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– Hans Blix
Former IAEA Director-General
Trump Administration May Pull Out of Open Skies Treaty; Last U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Treaty Also at Risk
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For Immediate Release: October 27, 2019

Media Contacts: Tony Fleming, director for communications, 202-463-8270 ext. 110; Jessica Sarstedt, 202-802-1835

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—Trump administration officials continue to deliberate on the future of the Open Skies Treaty. It was reported earlier this month that the White House is considering a proposal advanced by former National Security Advisor John Bolton to withdraw from the 34-nation agreement, which has been in force since 2002. The Open Skies Treaty allows unarmed information-gathering flights over other parties to the agreement to track and monitor military deployments, including those of Russia.

Open Skies is another critical piece in the overlapping armor of arms control and security agreements negotiated by Republican and Democratic administrations that helped bring an end to the Cold War. These agreements have provided predictability and transparency of our adversaries’ military activities, reduced the nuclear weapons threat, and decreased tensions and the risk of military conflict.

A U.S. exit from Open Skies would add to tensions with Russia, especially after the U.S. exit from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, undermine the security of our European allies, and damage the credibility of U.S. leadership. As The Wall Street Journal and others have reported, the government of Ukraine greatly values the Open Skies Treaty and supports full participation and compliance by all parties.

Not only is the Open Skies Treaty at risk, but Trump has also not decided on whether to extend the only remaining treaty limiting U.S. and Russian nuclear weaponry, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in February 2021.

Abandoning these agreements would make more likely something Trump says he wants to avoid. Just this week, Trump reminded everyone that his goal is to not seek an arms race and noted the importance of arms control agreements, specifically driving home the need to place a cap on nuclear weapons arsenals.

On Monday, Oct. 21, Trump said in an interview: “We should all get together and work out something—a cap, have a cap. We don't need 10,000 [nuclear] weapons, [we need to] have a cap.”

The United States and Russia, which possess the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world, already have an agreement in force which caps each country’s nuclear weapons: New START. The treaty:

  • Caps each sides’ strategic deployed nuclear warheads at 1,550,
  • Caps deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers assigned to nuclear missions to no more than 700 each, and
  • Caps deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and bombers are limited to no more than 800 each.

By walking away from either one of these agreements, the United States would set back efforts to reduce military and nuclear tensions with Russia and other nuclear armed states.

Instead, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week, we need to sustain, strengthen, and build upon proven multilateral agreements that provide transparency about Russia’s military activities and that verifiably cap U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, including the Open Skies Treaty and New START.

Experts Available for Comment

Amb. Bonnie Jenkins, former Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, Department of State, and member of the Board of Directors of the Arms Control Association.

Alexandra Bell, Senior Policy Director at the Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation and former Senior Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

Lynn Rusten, Vice President, Global Nuclear Policy Program, Nuclear Threat Initiative, and former senior director for arms control and nonproliferation on the White House National Security Council staff and senior advisor in the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance (AVC), where she led the interagency backstopping process supporting the negotiation and ratification of New START.

Thomas Countryman, former​ ​Acting​ Under Secretary of State ​Arms​ ​Control and ​International Security and ​​Chair of the Board of Directors of the Arm​​s Control Association.

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