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July 15, 08

NEWS / Milestone of 500 Open Skies Flights Celebrated

Confidence-building regime may have future applicability for Korean Peninsula

This photo displays the shadow of a Hungarian aircraft flying over Russian territory as part of the 2002 Open Skies Treaty.

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Staff Writer

Washington -- Unarmed observation aircraft cruise over the territory of select nations collecting aerial photographs.

But these aircraft are not spying; instead they are part of a successful confidence- and security-building regime known as the Open Skies Treaty.

Open Skies is designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of the size of their country, a direct role in gathering information about the military activities of another nation of concern.

Open Skies establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its 34 participants. Included are most European countries, Russia and the United States. Each flight includes a passenger from the country that is being inspected.

The treaty entered into force in 2002, originally covering territory stretching from Vancouver, Canada, east to Vladivostok, Russia.

It first was promoted in 1955 by President Dwight Eisenhower as a modest bilateral initiative between the United States and the Soviet Union, but his idea was not implemented.

It was taken up again in 1989 by President George H. W. Bush, who conceived of it as a multilateral initiative drawing in nations from both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact. He said the flights, complementing existing satellite capabilities, would provide regular scrutiny and that unprecedented access “would show the world the true meaning of the concept of openness.”

Open Skies enhances security by offering each signatory the right to gather information about military forces and activities of other treaty signatories via unrestricted, short-notice aerial observation.

The treaty specifies the maximum number of overflights that each signatory must accept annually.

Today, any nation can join the treaty with the approval of those that are already part of it.
The 500th Open Skies logo
The 500th Open Skies flight in August will promote transparency and cooperation among member nations. (Eric Sholl/Open Skies Media)

As of July 10, the 488th Open Skies flight had been announced and the 500th flight is expected to take off in early August. That symbolic flight was celebrated a bit early in Vienna, Austria, on July 14 at a meeting of the 46th session of the Open Skies Consultative Commission -- currently chaired by the United States -- at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. To mark the pending milestone, 500 colorful balloons were released from the Hofburg Palace.


Hungary’s former ambassador to the OSCE said the treaty’s most striking feature is its adaptability. The idea for Open Skies arose during the peak of the Cold War, said Marton Krasnai. It was revived just prior to the collapse of the bipolar security system in Europe, and then negotiated during the Soviet Union’s disintegration. Yet it still “serves as a useful and efficient confidence-building tool,” the Hungarian diplomat said.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Paula DeSutter told America.gov the treaty’s most important attribute is its contribution to openness and transparency through broad sharing of information. DeSutter, head of the department’s Bureau of Verification, said Open Skies went beyond previous transparency measures.

Even when issues have come up in the course of implementation, DeSutter said, the ensuing dialogues always have been carried out in a professional, serious and nonthreatening manner.

Open Skies photo imagery has been used to help carry out inspections for arms control treaties including the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), which covers the landmass from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains, and the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which addresses U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons.

Russia has flown across the United States 14 times as part of Open Skies, while the United States has flown over Russian territory on 41 occasions. DeSutter said Russia’s support for this treaty is especially valuable at a time when Moscow has suspended its compliance with CFE and is not permitting any CFE-related inspections on its territory. She said the ongoing Open Skies process has had a calming effect because it enables people to see that there is not an across-the-board Russian rejection of its arms control commitments.

What about applicability of the Open Skies Treaty elsewhere? DeSutter said the precedent established by Open Skies and the history of its successful implementation in the past decade “would give other parties confidence” that it could work in another region. If there were regional security issues elsewhere and the parties “could collectively agree” to create that kind of a confidence-building regime, then it might work, she said.

While DeSutter did not have a specific region in mind, she did say, “in a perfect scenario one could imagine it on the Korean Peninsula.” That, of course, would mean securing agreement from North Korea and South Korea and other interested parties.

Participants would need to ensure that observation aircraft were not armed and that a representative of the inspected nation was aboard, DeSutter said. With those caveats, she said, “it would certainly contribute toward confidence building.”

Source: http://www.america.gov/st/peacesec-english/2008/July/20080714124534sjhtrop1.223391e-02.html?CP.rss=true

Tags: secretary of state,


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