"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
Open Skies Flights Begin

In August, Russia conducted the first observation flights under the Open Skies Treaty since the accord entered into force January 1. Other treaty states-parties, including the United States, are expected to begin their permitted flights, which are designed to allow countries to collect and verify information about each other’s military forces, soon as well.

A Russian observation plane flew over the United Kingdom August 8 and over Germany the following week. Although Russia’s two August flights marked the first official ones under the accord, treaty signatories started conducting trial flights in 1993, a year after the treaty was signed. For example, the United States conducted 77 total joint flights before the treaty entered into force.

Currently, 26 countries, including former members of the now-defunct Warsaw Pact and all 19 NATO members, are states-parties to the Open Skies Treaty and can take advantage of the accord’s provisions to conduct short-notice, unarmed flights over the entire territory of any other treaty member. Each member is assigned a specific number of flights that it must allow over its territory annually.

The planes used to conduct the flights must be certified under the treaty and can eventually be equipped with up to four different types of sensors. Initially, however, planes will only be outfitted with cameras. The sensors are supposed to be sensitive enough to let the observing country distinguish between a tank and a truck on the ground.

The United States had its treaty aircraft certified May 15 and before December is planning to fly three missions over Russia, the first of which is expected this September. France, Italy, and the United Kingdom are also planning to conduct flyovers of Russia and Belarus before the end of this year.

Since the treaty entered into force, members have agreed to allow Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Sweden to accede to the treaty. Each will become a state-party 60 days after depositing its instruments of ratification with either Canada or Hungary, the treaty depositaries. Turkey is currently blocking Cyprus’ effort to join the accord.