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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."

– Joseph Biden, Jr.
Senator
January 28, 2004
Daryl Kimball

Open Skies Treaty Pullout An Irresponsible National Security Misstep, Warn Experts and Former Officials

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For Immediate Release: May 21, 2020

Media Contacts: Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—The Trump administration reportedly will announce that it intends to pull the United States out of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, a valuable arms control and security agreement intended to reduce risks to the United States and its European allies.

“The Open Skies Treaty has helped preserve the post-Cold War peace. It allows the 34 participating nations, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another’s territory. This helps preserve a measure of transparency and trust, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict,” says Thomas Countryman, the former U.S. acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and now chair of the board of the Arms Control Association.

“A unilateral U.S. exit from Open Skies would undermine our security and that of our European allies, all of whom strongly support the treaty,” Countryman added. “It has the effect—and perhaps this is the intention—of signaling a diminished U.S. commitment to its NATO allies.”

“U.S. and allied treaty flights over Russia provide valuable information about Russian military activities, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict in Europe,” says Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association director for disarmament and threat reduction policy. "The treaty has been an especially important tool in responding to Russia's aggression against Ukraine." 

“There is strong bipartisan support in Congress for maintaining U.S. participation in Open Skies,” Reif notes. “The administration’s announcement of withdrawal is a slap in the face to Congress as it violates notification requirements written into law last year.”

The administration told reporters the formal notification of withdrawal would be effective immediately and the withdrawal itself will take effect in six months. However, such action violates Sec. 1234 of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the administration to notify Congress 120 days ahead of a U.S. notification of an intent to withdraw.

The Trump administration cites Russian noncompliance as a motivating factor for its decision. Disputes have arisen because Russia has imposed a sublimit of 500 kilometers over the Kaliningrad Oblast for treaty flights, refused access to observation flights along its border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and denied planned U.S.-Canadian flights over a Russian military exercise in September 2019.

However, Russia recently approved and allowed a joint U.S.-Estonian-Latvian treaty flight over Kaliningrad this year that was not subjected to the earlier Russian restrictions. In addition, Jim Gilmore, U.S. representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said March 2 that Russia will no longer raise an “objection” for the United States and its allies to “fly over one of their major exercises.”

As President Reagan’s former Secretary of State, George Shultz, former Senator Sam Nunn, and former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry wrote in October 2019 in the Wall Street Journal: “As with any treaty, implementation disputes arise. Current disagreements are related to underlying territorial and political issues between Russia and some of its neighbors. But these problems can be solved through professional, pragmatic diplomacy, not by abandoning treaty commitments.”

“Today’s announcement is part of a troubling pattern. The Open Skies Treaty is not the first, and may not be the last, nuclear or conflict risk reduction agreement this administration has withdrawn from without a viable strategy for replacement,” observes Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

“Failure to take up Russia’s offer to extend by five years the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which the administration has threatened to do, would compound the damage and further heighten the risk of unconstrained military and nuclear competition between the United States and Russia at a time when the world can ill afford it,” he warns.

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The treaty allows the 34 participating nations, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another's territory, helping preserve a measure of transparency and trust and enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict.

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Global NGOs Urge Nonproliferation Treaty States to Comply with Obligations

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For Immediate Release: May 11, 2020

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270 ext.107; Tony Fleming, director for communications, 202-463-8270 ext 110

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—More than 80 national and international peace and nuclear disarmament nongovernmental organizations delivered a joint statement Monday to key government leaders urging them to fulfill unmet obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), particularly on nuclear disarmament, and to realize their agreed commitment to the goal of the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons.”

The joint statement marks the 25th anniversary of the package of decisions that led to the indefinite extension of the NPT and urges world leaders to act with greater urgency and cooperation to reduce nuclear risks and advance progress on disarmament per their commitment under the treaty.

“We’re not only at a pivotal point in the struggle against the fast-moving coronavirus; we are also at a tipping point in the long-running effort to reduce the threat of nuclear war and eliminate nuclear weapons,” the joint statement from more than 80 organizations from around the globe, including the Arms Control Association, warns.

“Tensions between the world’s nuclear-armed states are rising; the risk of nuclear use is growing; billions of dollars are being spent to replace and upgrade nuclear weapons; and key agreements that have kept nuclear competition in check are in serious jeopardy.”

“This environment,” the organizations write, “demands bolder action from all states to reduce nuclear risks by eliminating nuclear weapons; action that is rooted in ‘deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.’”

The NPT entered into force in 1970 and now has 191 states parties. It is considered the foundation of global efforts to address the risks posed by nuclear weapons. The NPT is not simply a nonproliferation treaty. It is also a treaty that requires action on disarmament.

“For the long-term viability of the NPT, all countries must fully implement their obligations. The body of previous NPT Review Conference commitments and action steps still apply. This includes the benchmarks agreed to at the historic 1995 Review and Extension Conference and further commitments made at the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences. These remain largely unfulfilled, and some are at risk of being reversed or lost entirely.”

Implementing past action plans must be the floor and not the ceiling for taking forward the NPT’s provisions,” they write in the statement, which has been delivered to diplomats from most of the 191 states parties of the NPT.

The postponement of the 2020 NPT Review Conference offers an unprecedented opportunity to change the current course,” they argue.

“The current situation requires new and bolder leadership from responsible states to work together to build majority support for a plan of action to advance NPT Article VI [disarmament] goals and create much needed momentum for further progress on disarmament, and to save humanity from the scourge of nuclear war,” they write.

The full statement and the list of endorsing organizations are available online via Reaching Critical Will.

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