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Why withdrawal from Open Skies harms national security interests

Greg Nash

President Trump has announced that the United States would withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, citing violations by Russia. The Open Skies Treaty allows 35 countries to conduct unarmed surveillance over each other in an effort to provide transparency about military actions and to reduce the possibility of conflicts. It is part of a broad network of arms control agreements that ensure the stability between countries.

The decision to withdraw from this pact goes against our interests, and it harms our relationships with European allies. It will embolden Russia and leave American forces and partners with less protection and coordination in the region, increasing the threat of aggression from Russia. In justifying the decision, the administration argued that Russia was not abiding by the Open Skies Treaty, citing complaints from American officials who claimed that Russia was not allowing any flights over areas with military exercises, including where they believe nuclear weapons might be stationed.

American presidents should steadfastly pursue a foreign policy that puts our interests first and foremost, while holding aggressive countries such as Russia accountable. However, it is clear that this decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty goes against our own interests by damaging our relationships with European allies that count on this pact for security, and it leaves deployed American forces at risk while doing nothing more to contain the military actions and nuclear capabilities of Russia.

European members of the Open Skies Treaty, such as France, Germany, and Poland, have expressed concerns over the withdrawal of the United States, arguing that despite doubts over Russia abiding by the terms of the pact, actions taken by Russia so far do not justify the United States leaving the agreement. The domestic political backlash to the decision was swift with Democrats in Congress highly criticizing the withdrawal. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith declared the decision a “slap in the face to our allies in Europe, leaves our deployed forces in the region at risk, and is in blatant violation of the law.”

Moreover, this is the third major arms control agreement which Trump has pulled out of since taking office. This indicates that if he wins the election, he would withdraw from that only remaining arms agreement with Russia, which is the New Start Treaty. Trump has said that he would not renew the New Start Treaty negotiated by President Obama. The pact imposes limits on nuclear arms deployments by the United States and Russia.

Further, the administration has reportedly talked about the United States conducting its first nuclear test in nearly 30 years. This would be a sharp reversal from the suspension on testing. Taken with the withdrawals from several nuclear accords and arms agreements, resuming nuclear testing would have destabilizing effects on our national security, since doing so could encourage other countries to strengthen their programs.

This is true for rogue countries like North Korea, as nuclear talks with Kim Jong Un are stalled, and Iran, after the United States left the nuclear deal without negotiating a replacement. Withdrawal from the New Start Treaty would embolden Russia to augment its program since it would no longer feel bound by the containment accords of the last few decades.

As I have previously written, Russia has tactically amassed many ballistic missiles and invested heavily in weapons system modernization over the years. The most effective deterrent the United States has against a more aggressive Russia is a commitment to our allies. Leaving the Open Skies Treaty and others sows division between the United States and our allies. This is exactly what Vladimir Putin, who wants to restore the influence of Russia back to the days of Soviet Union glory, has been seeking.

I implore the administration to consider keeping the United States in other arms control agreements to ensure that our national security is protected, while reaffirming our commitment to our valuable European allies in order to ensure a peaceful world order rather than a more volatile one.

Douglas Schoen is a consultant who served as an adviser to President Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His latest book is “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”

Tags Donald Trump Government International Military Politics Russia Security

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