Issue Brief #9: How to fix, preserve and strengthen the Open Skies Treaty


A picture, it is said, is worth 1,000 words. The image-centric Treaty on Open Skies (Open Skies) embodies that concept perfectly. The trusted pictures shared among all the Parties to the treaty create more certainty than thousands of words ever could. In a world of growing mistrust and uncertainty over military intentions, the 34-nation agreement provides transparency across the Euro-Atlantic between Vancouver and Vladivostok. Despite that fact, for a few months in late 2019, it seemed as if the Trump Administration was moving to withdraw from the treaty. The furious pushback from both allies and bipartisan experts seems to have granted the agreement a temporary reprieve. Unfortunately, Open Skies is by no means out of danger. While some critics will never be sated, it is incumbent upon treaty advocates to find solutions to the ongoing compliance problems with the agreement.

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About the Authors

Alexandra Bell is the Senior Policy Director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Previously, Bell served as a Senior Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

Colonel (ret) Wolfgang Richter is Senior Associate at the International Security Division of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). Previously, he was Head of the military section of the Permanent Representation of Germany to the OSCE, Vienna.

Andrei Zagorski is Head of the Department of Disarmament and Conflict Resolution, Center for International Security at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), where he served as Vice-Rector (1992-1999).