Statement by Vice President Joe Biden on President Trump’s Decision to Withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty
In announcing the intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, President Trump has doubled down on his short-sighted policy of going it alone and abandoning American leadership. With the world confronting the health and economic consequences of a global pandemic, the United States should be leading the international community, working with allies, and avoiding destabilizing actions.
Withdrawal from Open Skies will have the opposite effect. The Treaty was negotiated and signed under President George H.W. Bush to build confidence and increase transparency in the Euro-Atlantic region. It allows the United States, NATO allies, Russia, and other European countries to fly over each other’s territories and take images to observe military forces and facilities. The transparency it provides is particularly important for countries that do not have their own satellite imaging capabilities.
I supported the Open Skies Treaty as a Senator, because I understood that the United States and our allies would benefit from being able to observe — on short notice — what Russia and other countries in Europe were doing with their military forces. That has remained true for the nearly two decades the treaty has been in force. During the Obama Administration, the United States and our partners successfully used Open Skies flights and imagery to support Ukraine when Russia violated its territory, disprove Russian disinformation, and show the world what Russia was doing.
The Trump Administration says it is withdrawing from the Treaty because Russia is cheating. There are real concerns that Russia is not complying fully with the Treaty. It has improperly imposed restrictions on overflights over certain regions (Kaliningrad and the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia), to which the United States and other parties have objected. These Russian violations should be addressed not by withdrawing from the Treaty, but by seeking to resolve them through the Treaty’s implementation and dispute mechanism. That is exactly how other disputes over Russian implementation have been resolved, including altitude restrictions over Chechnya.
Our allies have made clear they want us to remain in the Treaty, and to work together to address compliance issues with Russia. Without us, the Treaty could crumble. Withdrawal will exacerbate growing tensions between the West and Russia, and increase the risks of miscalculation and conflict.
Instead of tearing up treaties that make us and our allies more secure, President Trump should take common sense steps to keep Americans safe. He should remain in the Open Skies Treaty and work with allies to confront and resolve problems regarding Russia’s compliance.