- Treaty on Open Skies
The Treaty on Open Skies entered into force on January 1, 2002, and currently has 34 States Parties. It establishes a program of unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of its participants. The treaty is designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them. Open Skies is one of the most wide-ranging international efforts to date promoting openness and transparency of military forces and activities. The concept of "mutual aerial observation" was initially proposed to Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin at the Geneva Conference of 1955 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower; however, the Soviets promptly rejected the concept and it lay dormant for several years. The treaty was eventually signed as an initiative of US president (and former Director of Central Intelligence) George H. W. Bush in 1989. Negotiated by the then-members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, the agreement was signed in Helsinki, Finland, on March 24, 1992.
This treaty is not related to civil-aviation open skies agreements.
The 34 State Parties to the Open Skies Treaty are: Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and United States. Kyrgyzstan has signed but not yet ratified. Canada and Hungary are the depositories of the treaty in recognition of their special contribution to the Open Skies process. "Depository" countries maintain treaty documents and provide administrative support.
The treaty is of unlimited duration and open to accession by other States. States of the former Soviet Union that have not already become States Parties to the treaty may accede to it at any time. Applications from other interested States are subject to a consensus decision by the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC), the Vienna-based organization charged with facilitating implementation of the treaty, to which all States Parties belong. Eight states have acceded to the treaty since entry into force: Finland, Sweden, Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Estonia, and Lithuania. Cyprus’s application for accession is pending before the OSCC.
Basic elements of the treaty
The Open Skies regime covers the territory over which the State Party exercises sovereignty, including land, islands, and internal and territorial waters. The treaty specifies that the entire territory of a State Party is open to observation. Observation flights may only be restricted for reasons of flight safety; not for reasons of national security.
Observation aircraft may be provided by either the observing Party or (the "taxi option") by the observed Party, at the latter's choice. All Open Skies aircraft and sensors must pass specific certification and pre-flight inspection procedures to ensure that they are compliant with treaty standards. The official certified U.S. Open Skies aircraft is the OC-135B Open Skies (a military version of the Boeing 707). The United Kingdom's aircraft is a modified Hawker Siddeley Andover C Mk 1, XS596.
Canada uses a C-130 Hercules aircraft equipped with a "SAMSON" sensor pod to conduct flights over other treaty nations. The pod is a converted CC-130 fuel tank modified to carry the permitted sensors, along with associated on-board mission systems. A consortium of nations consisting of Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Norway, Portugal, and Spain own and operate this system. The costs of maintaining the SAMSON Pod are shared, based on each nation's flight quota and actual use.
Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and Ukraine use the Antonov An-30 for their flights. The Czech Republic also used to use the An-30 for this purpose but they apparently retired all of theirs from service in 2003.
Open Skies aircraft may have video, optical panoramic and framing cameras for daylight photography, infra-red line scanners for a day/night capability, and synthetic aperture radar for a day/night all weather capability. Photographic image quality will permit recognition of major military equipment (e.g., permit a State Party to distinguish between a tank and a truck), thus allowing significant transparency of military forces and activities. Sensor categories may be added and capabilities improved by agreement among States Parties. All sensors used in Open Skies must be commercially available to all signatories. Imagery resolution is limited to 30 centimetres.
Each State Party is obligated to receive observation flights per its passive quota allocation. Each State Party may conduct as many observation flights - its active quota - as its passive quota. During the first three years after EIF, each State will be obligated to accept no more than seventy-five percent of its passive quota. Since the overall annual passive quota for the United States is 42, this means that it will be obligated to accept no more than 31 observation flights a year during this three-year period. Only two flights were requested over the United States during 2005, by the Russian Federation and Republic of Belarus Group of States Parties (which functions as a single entity for quota allocation purposes). The United States is entitled to 8 of the 31 annual flights available over Russia/Belarus. Additionally, the United States is entitled to one flight over Ukraine, which is shared with Canada.
Data sharing and availability
Imagery collected from Open Skies missions is available to any State Party upon request for the cost of reproduction. As a result, the data available to each State Party is much greater than that which it can collect itself under the treaty quota system.
At a Geneva Conference meeting with Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin in 1955, President Eisenhower proposed that the United States and Soviet Union conduct surveillance overflights of each other's territory to reassure each country that the other was not preparing to attack. The fears and suspicions of the Cold War led Soviet General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev to reject Eisenhower's proposal. Thirty-four years later, the Open Skies concept was reintroduced by President George H. W. Bush as a means to build confidence and security between all North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Warsaw Pact countries.
In February 1990, an international Open Skies conference involving all NATO and Warsaw Pact countries opened in Ottawa, Canada. Subsequent rounds of negotiations were held in Budapest, Hungary, Vienna, Austria, and Helsinki, Finland.
On March 24, 1992, the Open Skies Treaty was signed in Helsinki by Secretary of State James Baker and foreign ministers from 23 other countries. The treaty entered into force on January 2, 2002, after Russia and Belarus completed ratification procedures.
In November 1992, President Bush assigned responsibility for overall training, management, leadership, coordination and support for U.S. Open Skies observation missions to the On-Site Inspection Agency (OSIA), now a part of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). Until entry into force in January 2002, DTRA support for the treaty involved participating in training and joint trial flights (JTFs). The U.S. has conducted over 70 JTFs since 1993. By March 2003, DTRA had successfully certified 16 camera configurations on the OC-135B aircraft. They also had contributed to the certification of the Bulgarian AN-30, Hungarian AN-26, POD Group (consisting of Belgium, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Spain) C-130H,Romanian AN-30, Russian AN-30, and Ukrainian AN-30. The United States successfully flew its first Open Skies mission over Russia in December 2002.
With entry into force of the treaty, formal observation flights began in August 2002. During the first treaty year, States Parties conducted 67 observation flights. In 2004, States Parties conducted 74 missions, and planned 110 missions for 2005. On March 8 and 9, 2007, Russia conducted overflights of Canada under the Treaty . The OSCC continues to address modalities for conducting observation missions and other implementation issues.
- Open Skies Treaty Fact Sheet [broken link, access denied] published by the United States Department of State Bureau of Arms Control on June 13, 2005, last accessed on July 19, 2009.
- On-Site Inspection Operations: Treaty on Open Skies page at the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency, last accessed on July 19, 2009.
- Photogallery of flights under the Open Skies Treaty on the OSCE website
- YouTube historical video on Open Skies Treaty
- Text of the treaty at the Bureau of Arms Control website
- Treaty Information (including recent updates) from the Open Skies Media Processing Facility at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
- "U.S. Starts Air Inspections Over Russian, Belarus Military Objects" MosNews.com June 15, 2005
- Open Skies for Peace in the Age of Nuclear Weapons Video and documents about President Eisenhower's open skies proposal.
- Open Skies to Build Trust Article in the Cincinnati Post on 1/10/2006
- Eisenhower's Open Skies to Reach 500th Flight
- Relevance of the Open Skies Treaty Program in the Twenty-First Century by Tony D. Holmes, Major, USAF
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