WASHINGTON (CN) — President Trump announced Thursday the U.S. will soon exit a treaty that allows more than 30 nations to fly over each other’s territory with sensors that can detect military equipment.
With the goal of providing transparency and reducing the risk of war between Russia and Western nations, the Open Skies Treaty was signed in 1992 and went into effect in 2002. It was designed to minimize the risk of military miscalculations that could lead to war.
The Trump administration plans to leave the pact on account of Russian violations. Russia has not allowed flights over a city that may host nuclear weapons or over several of its military exercises. What’s more, Trump officials say that imagery that these flights collect could also be obtained through U.S. or commercial satellites at a lower cost.
Some U.S. officials expect the withdrawal to strain relations with Russia and other European allies. In April, several House and Senate Democrats on the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees released a statement voicing concerns about the potential consequences of withdrawing from the treaty in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.
“The administration’s effort to make a major change to our national security policy in the midst of a global health crisis is not only shortsighted, but also unconscionable,” Representatives Adam Smith and Eliot Engel wrote in a letter joined by Senators Jack Reed and Bob Menendez.
“This decision would have far-reaching, negative repercussions for our European allies, who rely on this Treaty to keep Russia accountable for its military actions in the region. During a time when we need to push back against Russian aggression, we cannot continue to undermine our alliances — which is exactly what U.S. withdrawal from this treaty would do.”
Engel and Menendez are top Democrats on Committees on Foreign Affairs in their respective chambers. Smith chairs the House Armed Services Committee, and Reed is on the Senate’s version.
Senator Chris Hollen tweeted Thursday that Trump’s withdrawal was a “very reckless decision.”
“In the middle of a pandemic, the last thing we need is more instability,” the Maryland Democrat wrote. “This move puts our European allies in harm’s way, hands Putin another win, and tears down yet another arms control treaty that benefits U.S. national security.”
Similarly, John Wolfsthal, a senior advisor to Global Zero, an international group of 300 world leaders working to eliminate nuclear weapons, agreed the move was risky.
“Most have never heard of Open Skies. By itself, it is useful but not the whole picture. Take a step back and see Trump and enablers are systematically undoing the systems out in place at [the] end of [the] cold war to prevent accidental conflict and escalation,” Wolfsthal tweeted. “Another move toward chaos.”
The Open Skies Treaty was first proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955 to mitigate tensions between the United States and the former Soviet Union, but it wasn’t until several decades later that nations signed the treaty under President George H.W. Bush.
While 34 nations have signed the pact, one of them, Kyrgyzstan, has not ratified it.