A plan originally proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower is being used by the United States and its allies during the Ukrainian crisis. The Open Skies Treaty, which includes the U.S., Russia and over 30 other countries, allows for observation flights over the territories of each member state.
When Russian troops started massing on the border with Ukraine in March, the treaty was put into action. The U.S. and allies have taken detailed photographs of the troop movements during Open Skies flights.
Anita E. Friedt, of the U.S. Bureau of Arms Control, says, “These flights have resulted in valuable data and insights for not only the United States but our partners and allies who are also States Parties.”
At a critical moment in March there was fear Russian troops had moved beyond the Crimea after seizing control of that region. The Ukraine requested “Extraordinary Observation Flights” under the treaty. Sweden and the U.S., along with observers, carried out these flights. Friedt adds, “These flights provided reassurance to Ukraine and demonstrated our commitment to work with allies to uphold key elements of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture.”
When Eisenhower put forward the Open Skies plan in 1955 it was seen as a way to calm Cold War fears of surprise attack. It also could serve as an opening toward arms control.
The Open Skies plan was rejected by the Soviet Union, but it was revived and made a treaty in 1992. Canada and European nations joined the treaty with Russia and the United States.
Hundreds of Open Skies flights have taken place since the treaty’s start. Every summer you can almost count on Russian planes flying observation missions over the U.S. and vice versa. Now with tensions high Open Skies flights take on even more meaning.
More than 11 Open Skies flights have been conducted since the tensions over Ukraine began to escalate. The flights are vital to increase transparency during a time of crisis.
More Russian troops are reported to be withdrawing from the border areas with Ukraine. However, observations like “Open Skies” will continue.
Friedt adds, “We believe these arms control mechanisms have great importance not only in providing insight and transparency into Russian actions in and around Ukraine, but demonstrating support for our allies and partners in ensuring their sovereignty and territorial integrity.”