by Nick Mele
On May 21, 2020, the Trump Administration announced it will withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty. Open Skies allows member states to fly unarmed reconnaissance flights on short notice over any other signers territory. The basic concept of the treaty was first proposed by President Eisenhower in 1955; in 1989, President George H.W. Bush revived the idea and NATO and the Warsaw Pact began negotiations. The treaty was signed in early 1992 and entered into force in 2002. At present, 35 nations are parties to the agreement. This multilateral treaty has been an important confidence-building and arms control verification tool throughout its life.
The Trump Administration argues that Russia has violated the treaty, but, according to arms control experts, this is not the case. Another argument for withdrawing from the treaty is that the United States possesses satellite capabilities that obviate the need for fly-overs by reconnaissance planes. Some experts disagree, but more importantly, all other NATO countries, most of whom have no satellite intelligence o their own, have urged the Trump Administration to maintain the treaty. One day after the U.S. announcement, ten NATO members — including France, Germany and Italy — affirmed their commitment to continue to honor the treaty.
The latest announced treaty withdrawal is another in a disturbing series of U.S. withdrawals from both bilateral and multilateral arms control measures, including the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran deal) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1988. Both of these treaties are also important to NATO members and other U.S. allies. In all cases, the Trump Administration alleges other parties (Iran and Russia) have been in violation of the agreements, often with no independent verification of the claimed violations.
During the George W. Bush and Donald Trump Administrations, treaty withdrawals, apathy and inaction by the U.S. government have dismantled the structure of agreements limiting nuclear weapons built over decades of painstaking negotiations. Each time a treaty expires or is renounced by the U.S., the entire world is at greater risk of all-out nuclear war and the death and destruction even a “modest” nuclear exchange would bring.
Marshall Billingslea, Trump’s new Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, also created news on May 21 by asserting the U.S would “spend the adversary into oblivion”.
The billions proposed for “nuclear force modernization” could be better spent on health care, education and clean energy and would generate more jobs as a bonus. For Catholics, opposition to spending on nuclear weapons is a moral duty best expressed by Pope Francis who has noted again and again that mere possession of nuclear weapons is a grave sin. We are all complicit in that sin unless we actively oppose the expansion of nuclear forces.