erweiterte Version eines Beitrags für `Streitkräfte und Strategien',
Hörfunksendung im NDR 4, Hamburg, 4. April 1997

Brief on the Open Skies Treaty

for the

Handbook of Confidence-building Measures for Regional Security

compiled by afael Wiemker, CENSIS, Universität Hamburg
© The Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington 1998
DRAFT August 1997

The Treaty on Open Skies, signed in Helsinki on March 24th, 1992, represents the most wide-ranging multinational effort so far to enhance military transparency and confidence building through mutual aerial observation flights. Its purpose is to facilitate the monitoring of compliance with existing or future arms control treaties and to strengthen the capacity for conflict prevention and crisis management. The Treaty measures are both intrusive and cooperative: Virtually the full territory of each state party is open to overflights; flights are accompanied by joint teams and the image data can be shared.

So far 27 states have signed the Treaty including 16 NATO states (member states as of 1992) as well as Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slowakia and Ukraine. Although ratification of the Treaty is still pending in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, preparations for implementation have advanced - including numerous trial flights (e.g. over Bosnia, Canada, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and trial certifications of Open Skies aircraft (e.g. in Ukraine, the US and Germany). At least 12 Open Skies aircraft are currently in operation. The pending ratification procedures in the Ukrainian Rada and the Russian Duma are hoped to take place in fall 1997. There are now some positive indications: The Russian Ministry of Defense gave the go-ahead - after a standstill of more than one year - for a new round of bilateral trial flights under the rules of the Treaty. On the Ukrainian side their Open Skies aircraft, a twin engine Antonov 30 with a flight range of less than 1500 km, was taken to the United States earlier this year. This flight required a spectacular "sland-hoppin" with four stopovers. It covered US sites on the East Coast including Cape Canaveral.

In its current version the Treaty allows a sensor suite with imaging sensors only, in particular optical panoramic and framing cameras with ground resolution of 30 cm, video cameras with real-time display and a ground resolution of 30 cm, thermal infrared imaging sensors with ground resolution of 50 cm, and imaging radar (SAR) with ground resolution of 300 cm. The framing and video cameras can be as many as three of each type (two oblique and one vertically mounted camera). A number of technical provisons guarantee that the sensors do not exceed the Treaty agreed resolution limits. This is to be accomplished in an initial seven-day certification of each Open Skies aircraft, by a short demonstration flight at the beginning of each Open Skies observation event, and by analysis of the imagery recorded during the actual Open Skies flight. The image data of any Open Skies flight are accessible to all other signatory states, which again stresses the cooperative nature of the mutual monitoring. The Treaty has unlimited duration and is explicitly open to later extension. After entry into force other countries can join. Also, the sensor suite can be renegotiated e.g. to allow for other fields of application such as environmental monitoring.

According to the Treaty each state party has the right to conduct a certain number of observation flights using unarmed fixed-wing aircraft (active quota) and is obliged to accept observation flights by other state parties over its territory (passive quota). The total active quota of a state shall not exceed its passive quota. E.g. Germany and Italy have to receive 12 overflights per year each, Russia (including Belarus) and the USA 42 overflights each. The actual allocation of the individual active quota entitlements posed problems, though, since almost every party wanted to overfly Russia and the Ukraine. Finally the parties agreed to an initial distribution of active quotas which is considerably below 75% of the Treaty allowed quotas.

One important provision of the Treaty is that the full territory of each state party can be overflown (except for areas of hazardous airspace and a ten kilometer zone along the state borders of non-state parties). This implies that the vast territories of North America and Siberia which were hitherto "off limits" to inspections under the CFE Treaty will now be accessible to Open Skies flights. Each flight over a particular country, however, is restricted to a maximum flight distance. Each state to be overflown has the choice of either receiving the aircraft of the observing state or of providing an aircraft with full sensor equipment of its own for the observing state (taxi option). This provision goes back to the Soviet hesitance of fully opening its airspace to foreign aircraft.

It is little known that a bilateral Open Skies Agreement between Hungary and Romania is successfully in force since 1992. In contrast to the Treaty the bilateral agreement has no resolution limits at all, which eases implementation considerably. In June 1997 Hungary (as a lead nation) and Romania performed two joint Open Skies trial flights over Bosnia and Hercegovina. This was one of the voluntary confidence building measures foreseen under Article II of the Dayton Peace Agreement. It involved representatives of the State of Bosnia and Hercegovina and from the three ethnic ``entities'' as well as international observers. Aerial photographs taken from military sites of the three entities were shared among them. It was the first time since NATO took over control of the airspace over Bosnia that aerial photographs of their mutual territories became available to the parties. The flights were carried out in a cooperative atmosphere. It is expected that further Open Skies trial flights over Bosnia will follow during 1997, carried out by Romania, the United States and Germany as lead nations. This might pave the way for a more permanent Open Skies regime for the region.

Beyond the Northern Hemisphere the Open Skies idea is taking ground in South America. The United States have been promoting the idea in a tacit but persistent way. It was agreed to display the US Open Skies aircraft at a major airshow in Santiago de Chile in March 1998, concurrent with a meeting of the Latin American defense ministers. The US will also offer to bring their Open Skies aircraft to all capitals interested. South American defense ministers have declared confidence building measures to be among their priorities. It is said that at least four or five South American states are interested to consider bilateral or trilateral Open Skies arrangements with their neighbours.