- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A new report is making the case for the U.S. to remain in a landmark international treaty that allows intelligence flights over Russia until it can present a solution that would continue to protect allies that remain in the agreement.

President Trump has privately signed off on the decision to pull the U.S. out of the Open Skies Treaty (OST), a 34-country pact that was designed to lower international tensions by allowing treaty members to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over each others’ territory to collect data on military forces and activities — despite continued efforts from Congressional Democrats to remain active.

The report, published Tuesday by the Heritage Foundation, outlines the benefits to the U.S.’ continued participation in the treaty that would maintain transatlantic ties and aerial observation capabilities of the Russian military, but acknowledges the legitimacy of critics’ arguments to withdraw as Russia has consistently violated the agreement’s terms.

“The treaty has supporters who value the agreement for providing openness and cooperative interaction with Russia in a period of heightened tensions with Moscow,” wrote Peter Brookes, author of the report.

He noted that while the U.S. is “is well within its right to withdraw from the OST due to publicly available information on Russian violations [and] non-compliance, potential counterintelligence concerns,” the administration should conduct a comprehensive evaluation of America’s participation before withdrawing.

Criticism of the 1992 treaty grew last year among Republican defense hawks on Capitol Hill after Russia restricted U.S. surveillance flights over Kaliningrad, the strategic Russian military enclave that sits between Lithuania and Poland. The U.S. responded by prohibiting Russian flights over Hawaii and several Air Force bases.

Treaty supporters, meanwhile, argue America’s European allies could be unnerved by another U.S. repudiation of a major multilateral security pact. All but two of the European Union’s 29 member countries have joined the agreement and when the U.S. conducts intelligence flights, European allies are often brought along.

Mr. Brookes suggested in the report that the U.S. should apply pressure to American allies to “coerce Russia to come back into compliance with the treaty.”

“American allies and partners have as much — if not, arguably, more — interest in Russian compliance with the OST than the United States. As such, these parties must share the burden of pushing Russia back into full compliance with the treaty,” he said.

A complete review of the U.S. involvement in the treaty, including costs, risks, benefits, and possible new means to optimize U.S., allied, and partner participation, is necessary before the administration announces a final decision, Mr. Brookes said.

“The OST is meant to build confidence and security, not undermine the national security of the United States, our allies, and partners,” he argued. “The decision to stay or go is unquestionably one of significant importance for American interests as well as that of our allies and partners.”

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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