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Daryl G. Kimball

Abandonment of Open Skies Treaty Would Undermine U.S. and European Security



For Immediate Release: October 9, 2019

Media ContactsKingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, 202-463-8270 ext. 104; Tony Fleming, director for communications, 202-463-8270 ext 110.

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—The Trump administration is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from yet another key arms control treaty: the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. If President Trump decides to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty, it would undermine the security of the United States and European allies, including Ukraine, say leading arms control and national security experts.

The Open Skies Treaty entered into force in 2002 and currently has 34 states-parties, including the United States and Russia. The treaty allows for information-sharing that increases transparency about military forces among members, thereby contributing to stability and improving each participating state’s national security.

The treaty allows aerial imaging through short-notice, unarmed observation flights over each other's entire territory. The flights allow observing parties to identify significant military equipment, such as artillery, fighter aircraft, and armored combat vehicles. Open Skies aircraft can only be equipped with cameras verifiably limited to a resolution below state-of-the-art technology, and the treaty disallows the collection of any other electromagnetic signals. The 34 states-parties have yearly quotas on overflights and must make the collected information available to all treaty parties.

Since entering into force, the United States has conducted almost 200 flights over Russian territory. Russia has carried out more than 70 flights over U.S. territory. U.S. allies continue to value and rely on the Open Skies Treaty for imagery collection.

National security officials, members of Congress, and arms control experts are warning the Trump administration that withdrawal would be "reckless" and would reduce the ability of the United States and European allies to monitor and counter Russian aggression against Ukraine.


"The Open Skies Treaty provides information about Russian military activities for the U.S. and our allies and provides the Russians with insight on our capabilities. Such transparency reduces uncertainty and the risk of conflict and miscalculations due to worst-case assumptions."
Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association

"U.S. flights over Ukraine and western Russia have yielded valuable data, easily shared between allies. The flights strengthen ties between the United States and its allies and reassure non-NATO members on Russia’s periphery. Withdrawing from the treaty would be another step in the collapse of U.S. leadership and further alienate U.S. allies and partners."
Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy



To schedule an interview with or appearance by an expert on U.S-Russian arms control agreements, please contact Tony Fleming, director for communications, (202) 463-8270 ext 110.

  • Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, [email protected], (202) 463-8270 ext. 104

  • 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, [email protected], (571) 264-7053

  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, [email protected], 202-277-3478

The treaty provides transparency about Russian military activities for the U.S. and our allies. Withdrawing from the treaty would be another step in the collapse of U.S. leadership and further alienate U.S. allies and partners, note arms control experts.

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News Source: 
BBC Future
News Date: 
October 9, 2019 -04:00

A Top Democrat is Sounding the Alarm that the Trump Administration is Considering Pulling out of a Vital Treaty with Russia

One Planet Is All You Get

October 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Over the long course of the nuclear age, millions of people around the world, often led by a young generation of clear-eyed activists, have stood up to demand meaningful, immediate international action to halt, reduce, and end the threat posed by nuclear weapons to humankind and the planet.

A new simulation depicts the consequences of a U.S.-Russian nuclear exchange. (Image credit: Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University)Today, a new generation is mobilizing to demand dramatic action to address another existential threat: the human-induced climate emergency. The scientific consensus is that climate change causes and impacts are increasing, and little more than a decade is left to take the bold steps necessary to cut global carbon emissions in half and reverse the slide toward catastrophe.

The disarmament movement has achieved success in reducing nuclear dangers before, but there is no room for complacency. The nuclear threat has not gone away. Nuclear competition is growing. The risk of nuclear war is increasing.

Just as dramatic action is needed to avoid climate change catastrophe, immediate and decisive action is required to counter the growing threat of nuclear war before it is too late.

A qualitative global nuclear arms race is now underway. The world’s nine nuclear-armed actors are collectively squandering hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain and improve their arsenals. Tensions between nuclear-armed states are on the rise. Key treaties are under threat.

With the loss of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in August, the only remaining treaty verifiably limiting the world’s two largest arsenals is the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in less than 17 months.

Washington and Moscow are pursuing the development of destabilizing types of weapons, including new lower-yield, “more usable” nuclear weapons. Each side still clings to Cold War-era nuclear launch-under-attack postures that increase the risk of miscalculation.

The use of nuclear weapons—even on a so-called “limited” scale—creates the potential for global catastrophe. A new simulation developed by scientists at Princeton University estimates that if, in a U.S.-Russian confrontation in the Baltics, one side resorts to the “tactical” use of nuclear weapons and the other responds, their current war plans could lead to an escalatory exchange involving 1,700 nuclear detonations against military and civilian targets. Within five hours, nearly 100 million people would be killed or injured.

Many more people would suffer and die in the weeks and months afterward. A new study of the longer-term climatic effects of a large-scale U.S.-Russian nuclear exchange estimates that the resulting fallout and fires would inject 150 million metric tons of soot and smoke into the earth’s upper atmosphere within two weeks, resulting in a drop in global temperatures of 9 degrees Celsius and a 30 percent drop in precipitation within 12 months. The resulting nuclear winter would wreak havoc on food production and lead to global famine.

Effective policies to address the nuclear threat must begin with the understanding that the only way to eliminate the threat of nuclear war is to eliminate nuclear weapons. The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a crucial step in this direction, but it is not an all-in-one solution to reduce today’s nuclear dangers. Leading nuclear and non-nuclear states also need to take overdue, common-sense steps necessary to halt and reverse the arms race, reduce the salience of nuclear weapons, eliminate the most destabilizing types of weapons, and create the conditions for nuclear disarmament.

To start, all nuclear-armed states should reaffirm the 1985 pledge made by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” The Kremlin has recently proposed that U.S. and Russian leaders reissue a joint statement along these lines, but Washington has demurred.

Nuclear-armed states should agree to adopt policies that reduce nuclear risks, such as no first use of nuclear weapons. Given the risks of escalation, there is no plausible circumstance that could justify legally, morally, or militarily the use of nuclear weapons to deal with a non-nuclear threat.

Washington and Moscow also should extend New START by five years as allowed by the treaty and immediately begin talks on a follow-on deal to set lower limits on all types of nuclear weaponry, including nonstrategic nuclear weapons; a new agreement dealing with ground-launched, intermediate-range systems; and new restrictions on destabilizing missile defense deployments and long-range hypersonic weapons.

Further U.S.-Russian progress on disarmament would pressure the other nuclear actors, including China, to agree to freeze the overall size of their smaller but still deadly nuclear arsenals and agree to joint nuclear risk-reduction measures, such as ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and join talks on nuclear disarmament.

The catastrophic consequences of failure on climate change and nuclear weapons are well documented, the steps necessary to mitigate the risks are well known, and the public demand for action is powerful. But the political will to take action is weak. To give future generations the chance to eliminate the nuclear danger, our generation must act decisively to reduce the threat of nuclear war and put us back on the path to global zero.


Over the long course of the nuclear age, millions of people around the world, often led by a young generation of clear-eyed activists, have stood up to demand meaningful, immediate international action to halt, reduce, and end the threat posed by nuclear weapons to humankind and the planet.

North Korea Opens Door to Nuclear Talks

October 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball and Julia Masterson

North Korea may be willing to resume working-level talks with the United States on denuclearization and peace issues, according to a Sept. 9 statement from North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui. The new offer was conditioned on a readiness by the Trump administration to adjust its negotiating stance, which North Korea has blamed for the long-delayed negotiations.

Choe Son Hui, North Korea's vice foreign minister (second from right), arrives for talks with U.S. officials one day before the June 12, 2019, summit between the United States and North Korea in Singapore. Choe recently expressed interest in resuming working-level talks. (Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)“We have willingness to sit with the U.S. side for comprehensive discussions of the issues we have so far taken up at the time and place to be agreed late in September,” Choe said. But she cautioned that if the U.S. side offers no new “calculation,” then “DPRK-U.S. dealings may come to an end.”

Just three days earlier, Steve Biegun, the U.S. special representative on North Korea, reiterated Washington’s interest in resuming working-level talks and President Donald Trump’s commitment to a diplomatic solution.

“Since [the] summit meeting in Singapore, the president has maintained a strong and focused commitment to the search for a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula. He refuses to accept that 66 years after the end of fighting in the Korean War, we have yet to find a successful path to transforming relations and establishing a permanent peace,” Biegun said in a Sept. 6 speech at the University of Michigan. “The president has also been clear that doing so will require the daunting task of eliminating the growing threat of weapons of mass destruction on the Korean peninsula.”

North Korea’s apparent willingness to resume talks follows an exchange of letters between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the Sept. 10 departure of John Bolton as Trump’s national security adviser. While in the White House, Bolton advocated for dramatic denuclearization actions by North Korea before making any U.S. concessions. After his resignation, he forecast that the negotiations with North Korea were “doomed to failure.”

The remarks highlighted one area of disagreement between Bolton and Trump.

“I think John really should take a look at how badly they’ve done in the past, and maybe a new method would be very good,” Trump said Sept. 20 in answer to a question about Bolton views.

Trump’s comments drew immediate praise from veteran North Korean diplomat Kim Myong Gil, who has been elevated to serving as North Korea’s chief delegate in working-level negotiations with the United States.

“I welcome President Trump’s wise political decision to approach the DPRK-U.S. relations from a more practical point of view,” he said, describing Bolton as a “burdensome troublemaker, who handled everything sticking to an outdated framework.”

If they take place, U.S.-North Korean talks would mark the first substantive exchange of views and proposals since the failed February 2019 summit in Hanoi between Trump and Kim. That meeting followed their first summit in Singapore in July 2018, when the two leaders agreed to a joint declaration to work toward denuclearization and a peace regime. (See ACT, July/August 2018.) Following the Singapore meeting, North Korea has not flight-tested any long-range ballistic missiles or conducted any nuclear explosions, and Trump has abided by his pledge to scale back joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

Democratic members of Congress have sharply criticized Trump’s lack of urgency to reach an agreement to halt North Korea’s nuclear program, as well as his willingness to ignore several North Korean flight tests of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, which violate UN resolutions.

In a Sept. 6 letter to the White House, the eight highest-ranking Democrats in the U.S. Senate urged Trump “to recognize that North Korea’s series of ballistic missile tests clearly contravene United Nations Security Council resolutions and are being used to advance their operational capabilities to deliver nuclear weapons.”

The senators urged Trump “to undertake a more pragmatic, verifiable approach to pursue denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.

In his Sept. 6 address, Biegun appeared to call for faster action and acknowledged North Korea’s ongoing efforts to improve its nuclear capabilities.

“We are aware that this diplomatic opening is fragile. We fully understand the consequences if diplomacy fails, and we are clear-eyed about the dangerous reality of ongoing development by North Korea of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them across the region and the world,” he said.

Biegun also outlined the Trump administration’s overall vision for the talks and indicated that the United States recognizes that progress is possible through reciprocal actions that help advance the goals set out by the two leaders in Singapore in 2018.

“Through direct engagement, we must create space and momentum for diplomacy,” Biegun said. “Once we begin intensive negotiations, we can directly discuss actions that each side can take to create more and better choices for our leaders to consider. Neither the United States nor North Korea has to accept all the risk of moving forward.”

Stagnant U.S.-North Korean nuclear talks could resume if Washington agrees to moderate its demands.

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