State Department memo suggests Biden hesitant to rejoin Open Skies Treaty: report

State Department memo suggests Biden hesitant to rejoin Open Skies Treaty: report
© Getty Images

The State Department has signaled that it is unlikely the U.S. will be rejoining the Open Skies Treaty (OST), telling other partner countries that rejoining would send the “wrong message” to Russia, according to a new report.

According to a March memo obtained by Defense News, the State Department told multiple treaty partners that the administration was “frankly concerned that agreeing to rejoin a treaty that Russia continues to violate would send the wrong message to Russia and undermine our position on the broader arms control agenda.”

The Open Skies Treaty allows member countries to conduct short-notice, unarmed, reconnaissance flights over other partners’ territories in order to collect data on military forces. The treaty went into effect in 2002 and the Trump administration officially pulled out of the agreement in November 2020.


"While the United States, along with our Allies and partners that are States Parties to the treaty, have lived up to our commitments and obligations under the treaty, Russia has flagrantly and continuously violated the treaty in various ways for years," former Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoHouse passes legislation to elevate cybersecurity at the State Department The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults now eligible for COVID vaccines Parade of 2024 GOP hopefuls court House conservatives MORE said when the withdrawal was first announced in May of last year.

President BidenJoe BidenBiden overruled Blinken, top officials on initial refugee cap decision: report Suicide bombing hits Afghan security forces Jim Jordan, Val Demings get in shouting match about police during hearing MORE also condemned the U.S.'s withdrawal from the treaty, saying in a statement last November that the action would "exacerbate growing tensions between the West and Russia, and increase the risks of miscalculation and conflict.”

However, the memo obtained by Defense News suggests the Biden administration might not rejoin the treaty.

“While we recognize that Russia’s Open Skies violations are not of the same magnitude as its material breach of the INF Treaty, they are part of a pattern of Russian disregard for international commitments — in arms control and beyond — that raises questions about Russia’s readiness to participate cooperatively in a confidence-building regime,” the memo reportedly reads, referring to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The State Department has said the administration is "studying" the issue of returning to the treaty. Defense News noted that the State Department said in a statement earlier this week that a final decision has not yet been made regarding the treaty, leaving the status unclear. 


In the memo reported by Defense News, the State Department added, “We believe, however, that there are circumstances in which we return to OST or include some of OST’s confidence-building measures under other cooperative security efforts.”

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told Defense News that he believed the door to rejoining OST is "95 percent shut."

“My impression from reading this document is that the Biden administration has made the decision not to revive Open Skies. They didn’t use those exact words, but they treated it matter-of-factly that it’s done," Bacon told the outlet.