A few hours' notice: this is the time that the allies had before the public announcement by the United States, Thursday, May 21, of their withdrawal in six months from the Open Skies treaty, which allows reconnaissance flights between the 34 signatory countries . This new unilateral gesture, in complete contempt of the European partners, had been taking place for a long time, but the calendar has accelerated. This planned withdrawal accentuates divergences in the Alliance and deals with what remains of the disarmament architecture. Its erosion, which has been going on for a long time, is due both to the behavior of the main players and to the rapid emergence of new military technologies.
According to our information, Germany, France, Great Britain and Poland had sent a joint letter, at the beginning of March, to the American secretary of state Mike Pompeo, in order to warn him of the danger posed by a withdrawal of the treaty. They were hardly heard. On Friday, in a press release, eleven European countries including France and Germany have "Regretted" the American announcement. "We will continue to implement the Open Skies Treaty, which has obvious added value for our conventional arms control architecture and our common security", they explained. An emergency meeting of ambassadors to NATO has resolved the differences of opinion on the subject.
Russia, for its part, announced Friday that it would remain in the treaty. Moscow thus presents a constructive profile, while Washington has accused it since 2015 of repeated violations, by not allowing flights over the enclave of Kaliningrad or the separatist republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, lost by Georgia. Allies share criticism of Moscow, but believe withdrawal is counterproductive. It comes after the end, in 2019, initiated by the United States, of the treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces (FNI). There is a strong republican current in Washington which considers all of these treaties as shackles that have hindered the modernization of American forces too much. A great power should not be restrained, in short.
Concern about the New Start
The exit of the United States from the Iranian nuclear agreement in 2018 had led Europeans to try to save this rare recent achievement of multilateralism. Here they are in a similar process. The defense of the Open Skies treaty shows their concern at the collapse of the security architecture built in the 1990s. In addition, the possibility of conducting reconnaissance flights is crucial for certain countries without capabilities satellite.
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