The Open Skies Treaty is an international agreement in which States Parties are allowed to conduct unarmed observation flights on the territory of other States Parties. The United States has made open skis with more than 100 partners from all regions of the world and at all levels of economic development. In addition to the bilateral open skies agreements, the United States negotiated two multilateral open skies agreements: (1) the 2001 Multilateral Agreement on the Liberalization of International Air Transport (MALIAT) with New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and Chile, to which Samoa, Tonga and Mongolia subsequently joined; and (2) the 2007 Air Services Agreement with the European Community and its 27 Member States. The COVID-19 epidemic underscores the need to work with other countries to address global challenges. Instead of leading these global efforts, the United States is finding ways to irritate its partners and multilateral organizations, which will be essential to address new challenges (such as climate change) and old ones (such as nuclear proliferation). It takes far less time to destroy an agreement than it needs to negotiate and conclude an agreement, especially arms control agreements, which often take months or years. On 8 June, at the 3rd Open Skies Treaty Review Conference in Vienna, many participants expressed their belief in the continued importance of the treaty and stressed the building of trust and the promotion of the opening of the armed forces. I was one of two lawyers for the U.S. delegation to negotiate the treaty. Looking back back on that time, I am surprised that our current lack of imagination is so different from the spirit of the possibility we had at the time. Despite the challenges posed by political upheavals in Europe, we are committed to multilateral commitments and agreements. I doubt now that we will be able to understand that we can strengthen existing agreements to deal with the changing threats facing us today.
The idea of a regime of unarmed air observation flights to promote confidence, predictability and stability was first proposed in 1955 by US President Dwight Eisenhower. On May 12, 1989, U.S. President George Bush proposed the creation of an open ski regime that expanded President Eisenhower`s concept. Under this regime, participants would voluntarily open their airspace on the basis of reciprocity and allow overflight of their territory in order to strengthen confidence and transparency in their military activities. In December 1989, participants in the North Atlantic Council published the document ”Open Skies: Basic Elements” in Brussels, calling for the establishment of an open-air regime for NATO and Warsaw Pact members to promote openness and transparency, build trust and facilitate the revision of arms control and disarmament agreements. The United States has certainly had concerns about the OST, including during the Obama administration. U.S. officials have long complained that Russia is violating the agreement, for example by limiting the United States.