File photo of US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper (left), President Donald Trump (centre) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Army General Mark Milley (right) at the White House on Oct 7, 2019.
WASHINGTON, DC: President Donald Trump plans to withdraw the United States from the Open Skies Treaty, a key defence pact with Russia designed to improve transparency and confidence between the superpowers, the New York Times reported on Thursday (May 21).
Trump plans to inform Moscow on Friday that the United States will pull out of the pact, which is rooted in Cold War efforts to prevent a conflict between the two countries.
The Times said the move could be a prelude to Washington also withdrawing from the New START Treaty which limits the number of nuclear missiles the United States and Russia can deploy.
The 18-year-old Open Skies agreement between Russia, the United States and 32 other countries, mostly members of the NATO alliance, permits one country’s military to conduct a certain number of surveillance flights over another each year on short notice.
The aircraft can survey the territory below, collecting information and pictures of military installations and activities.
The idea is that the more rival militaries know about each other, the less the chance of conflict between them.
But the sides also use the flights to examine vulnerabilities of their opponent.
The United States has been frustrated that Russia will not permit US flights over areas where Washington believes Moscow is deploying medium-range nuclear weapons that threaten Europe.
In March, Defence Secretary Mark Esper accused Russia of violating the treaty by forbidding US and other foreign flights over the Baltic Sea city of Kaliningrad and near Georgia.
“We’ve also been denied access to military exercise overflights,” he said. “I have a lot of concerns about the treaty as it stands now.”
“This is important to many of our NATO allies, that they have the means to conduct the overflights,” he said.
The New York Times said Trump was also unhappy about a Russian flight over his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, three years ago.