Open Skies Treaty Remains Vital Instrument for Cooperation, Transparency

June 11, 2010
Open Skies Treaty

About the Author: Rose E. Gottemoeller serves as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation and also served as the head of the U.S. delegation and Chair of the 2010 Review Conference for the Treaty on Open Skies.

Earlier this week, I led the U.S. delegation at the 2010 Review Conference on the Treaty on Open Skies in Vienna, along with Ambassador Ian Kelly and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Celeste Wallander. It was a real honor and pleasure to do so, especially because the United States served as Chair of the Review Conference.

Just what is the Treaty on Open Skies? It's an agreement among countries, ranging from Canada and the United States in the West to Russia in the East that promotes openness and transparency through unarmed aerial surveillance flights conducted by participating states. At this time, 34 countries are party to the Treaty and participate in its implementation. Information from these surveillance flights is gathered and shared among the participants, and this builds confidence and mutual understanding and contributes to European security and stability. Since the Open Skies Treaty entered into force in 2002, more than 670 observation flights have been conducted by participating states.

We are at a critical phase in the Open Skies Treaty as we prepare to implement elements for the “next generation” of the Treaty by, in part, employing 21st Century technology. For example, our delegation went to Vienna to work with our partners to find cost-effective solutions to ensure all Parties can transition from using old-fashioned photographic imaging to using digital sensors.

The Obama Administration has recently launched an interagency study to examine options for digital sensors, future Open Skies aircraft, more shared flights, expanding membership to countries that are part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) but are not yet party to Open Skies, and applying Open Skies toward emerging challenges and threats. Key to moving forward in these areas is the consensus Final Document that was agreed at the Review Conference. It will be the basis for our work as we look at ways to better share resources and move into the digital future with our foreign partners.

The United States remains firmly committed to the successful implementation of the Treaty on Open Skies, and we continue to encourage all participating countries to keep the spirit of the treaty alive.

As U.S. Vice President Biden said on May 6 regarding advancing Europe's security, “First, we need to work together to broaden our commitments to reciprocal transparency about all our military forces, including both conventional and nuclear forces, and other defense assets in Europe, including missile defenses.” The Open Skies Treaty is one of our most successful and valuable regimes to fulfill this task.

The United States is working hard to strengthen and broaden European cooperation and security, and the Treaty on Open Skies will continue to play a critical role in these efforts. The Review Conference offered an important opportunity to focus on strengthening this regime. Now, it is up to all of us to keep up the momentum.

Visit for more information on the Open Skies Treaty.Watch Secretary Clinton's Opening Review Conference Video Statement.Read the closing remarks at the Open Skies Review Conference.


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