The Treaty on Open Skies entered into force on January 1, 2002, and currently has 30 States Parties. The treaty establishes a program of unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of its participants. The treaty is designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them. Open Skies is one of the most wide-ranging international efforts to date to promote openness and transparency of military forces and activities. The concept of "mutual aerial observation" was initially proposed by President Eisenhower in 1955; the treaty that was eventually signed was an initiative of President George H. W. Bush in 1989. The treaty was negotiated by the then-members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and was signed in Helsinki, Finland, on March 24, 1992. The United States ratified it in 1993. The treaty entered into force on January 1, 2002.
This treaty is not related to civil-aviation open skies agreements.
The 30 States Parties to the Open Skies Treaty are: Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, Ukraine, and United States. Kyrgyzstan has signed but not yet ratified. The treaty depositaries are Canada and Hungary.
The treaty is of unlimited duration and open to accession by other States. States of the former Soviet Union that have not already become States Parties to the treaty may accede to it at any time. Applications from other interested States are subject to a consensus decision by the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC), the Vienna-based organization charged with facilitating implementation of the treaty, to which all States Parties belong. Four states have acceded to the treaty since entry into force: Finland, Sweden, Latvia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The OSCC has also approved applications for accession by Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, and Croatia. Croatia ratified the treaty but has not yet deposited its instrument of ratification. Cyprus’s application for accession is pending before the OSCC.
Basic elements of the treaty
The Open Skies regime covers the territory over which the State Party exercises sovereignty, including land, islands, and internal and territorial waters. The treaty specifies that the entire territory of a State Party is open to observation. Observation flights may only be restricted for reasons of flight safety; not for reasons of national security.
Observation aircraft may be provided by either the observing Party or (the "taxi option") by the observed Party, at the latter's choice. All Open Skies aircraft and sensors must pass specific certification and pre-flight inspection procedures to ensure that they are compliant with treaty standards. The official certified U.S. Open Skies aircraft is the OC-135B Open Skies (a military version of the Boeing 707).
Open Skies aircraft may have video, optical, panoramic and framing cameras for daylight photography, infra-red line scanners for a day/night capability, and synthetic aperture radar for a day/night, all weather capability. Photographic image quality will permit recognition of major military equipment (e.g., permit a State Party to distinguish between a tank and a truck), thus allowing significant transparency of military forces and activities. Sensor categories may be added and capabilities improved by agreement among States Parties. All equipment used in Open Skies must be commercially available to all participants in the regime.
Each State Party is obligated to receive observation flights per its passive quota allocation. Each State Party may conduct as many observation flights -- its active quota -- as its passive quota. During the first 3 years after EIF, each State will be obliged to accept no more than 75% of its passive quota. Since the overall annual passive quota for the United States is 42, this means that it will be obligated to accept no more than 31 observation flights a year during this 3-year period. Only two flights were requested over the United States during 2004, by the Russian Federation and Republic of Belarus Group of States Parties (which functions as a single entity for quota allocation purposes). The United States is entitled to 8 of the 31 annual flights available over Russia/Belarus. Additionally, the United States is entitled to one flight over Ukraine, which they share with Canada.
Data sharing and availability
Imagery collected from Open Skies missions is available to any State Party upon request for the cost of reproduction. As a result, the data available to each State Party is much greater than that which it can collect itself under the treaty quota system.
At a Geneva Conference meeting with Soviet Premier Bulganin in 1955, President Eisenhower proposed that the United States and Soviet Union conduct surveillance overflights of each other's territory to reassure each country that the other was not preparing to attack. The fears and suspicions of the Cold War led Soviet General Secretary Nikita Khruschev to reject Eisenhower's proposal. Thirty-four years later, the Open Skies concept was reintroduced by President George H. W. Bush as a means to build confidence and security between all North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Warsaw Pact countries.
In September 1989, an international Open Skies conference involving all NATO and Warsaw Pact countries opened in Ottawa, Canada. Subsequent rounds of negotiations over the next three years were held in Budapest, Hungary, Vienna, Austria, and Helsinki, Finland.
On March 24, 1992, the Open Skies Treaty was signed in Helsinki by Secretary of State James Baker and foreign ministers from 23 other countries. The treaty entered into force on January 2, 2002, after Russia and Belarus completed ratification procedures.
In November 1992, President Bush assigned responsibility for overall training, management, leadership, coordination and support for U.S. Open Skies observation missions to the On-Site Inspection Agency (OSIA), now a part of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). Until entry into force in January 2002, DTRA support for the treaty involved participating in training and joint trial flights (JTFs). The U.S. has conducted over 70 JTFs since 1993. By March 2003, DTRA had successfully certified 16 camera configurations on the OC-135B aircraft. They also had contributed to the certification of the Bulgarian AN-30, Hungarian AN-26, POD Group (consisting of Belgium, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Spain) C-130H, Russian AN-30, and Ukrainian AN-30. The United States successfully flew its first Open Skies mission over Russia in December 2002.
With entry into force of the treaty, formal observation flights began in August 2002. During the first treaty year, States Parties conducted 67 observation flights. For 2004, States Parties have planned 82 missions. The OSCC continues to address modalities for conducting observation missions and other implementation issues.
This article includes public domain text from the following United States Government sources:
- Text of the treaty (http://www.state.gov/t/ac/trt/33393.htm) at the Bureau of Arms Control website
- Treaty Information (http://www.osmpf.wpafb.af.mil/Treaty_info/Treaty.htm) (including recent updates (http://www.osmpf.wpafb.af.mil/Treaty_info/Updated_Decisions.htm)) from the Open Skies Media Processing Facility (http://www.osmpf.wpafb.af.mil/)