Global Zero Condemns Trump’s Withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty

WASHINGTON Following reports, President Donald Trump has confirmed the U.S. will formally withdraw from the landmark Treaty on Open Skies, citing Russia’s inability to adhere to the agreement. Exiting from the nearly 30-year-old treaty, signed by President George H.W. Bush, dissolves U.S. participation in a pact designed to reduce the risk of accidental war with Russia by allowing the 34 member countries to conduct reconnaissance flights and collect data on their military forces and activities.

The move comes as the administration announced plans to start a new round of talks with Russia on a trilateral U.S.-Russia-China nuclear arms control agreement, despite China’s repeated assertions that they would not join negotiations for such an agreement. 

In response to the Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the treaty, Derek Johnson, executive director of Global Zero, the international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons, issued the following statement: 

“Since taking office, Donald Trump has been systematically dismantling the pillars of global security that have maintained stability and limited conflict since the end of the Cold War. Withdrawal from the multilateral Open Skies Treaty is one more in a series of blows to U.S. national security and greatly increases the risk of accidental or unintended conflict that could escalate, perhaps even to the nuclear level. With the risks of conflict between NATO and Russia increasing, decreasing transparency and further fracturing confidence is exactly the wrong thing to do. 

“The administration’s propensity for tearing up vital arms control agreements does not bode well for New START — the only remaining agreement limiting U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, which together account for more than 90% of the global nuclear stockpile. Rather than accept  Russia’s offer to extend New START immediately and without preconditions, the Trump Administration has proposed instead to negotiate a new trilateral agreement that includes China. Without extending New START, this proposal is either a fool’s errand or a deliberate farce. The U.S. nuclear arsenal alone is 13 times larger than China’s. The Chinese government has made it explicitly clear it is not interested in talking until further progress is made by the world’s biggest nuclear hoarders. Getting China’s nuclear forces under control is a worthy goal, and sustained efforts are required to do that — but if New START goes the way of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces and Open Skies Treaties, the possibility of a bigger deal goes with it.

“Not only is Trump’s decision to withdraw from Open Skies senseless and ill-considered, it may also be illegal. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act requires the administration to provide 120 days notice to Congress of any intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty. Without such notice, it is not clear that the President has the legal authority to withdraw from the pact.

“Either way, the move to pull out of a treaty that increased transparency and enjoyed unanimous support among U.S. allies is another sign of how the Trump administration is willing to both increase the risk of conflict and undermine confidence in U.S. security commitments – two key elements that have prevented outright conflict with Russia for a generation.”