Open Skies Treaty: Analysis – UPSC GS2

Both USA and Russia has pulled out of the Open Skies Treaty (OST).
Read basics about OST from Prelims Notes.
Reasons for USA Withdrawal:
  • Russia’s continuous non compliance: Moscow obstructing surveillance flights on its territory. Misusing its missions to gather tactical data.
  • OST misused to claim Ukrainian region: Russia designated an airfield in the annexed Crimean Peninsula as an Open Skies refueling base as an attempt by Russia to cement its claim to the Ukrainian region.
  • Risk to critical infrastructures: Russia misused its flights over the USA and Europe to identify critical infrastructure for potential attack in a time of war.
Reasons for Russia Withdrawal:
  • USA limiting OST: Russia defends its non compliance with the OST to allow flights over Kaliningrad (Russian exclave in Eastern Europe that lies between NATO allies Lithuania and Poland) citing the example of the US imposing similar limits on flights over Alaska.
  • No assurance from NATO members: After USA withdrawal from OST, Russia did not get the sought assurance from North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies who continued to remain on the treaty that they would not transfer data collected by their flights over Russia to Washington (USA).
Significance of OST:
  • For European NATO members:
    • Russia’s departure could adversely impact Washington’s European allies, which rely on OST data to track Russian troop movements in the Baltic region.
  • Departure from Arms control treaties:
    • The failure of the Open Skies Treaty follows the demise of another significant arms control accord, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, after both the US and Russia left it in 2019. This treaty aimed at eliminating their stocks of intermediate-range and shorter-range (or “medium-range”) land-based missiles which could carry nuclear warheads.
  • Withdrawal of the USA and Russia from OST has further deepened doubts on extension of the New START treaty, which expires in February, 2021.
Implications for India:
  • Growing mistrust between global powers could make it difficult for India to maintain good mutual relationships with both the countries if the hostility escalates in future.

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