Does Trump's Will to Exit the Open Skies Treaty Threaten Security in Europe?

Among the many unconcerted initiatives that President Donald Trump, in the midst of his campaign for a second term, has launched in recent months, the withdrawal of the United States from the Open Skies Treaty may appear secondary, in the face of theexit from the INF treaty already recorded, that of the START treaty on the limitation of nuclear weapons desired by the president, or the withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria, with the consequences that we know. However, this desire of the American president, which he justifies by the fact that the Russian authorities would not respect the commitments of the treaty, is, once again, attacked by numerous Democratic senators and representatives, as well as some personalities from the Republican camps. .

Signed in Helsinki in 1992 by the former members of the Warsaw Pact and NATO, the treaty, which brings together 34 states, will be promulgated on January 1, 2002, after an American ratification in 1993, and a Russian ratification in 2001. Since then, eight new states have joined it, Sweden, Finland, the Baltic States and 3 states of the former Yugoslavia (Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina). The treaty provides that each state can carry out inspection flights of military infrastructure and forces in another country of the organization, and that it must, in return, authorize the same number of flights on its territory by members signatories. The devices carrying out these flights can be equipped with video, infrared observation and radar imaging means with standardized and controlled performances.

According to the White House, Russia is not respecting its commitments in terms of overflight authorization, in particular by having, for several years, procrastinated on the model of aircraft that it could use to replace its Tu-154s assigned to this mission , or by pretexting operational risks to deny flight authorizations over, for example, the Kaliningrad enclave. In fact, the American administration considers that it could make better use of the quarter of a billion dollars that the maintenance of the two OC-135s dedicated to this mission costs each year.

TU 214 opened Sky Analyzes Defense | Awacs and electronic warfare | UNITED STATES
In 2018, the authorities ended up selecting the Tu-214 to carry out Open Skies missions, replacing the Tu-154.

For opponents of this decision, the United States' withdrawal from the treaty would give Russia an excellent excuse to withdraw from it as well, which would strengthen Moscow's ability to move troops and forces, and therefore to evaluate them. the risks. Thus, in 2015, it was during this type of flight in Ukraine that the United States was able to observe Russian forces redeployed in the Donbass, and act accordingly. In addition, these flights make it possible to reduce tensions or send messages, when necessary.

But beyond the partisan declarations, and some even objective, of the American political class on this subject, we must note that once again, President Trump is undertaking an initiative that involves all of his NATO partners and allies, without having first taken even the precaution of informing them. The exit from the INF treaty, justified by Washington by the 9M729 Novator missile Russian which would not respect the restrictions of the treaty, had already been made without any consultation, and now allows Russia, like the United States, to possess and deploy medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic weapons on European soil, ignoring the lessons of the Euromissile crisis of 1983, or that no European NATO country anymore has this type of weaponry, whether conventional or nuclear. Likewise, explicit threats against the nuclear weapons limitation treaty START, or the Open Skies treaty, will only increase the threat capacity of Russia vis-à-vis European countries to respond to American strengthening, even though this threat has been controlled until now, even imperfectly, by these treaties.

The 9M729 Novator system is at the heart of tensions between the United States and Russia over the INF treaty Defense Analysis | Awacs and electronic warfare | UNITED STATES
The 9M729 Novator System challenged by Washington for the release of the INF Treaty

One thing is certain, the methodical destruction of all the treaties signed at the end of the Cold War, while it probably frees up room for maneuver in the United States to contain the growing Chinese military power and not constrained by these commitments, risks to significantly and quickly degrade the security situation of Europeans, and therefore their dependence on American protection. In the end, it is therefore the Europeans, and no one else, who will be the big losers from these decisions, taken in Washington.

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