On November 2, Russia and Belarus deposited their instruments of ratification for the Open Skies Treaty, triggering the 60-day countdown for the accord’s entry into force on January 1, 2002.
Negotiated by NATO and former members of the now-defunct Warsaw Pact and signed in 1992, the Open Skies Treaty permits countries to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over the territories of other treaty parties. Aircraft used in the flights will have to meet certain specifications and will be equipped with sensors, such as cameras and infrared devices, sensitive enough to enable the observing party to distinguish between tanks and trucks on the ground.
The treaty allocates each state-party a quota of flights that it must permit over its territory annually. For example, the United States and Russia, which shares its quota with Belarus, each have a quota of 42 flights, while smaller countries, such as Spain and Bulgaria, have to allow only four flights per year.
Under the treaty, however, states-parties only need to permit up to 75 percent of their flight quota from the date of entry into force to the end of the following year. Thus, states-parties will have until the end of 2003 to conduct the first round of reduced annual flights.
Treaty signatories have been conducting practice flights, and more than 350 trial missions have taken place since 1996, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Kyrgyzstan is the only country of the 27 treaty signatories that has not ratified the treaty, but its ratification is not required for the accord’s entry into force. For the first six months after entry into force, other OSCE members not party to the treaty may apply to join the accord, and after that any country may request to accede to the treaty. Finland and Sweden, both of which are OSCE members, announced on November 5 that they want to join the treaty.