The Obama administration has launched an interagency study on how to improve the Open Skies Treaty. There are currently 34 countries, including the U.S., who have joined the treaty.
Each member country can fly inspection missions over the others using unarmed "peace planes." The planes are equipped with photographic equipment to take pictures of military establishments. The idea is to improve military openness and cooperation.
Representatives from all 34 countries met in Vienna last week to discuss treaty issues, such as switching from older photographic equipment to digital sensors. The U.S. is hosting a workshop for treaty members on digital sensor options this summer in Dayton, Ohio.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a video greeting to the conference last week. Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, said at the conference's closing, "The United States believes that it is essential for the Open Skies Treaty to remain a vital instrument in our Euro-Atlantic conventional arms control toolbox." She added, "We will encourage new thinking about applying Open Skies toward emerging challenges and threats…"
Many regions outside of the current Open Skies Treaty could benefit from this cooperative initiative. Consider the military situation in Asia with the fast-rising power of China, and the rival nuclear weapons states of India and Pakistan. An open skies arrangement could be explored with these countries.
Then there are North Korea and South Korea, who need to have more cooperation between their militaries. Another region is the Middle East. Could Open Skies also have an impact on arms control there?
There is much to explore with Open Skies, both in terms of strengthening the existing treaty and potential creations of similar agreements around the globe.
While the treaty is going to undergo some cost-saving technological adjustments to its aircraft, one aspect of the treaty is unchanging—its dedication to openness and cooperation.
In her Open Skies speech, Gottemoeller noted Vice President Biden's statement on European security which reads, "we need to work together to broaden our commitments to reciprocal transparency about all our military forces, including both conventional and nuclear forces, and other defense assets in Europe, including missile defenses.”
The transparency Biden speaks of is something deep-rooted in American foreign policy. Harold Stassen, who was President Eisenhower's disarmament advisor when the Open Skies concept was first proposed in 1955, once wrote, "The important tools of diplomacy are not the new developments in technology which always change, nothing remaining the same. The key elements are approaches and attitudes…"
For this reason, expect Open Skies to continue to be a significant force in international relations for years to come.