Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Eriksen Søreide disappointed by US withdrawing from Open Skies treaty

The Norwegian Foreign Minister says the arms control deal is part of a common security architecture serving the interests of Norway, NATO, and allies.
May 22, 2020

European nations regret US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of arms control treaty that was signed in March 1992, just a few months after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The treaty entered force in 2002. 

In a joint statement, the foreign ministries of France, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden regrets Donald Trump’s announcement.

“The Open Skies Treaty is a crucial element of the confidence-building framework that was created over the past decades in order to improve transparency and security across the Euro-Atlantic area,” the joint European statement says.

Norway didn’t join the cross-European statement but shares the same concerns. 

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide says to the Barents Observer that the treaty contributes to reducing risks and strengthen common security.

“Norway is disappointed by the US decision to withdraw from the Open Skies agreement,” she says.

“The agreement is not least important in today’s situation with increased tensions, and with arms control mechanisms, in general, are under pressure,” Eriksen Søreide says.

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The Open Skies Treaty permits signature countries to conduct short-notice, unarmed reconnaissance flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities.

Russian inspectors have several times inspected military bases in northern Norway from the air and made landings, like in 2015 at Bardufoss airport

35 countries in Europe, Central Asia, and North America have signed the treaty, including all Arctic nations.

 

Russian and French crews flying under the Open Skies Treaty, pose on the tarmac next to their aircrafts. Photo courtesy of OSCE

“We pull out” 

“Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty, so until they adhere, we will pull out,” President Donald Trump told reporters on Thursday according to the transcript from the presser posted by the White House.

The door, though, isn’t totally closed, according to the outspoken president.

“There’s a very good chance we’ll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together,” Trump said.

The notice to withdraw from the Open Skies agreement was submitted by the U.S. Department of State on Friday. Officially, it takes six months from notification to the U.S. actually leaves the deal that has been one of the cornerstones for security in the post-Cold War era.

“Distrust and threats” 

U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo says in a statement that continued participation in the agreement was untenable.

“Russia’s implementation and violation of Open Skies, however, has undermined this central confidence-building function of the Treaty – and has, in fact, fueled distrust and threats to our national security – making continued U.S. participation untenable.”

Eriksen Søreide says Norway shares the United States’ concerns about Russia’s inconclusive compliance with the provisions of the treaty.

“We have raised those concerns about inconclusive compliances with Russia and will continue to do so,” the Norwegian Foreign Minister elaborates.

“However, it is our view that the current challenges associated with the implementation of the agreement can and should be addressed within the framework and bodies of the treaty,” Ine Eriksen Søreide states and points to the upcoming Open Skies Treaty compliance conference in October.

Kaliningrad, Abkhazia and South Ossetia   

The trouble started after Russia some years back imposed restrictions many of the other countries said was inconsistent with the Treaty. That included flight limitations over Kaliningrad and some areas near Russia’s border to Georgia.

Deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Moscow strongly regrets President Trump’s decision to leave the Open Skies Treaty.

Former Prime Minister, now Deputy Chair of the Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, writes in a tweet that “Washington’s decision to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies is yet another step by the United States towards destroying the international security architecture that took decades to build.”

In Brussels, and via video-links, NATO member states met on Friday to discuss the Open Skies Treaty.

Undermined for years 

NATO Secretary General said Russia has undermined the treaty for many years.

«Russia’s ongoing selective implementation of its obligations under the Open Skies Treaty has undermined the contribution of this important Treaty to security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region,» Stoltenberg said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

He added that NATO allies remain open to dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council on risk reduction and transparency.

«We continue to aspire to a constructive relationship with Russia, when Russia’s actions make that possible.»

Like Medvedev, also Russia’s Foreign Ministry expressed disappointments with the U.S. withdrawal.

«However, this decision by Washington did not cause surprise in the Russian side, it fully fits into its line on the destruction of the whole complex of arms control agreements and confidence-building in the military field,» the statement reads.

It further warns that European security is significantly damaged.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow underlines that Russia will stay with the agreement.

 


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