenhower first proposed the United States and the former Soviet Union allow aerial reconnaissance flights over each other's territory in July 1955. At first, Moscow rejected the idea, but President George H.W. Bush revived it in May 1989, and the treaty entered into force in January 2002. Thirty-four nations have signed it; Kyrgyzstan has signed but not ratified it.

More than 1,500 flights have been conducted under the treaty, aimed at fostering transparency about military activity and helping monitor arms control and other agreements. Each nation in the treaty agrees to make all its territory available for surveillance flights and share all the imagery collected, yet Russia has restricted flights over certain areas.

Alexandra Bell, a former State Department official and currently the senior policy director at the nonpartisan nonprofit Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said withdrawal from Open Skies will rub allies the wrong way.

"I absolutely cannot see a single upside to abandoning this...

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