What is Open Skies Treaty?
Open Skies Treaty is an accord among 34 member nations, it allows participants to fly unarmed reconnaissance flights over their fellow member states.
Under this treaty, any member state can ‘spy’ through air on any part of other member state with their consent. A country can undertake aerial imaging over the host state after giving notice 72 hours before, and sharing its exact flight path 24 hours before.
The objective of this treaty was to build confidence among members through mutual openness.
History of this Open Skies Treaty (OST)
In 1955, US President Dwight Eisenhower first proposed this idea as a means to deescalate tension during cold war.
In 1992, following the demise of the Soviet Union, the Open Skies Treaty was signed between NATO countries and former Warsaw Pact countries.
In 2002, The Open Skies Treaty went into effect.
Why Open Skies Treaty is in news?
USA has said that it will withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty accusing Russia of flagrant and continuous non-compliance with OST protocols and obstructing surveillance flight on its territories. Russia is also accused of misusing it for gathering key tactical data.
Why US wants to withdraw from Open Skies Treaty?
Now advanced satellites imaging technologies are now primary mode of intelligence gathering and US is well ahead with its extensive military satellite infrastructure.
Last year the US withdrew its participation from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty. Also, the US has stepped away from the Iran Nuclear Deal, and the Paris Agreement.
Being said that, reconnaissance missions have their own importance, since 2002 us has flown 201 such missions for Russia and Belarus. But now US wants to get out of this treaty while ahead in satellite race.
Also, the US finds China as a new threat and don’t want to limit itself while China has all the freedom from such limitations. Such free ticket to China can be dangerous for US national security as well as world peace. This argument holds firm ground as US-Russia nuclear arm control agreement ‘New Start’ will expire in Feb 2021 and US has already made it clear that it will not renew the treaty unless China joins it along with Russia.
India’s point of view
India is a strategic ally to US and not a part of this Open Skies Treaty, finds no reason to ring alarm on this matter. For India it is not hard choice between strong USA vs strong China.