Context: Russia announced it was pulling out of the Open Skies treaty. The United States left the Open Skies arms control and verification treaty in November, accusing Russia of violating it.

Reasons given by Russia

  • It said that the pact had been seriously compromised by the withdrawal of the United States.
  • Russia has raised concerns that despite leaving the treaty Washington could potentially retain access to overflight intelligence gathered by allies who remain members in the treaty.

Rising tensions: Arms control tensions have been rising between Moscow and Washington and New START, their last remaining major nuclear arms control treaty, is set to expire in February.

Does this also mean the possibility of renewing the ‘New Start Treaty’?

  • The changes to the security environment are considered to be a reason for the U.S. exiting the OST.
  • The recent move of the US is signaling probable change in other treaties:
    • The U.S.’s exit last year from another arms deal the West had signed with Russia the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, as well as its departure from the OST, has raised the strong possibility that the US administration may not renew the New Start Treaty.
      • The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was a Treaty Between the United States of America and Russia on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles.
  • Details of New Start Treaty
    • The New Start Treaty is an agreement signed by the Obama administration with Russia that caps Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenal. 
    • New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is a nuclear arms reduction treaty with the formal name of Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms.
    • It is due to expire next February,2021
  • The US is concerned that China’s nuclear stockpile could be doubled if the New Start Treaty continued as is, without including China.

About the Open Skies Treaty (OST)

  • Background
    • The idea behind the OST was first proposed in the early years of the Cold War by the former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
    • It came to fruition decades later and was signed in 1992, during the George H.W. Bush presidency and after the Soviet Union had collapsed.
  • Objectives:
    • The primary objective of the Open Skies Treaty is to reduce the risk of conflict by providing participants with the ability to collect information about the military forces and activities of others in the treaty.  
    • In particular, "information derived from Open Skies flights can contribute to participating states' national efforts to address a range of military and civil issues.
  • Details of the OST:
    • It is an agreement that allows countries to monitor signatories’ arms development by conducting surveillance flights over each other’s territories.
    • The treaty allows its 34 signatories to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over the territory of treaty countries. 
  • Usage the treaty:
    • The U.S. has used the treaty more intensively than Russia. 
    • Between 2002 and 2016, the U.S. flew 196 flights over Russia (in addition to having imagery from other countries) compared to the 71 flights flown by Russia.