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Leonid Bershidsky

U.S. and Russia Should Keep the Skies Open

The Trump administration is threatening to back out of an arms-control agreement that’s based on the excellent principle of “show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”

Blue skies over Red Square.

Blue skies over Red Square.

Photographer: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

The Open Skies Treaty of 1992 isn’t a major arms-control agreement. But the Donald Trump administration’s reported intention to exit it is, in a way, a more troubling sign than its withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Treaty last year. If the U.S. abandons the pact, it and Russia will be blind to each other’s military deployments, giving paranoid generals a new reason to jump at shadows.

Open Skies was initiated by President George H.W. Bush when the Soviet Union still existed. He proposed that the U.S. and the Soviets, and their allies, be allowed to take 24-hour-notice surveillance flights over each other’s territory to photograph troops and military equipment. The idea, first proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower, was to make sure no clandestine military preparations were being made. The Soviets rejected it, and even though Russia signed the treaty under President Boris Yeltsin, it had enough misgivings about the agreement that it wasn’t ratified until 2001.