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"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Daryl Kimball

Open Skies Treaty Pullout An Irresponsible National Security Misstep, Warn Experts and Former Officials

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For Immediate Release: May 21, 2020

Media Contacts: Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—The Trump administration reportedly will announce that it intends to pull the United States out of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, a valuable arms control and security agreement intended to reduce risks to the United States and its European allies.

“The Open Skies Treaty has helped preserve the post-Cold War peace. It allows the 34 participating nations, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another’s territory. This helps preserve a measure of transparency and trust, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict,” says Thomas Countryman, the former U.S. acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and now chair of the board of the Arms Control Association.

“A unilateral U.S. exit from Open Skies would undermine our security and that of our European allies, all of whom strongly support the treaty,” Countryman added. “It has the effect—and perhaps this is the intention—of signaling a diminished U.S. commitment to its NATO allies.”

“U.S. and allied treaty flights over Russia provide valuable information about Russian military activities, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict in Europe,” says Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association director for disarmament and threat reduction policy. "The treaty has been an especially important tool in responding to Russia's aggression against Ukraine." 

“There is strong bipartisan support in Congress for maintaining U.S. participation in Open Skies,” Reif notes. “The administration’s announcement of withdrawal is a slap in the face to Congress as it violates notification requirements written into law last year.”

The administration told reporters the formal notification of withdrawal would be effective immediately and the withdrawal itself will take effect in six months. However, such action violates Sec. 1234 of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the administration to notify Congress 120 days ahead of a U.S. notification of an intent to withdraw.

The Trump administration cites Russian noncompliance as a motivating factor for its decision. Disputes have arisen because Russia has imposed a sublimit of 500 kilometers over the Kaliningrad Oblast for treaty flights, refused access to observation flights along its border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and denied planned U.S.-Canadian flights over a Russian military exercise in September 2019.

However, Russia recently approved and allowed a joint U.S.-Estonian-Latvian treaty flight over Kaliningrad this year that was not subjected to the earlier Russian restrictions. In addition, Jim Gilmore, U.S. representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said March 2 that Russia will no longer raise an “objection” for the United States and its allies to “fly over one of their major exercises.”

As President Reagan’s former Secretary of State, George Shultz, former Senator Sam Nunn, and former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry wrote in October 2019 in the Wall Street Journal: “As with any treaty, implementation disputes arise. Current disagreements are related to underlying territorial and political issues between Russia and some of its neighbors. But these problems can be solved through professional, pragmatic diplomacy, not by abandoning treaty commitments.”

“Today’s announcement is part of a troubling pattern. The Open Skies Treaty is not the first, and may not be the last, nuclear or conflict risk reduction agreement this administration has withdrawn from without a viable strategy for replacement,” observes Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

“Failure to take up Russia’s offer to extend by five years the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which the administration has threatened to do, would compound the damage and further heighten the risk of unconstrained military and nuclear competition between the United States and Russia at a time when the world can ill afford it,” he warns.

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The treaty allows the 34 participating nations, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another's territory, helping preserve a measure of transparency and trust and enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict.

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Global NGOs Urge Nonproliferation Treaty States to Comply with Obligations

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For Immediate Release: May 11, 2020

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270 ext.107; Tony Fleming, director for communications, 202-463-8270 ext 110

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—More than 80 national and international peace and nuclear disarmament nongovernmental organizations delivered a joint statement Monday to key government leaders urging them to fulfill unmet obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), particularly on nuclear disarmament, and to realize their agreed commitment to the goal of the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons.”

The joint statement marks the 25th anniversary of the package of decisions that led to the indefinite extension of the NPT and urges world leaders to act with greater urgency and cooperation to reduce nuclear risks and advance progress on disarmament per their commitment under the treaty.

“We’re not only at a pivotal point in the struggle against the fast-moving coronavirus; we are also at a tipping point in the long-running effort to reduce the threat of nuclear war and eliminate nuclear weapons,” the joint statement from more than 80 organizations from around the globe, including the Arms Control Association, warns.

“Tensions between the world’s nuclear-armed states are rising; the risk of nuclear use is growing; billions of dollars are being spent to replace and upgrade nuclear weapons; and key agreements that have kept nuclear competition in check are in serious jeopardy.”

“This environment,” the organizations write, “demands bolder action from all states to reduce nuclear risks by eliminating nuclear weapons; action that is rooted in ‘deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.’”

The NPT entered into force in 1970 and now has 191 states parties. It is considered the foundation of global efforts to address the risks posed by nuclear weapons. The NPT is not simply a nonproliferation treaty. It is also a treaty that requires action on disarmament.

“For the long-term viability of the NPT, all countries must fully implement their obligations. The body of previous NPT Review Conference commitments and action steps still apply. This includes the benchmarks agreed to at the historic 1995 Review and Extension Conference and further commitments made at the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences. These remain largely unfulfilled, and some are at risk of being reversed or lost entirely.”

Implementing past action plans must be the floor and not the ceiling for taking forward the NPT’s provisions,” they write in the statement, which has been delivered to diplomats from most of the 191 states parties of the NPT.

The postponement of the 2020 NPT Review Conference offers an unprecedented opportunity to change the current course,” they argue.

“The current situation requires new and bolder leadership from responsible states to work together to build majority support for a plan of action to advance NPT Article VI [disarmament] goals and create much needed momentum for further progress on disarmament, and to save humanity from the scourge of nuclear war,” they write.

The full statement and the list of endorsing organizations are available online via Reaching Critical Will.

Fulfilling the Promise of the NPT


May 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

As global leaders appropriately focus on the steps necessary to deal with the deadly effects of the coronavirus pandemic, they cannot afford to lose sight of the actions necessary to address the ongoing threat of nuclear proliferation and catastrophic nuclear war—the ultimate pandemic.

The sculpture “Good Defeats Evil” on the grounds of the United Nations headquarters depicts St. George slaying the dragon. (UN photo by Rick Bajornas)Twenty-five years ago, the world came together to extend and strengthen the bedrock agreement to reduce nuclear dangers: the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Now, tensions among the world’s nuclear-armed states are rising; the risk of nuclear use is growing; hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent to replace and upgrade the already bloated arsenals of the world’s nine possessors of nuclear weapons; and key agreements that have kept nuclear competition in check are in serious jeopardy.

The resurgence of the nuclear weapons threat is due, in large part, to the failure of national leaders to seize earlier opportunities to significantly reduce the nuclear threat and to pursue a more intensive dialogue on measures to move toward the common goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

On May 11, 1995, NPT states parties committed to the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons.” Additional specific commitments were made at the 2000 and 2010 review conferences to advance implementation and compliance with the treaty.

These commitments represent a collective determination of how to fulfill the objectives of the NPT, including the disarmament obligations under Article VI. With few exceptions, these remain relevant, but they have largely been unfulfilled, such as the failure by the United States and China to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Some are at risk of being reversed or lost entirely, such as the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

U.S. leadership has been key to the success of the NPT in the past. Today, the United States is, on balance, part of the problem not the solution. Senior Trump administration officials claim that the body of previous review conference commitments no longer applies. They downplay the urgency of today’s nuclear risks and argue unconvincingly that the “environment” is not right for progress on disarmament. They dismiss the CTBT without explanation and dither on whether to extend New START, arguing that China must somehow be involved in nuclear arms control before any further steps are taken.

Such excuses and blame-shifting by officials from the United States, and from other states, are unconstructive and irresponsible. Rejecting previous NPT commitments demeans the NPT process and casts doubt on the value of any new commitments.

The postponement of the 10th NPT review conference until 2021 offers an opportunity to shift course and to move further back from the nuclear precipice. Notwithstanding the different positions on Article VI, it is important that as many states as possible get behind the following measures in the run up to the 10th review conference, perhaps through a common statement:

  • an immediate decision to extend New START by five years, a U.S.-Russian commitment to follow-on negotiations to achieve further cuts in all types of nuclear weapons, combined with a pledge by the other nuclear-armed states to freeze the size of their nuclear arsenals, and the start of a process for multilateral disarmament talks;
  • reaffirmation by all nuclear-armed states of their de facto nuclear testing moratoria and action by the eight remaining CTBT holdout states to ratify the treaty;
  • halting the introduction of new types of nuclear weapons, particularly “more usable” lower-yield warheads and starting negotiations on legally binding negative security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states;
  • a phaseout to Cold War-era “launch under attack” postures, which increase the risk of accidental nuclear war;
  • recognition of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war and the value of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in reinforcing the norm against nuclear use and the NPT; and
  • a joint declaration that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

In the absence of coherent and constructive nonproliferation leadership from the Trump administration, responsible states need to fill the void. Even if former Vice President Joe Biden is elected and becomes president in January, there may be very little time to craft a more enlightened U.S. approach ahead of the review conference.

Either way, now is the time to work together to build majority support for renewed action on concrete measures that advance disarmament and nuclear risk reduction goals. Sweden, and Germany and other states have made some strides toward a common framework on the next steps on nuclear disarmament. Leaders of the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons and key members of the Non-Aligned Movement also have role to play.

The world has been lucky that 75 years have passed since nuclear weapons were detonated in a conflict. If we are to reduce the nuclear threat and prevent the possible third use of nuclear weapons, we cannot afford to squander the opportunity to act while we still can.

As global leaders appropriately focus on the steps necessary to deal with the deadly effects of the coronavirus pandemic, they cannot afford to lose sight of the actions necessary to address the ongoing threat of nuclear proliferation and catastrophic nuclear war—the ultimate pandemic.

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