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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Open Skies Treaty


Fact Sheet
Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation
May 18, 2009

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Origin and Purpose

The Treaty on Open Skies entered into force on January 1, 2002, and currently has 34 States Parties. The Treaty establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its participants. The Treaty is designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them. Open Skies is one of the most wide-ranging international efforts to date to promote openness and transparency of military forces and activities.

The original concept of mutual aerial observation was proposed by President Eisenhower in 1955; the Treaty itself was an initiative of then-President George H.W. Bush in 1989. The Treaty was negotiated by the then-members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and was signed in Helsinki, Finland, on March 24, 1992. Provisional application of portions of the Treaty took place from signature in 1992 until entry into force in 2002. During that period, participants conducted joint trial flights for the purpose of training mission crews and testing equipment and sensors. With entry into force of the Treaty, formal observation flights began in August 2002. States Parties have conducted over 530 observation flights over each other’s territory.

Since the signature of the Open Skies Treaty in 1992, the security environment in Europe has changed significantly. The Open Skies Treaty continues to contribute toward European security by enhancing openness and transparency among the Parties.

Membership

The 34 States Parties to the Open Skies Treaty are: Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, Ukraine, and United States. Kyrgyzstan has signed but not yet ratified. The Treaty depositaries are Canada and Hungary.

The Treaty is of unlimited duration and open to accession by other States. States of the former Soviet Union which have not already become States Parties to the Treaty may accede to it at any time. Applications from other interested States are subject to a consensus decision by the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC), the Vienna-based organization charged with facilitating implementation of the Treaty, to which all States Parties belong. Eight states have acceded to the Treaty since entry into force: Finland, Sweden, Latvia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Estonia, and Lithuania. One application for accession is pending before the OSCC.

Basic Elements of the Treaty

Territory. The Open Skies regime covers the territory over which the State Party exercises sovereignty, including - land, islands, and internal and territorial waters. The Treaty specifies that the entire territory of a State Party is open to observation. Observation flights may only be restricted for reasons of flight safety; not for reasons of national security.

Aircraft. Observation aircraft may be provided by either the observing Party or by the observed Party (the "taxi option"), at the latter's choice. All Open Skies aircraft and sensors must pass specific certification and pre-flight inspection procedures to ensure that they are compliant with Treaty standards. Certified Open Skies aircraft include:

  • Bulgaria An-30
  • Hungary An-26
  • POD Group C-130H & J (Benelux, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain)
  • Romania An-30
  • Russian Federation An-30 and TU-154
  • Sweden Saab-340B
  • Turkey Casa CN-235
  • Ukraine An-30B
  • United States OC-135B

Sensors. Open Skies aircraft may have video, optical panoramic and framing cameras for daylight photography, infra-red line scanners for a day/night capability, and synthetic aperture radar for a day/night all weather capability. Photographic image quality will permit recognition of major military equipment (e.g., permit a State Party to distinguish between a tank and a truck), thus allowing significant transparency of military forces and activities. Sensor categories may be added and capabilities improved by agreement among States Parties. All equipment used in Open Skies must be commercially available to all participants in the regime.

Quotas. Each State Party is obligated to receive observation flights per its passive quota allocation. Each State Party may conduct as many observation flights - its active quota - as its passive quota. The Russian Federation and the United States each have an annual passive quota of 42, and other States Parties have a quota of 12 or fewer. The Parties negotiate the annual distribution of the active quotas each October for the following calendar year. Over 100 observation flights are conducted each year.

Data Sharing/Availability. Imagery collected from Open Skies missions is available to any State Party upon request for the cost of reproduction. As a result, the data available to each State Party is much greater than that which it can collect itself under the Treaty quota system.

Implementation of the Treaty

In July 2008, under U.S. OSCC Chairmanship, States Parties commemorated the conduct of 500 observation flights since the Treaty entered into force.

The OSCC continues to address modalities for conducting observation missions and other implementation issues. The OSCC meets in three sessions per year, with monthly plenary meetings. The OSCC has several informal working groups that take up technical issues related to sensors, notification formats, aircraft certification and rules and procedures. The OSCC main functions are to:

  • consider questions relating to compliance with the Treaty;
  • seek to resolve ambiguities and differences of interpretation emerging during Treaty implementation;
  • consider and decide on applications for accession to the Treaty; and
  • review the distribution of active quotas annually.

The OSCC was established by Article X and Annex L of the Treaty, and has been in session since Treaty signature in March 1992. The OSCC takes decisions by consensus, and has adopted over 90 Decisions since its inception. OSCC Decisions enter into force with the Treaty and have the same duration as the Treaty. 


State Department point of contact is Diana Marvin, 202-647-5357.

Note: This Treaty is not related to civil-aviation open skies agreements.



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