Trump exits Open Skies Treaty, moves to discard Observation Planes.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion for­mally shut the door on the Open Skies treaty Sun­day, ex­it­ing the agree­ment while mov­ing to get rid of the U.S. Air Force planes that have been used to carry out the nearly three-decade-old ac­cord.

Pres­i­dent Trump had served no­tice in May that the U.S. would with­draw in six months from the ac­cord, which was in­tended to re­duce the risk of war by al­low­ing Rus­sia and the West to carry out un­armed re­con­nais-sance flights over each oth­er's ter­ri­to­ries. U.S. of­fi­cials, how-ever, have long com­plained that Mos­cow hasn't fully com­plied with its terms.

In a move that could com­pli-cate Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Biden's op­tions if he sought to re-en­ter the agree­ment, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing steps to dis­pose of the two spe­cially equipped OC-135B planes the U.S. has used to carry out Open Skies flights.

A se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial said the planes are be­ing des­ig­nated as "ex­cess de­fense ar­ti­cles," which means they can be given to for­eign part­ners at re­duced or no cost.

"We've started liq­ui­dat­ing the equip­ment," the of­fi­cial said. "Other coun­tries can come pur­chase or just take the air­frames. They are re­ally old and cost-pro­hibitive for us to main­tain. We don't have a use for them any­more."

As part of the dis­posal, the old wet-film cam­eras on the air­craft are likely to be given to Eu­ropean al­lies. New digi­tal cam­eras that the Pen­tagon had planned to in­stall on the planes used for Open Skies flights will in­stead be trans­ferred to other units in the Air Force.

The moves fol­low a July de­ci­sion by then-De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark Es­per to can­cel the pro­gram to buy newer planes to re­place the OC-135Bs, elim­i­nat­ing the op­tion of re­plac­ing the air­craft with more-mod­ern vari­ants as well.

Sens. Robert Menen­dez (D., N.J.) and Jack Reed (D., R.I.), who sup­port the ac­cord, noted ear­lier this year that Con­gress had al­ready ap­pro­pri­ated $41.5 mil­lion to­ward the es­ti­mated $250 mil­lion cost of re­plac­ing the planes.

Mr. Biden has been sharply crit­i­cal of Mr. Trump's de­ci­sion to with­draw from the Open Skies treaty, say­ing that the ac­cord had strong al­lied sup­port and that prob­lems with Russ­ian com­pli­ance should be ad­dressed by us­ing the treaty's dis­pute pro­ce­dures.

In a May state­ment, Mr. Biden said, "I sup­ported the Open Skies Treaty as a sen­a­tor, be­cause I un­der­stand 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 forces."

Mr. Biden, how­ever, hasn't in­di­cated whether he will try to re-en­ter the mul­ti­lat­eral ac­cord and has higher pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing ex­tend­ing the New Start nu­clear weapons treaty and try­ing to sal­vage and build on the 2015 Iran nu­clear deal. Spokes­men for the Biden tran­si­tion didn't re­spond to ques­tions about his in­ten­tions on the Open Skies ac­cord.

The se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial in­sisted that the goal in dis­pos-ing of the OC-135B planes isn't to tie the hands of the in­com­ing Biden ad­min­is­tra­tion, but rather to pro­vide al­lies with ac­cess to air­craft and cam­eras the U.S. mil­i­tary no longer needs. Nor is the sched­ule for hand­ing off the equip­ment clear, he added.

Still, the de­ci­sion could add to the le­gal and bud­getary hur­dles Mr. Biden would face if he opted to re­verse Mr. Trump's with­drawal.

It also fol­lows other steps the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken that may con­strain Mr. Biden's for­eign-pol­icy op­tions. Trump of­fi­cials have sought to make their eco­nomic pres­sure cam­paign against Iran po­lit­i­cally dif­fi­cult to re­verse by im­pos­ing sanc­tions un­der au­thor­i­ties used to pun­ish ter­ror­ist-re­lated groups.

Last week the Trump ad­min-is­tra­tion also said it would re­duce troops in Af­ghanistan and Iraq to 2,500 in each coun­try, cuts due to be com-pleted days be­fore Mr. Biden takes of­fice.

The Open Skies treaty was ne­go­ti­ated dur­ing the George H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion as the Cold War drew to a close. Thirty-four coun­tries have joined the agree­ment, in­clud­ing the U.S., Canada, Eu­ropean na­tions, Rus­sia and Ukraine.

In May 2018, then-De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis told Con­gress that stay­ing in the treaty was "in our best in­ter­est." But af­ter Mr. Mat­tis left the Pen­tagon over dis­agree­ments with Mr. Trump, the ad­min­is­tra-tion's op­po­si­tion to the agree-ment hard­ened.

Trump of­fi­cials com­plained that the Rus­sians were us­ing their flights over the U.S. to gather tar­get­ing in­for­ma­tion on sen­si­tive Amer­i­can in-frastructure while lim­it­ing ac­cess for West­ern flights over Russ­ian ter­ri­tory. Im­prove­ments in satel­lite tech­nol­ogy, they said, made the flights less use­ful for Wash­ing­ton.

The ques­tion of whether a Biden ad­min­is­tra­tion might opt to re­join the ac­cord has al­ready sparked a le­gal de­bate. Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say the le­gal ob­sta­cles would be in­sur-mount­able be­cause the Sen­ate would need to ap­prove any bid to re­join the treaty by a two-thirds vote.

Some arms-con­trol pro­po-nents have ques­tioned whether the with­drawal was prop­erly car­ried out, say­ing that the ad­min­is­tra­tion ig­nored leg­is­la-tion re­quir­ing it to con­sult with Con­gress four months be­fore with­draw­ing.

"It is pos­si­ble and ad­vis­able that the Biden ad­min­is­tra­tion de­clare that it will con­tinue to par­tic­i­pate in Open Skies," said Daryl Kim­ball, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion, a pri­vate group that sup­ports the treaty.

Jean Gal­braith of the Uni­ver-sity of Penn­syl­va­nia law school has of­fered a third view: If a pres­i­dent leaves a treaty with­out get­ting in­put from Con­gress, a fu­ture pres­i­dent could uni­lat­erally re­join it.

Even if the le­gal is­sues could be sorted out, for­mer of­fi­cials say, a Biden ad­min­is­tra­tion would likely con­front Re­pub­li­can re­sis­tance in Con­gress over fund­ing to restore and op­er­ate Open Skies planes, which have been based at Of­futt Air Force Base in Ne­braska.

Russ­ian of­fi­cials have expressed their own con­cerns about how the treaty might work with­out U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Russ­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov said re­cently Eu­ropean na­tions that re­main in the treaty should sign a legally bind­ing doc­u­ment af­firm­ing they would al­low Russ­ian planes to fly over U.S. bases on their ter­ri­tory and wouldn't share the data they col­lect on their flights over Russ­ian ter­ri­tory with Wash­ing­ton.

The se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial said the ad­min­is­tra­tion has ob­tained as­sur­ances from Eu­ropean na­tions in the treaty that they would give Wash­ing­ton ad­vance no­tice of any Russ­ian flights that are sched­uled to fly over Amer­i-can bases on their ter­ri­tory af­ter the Russian gov­ern­ment files its flight plans.

Michael Gordon, WSJ, November 22, 2020


November 24, 2020

Voices4America Post Script. Ending the Open Skies Treaty seems to be more Trump trashing our nation on the way out the door. Will Russia help pay off Trump's debts to thank him?Maddow addressed Open Skies last night. This article amplifies what we know. #TrumpHatesAmerica

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