Open Skies Review Conference: Conventional Arms Control in Europe in a Changing European Security Environment

Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak with you this morning. Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, it is truly a pleasure for me to return to the Hofburg to address the Parties to the Open Skies Treaty. Thank you, Minister Mikhnich, for your leadership and thanks to Belarus for serving as the chair of this Open Skies Review Conference. I’m glad that this morning we heard from Professor Jones, Professor Stubbs, and Professor Spitzer on the future potential for this Treaty.

It is vital for Treaty Parties to have the opportunity to reflect on the successes of the past five years and to discuss the challenges that lie ahead and the potential going forward. Just as we did during our school years, we need to review our progress and identify room for improvement. It is clear that in regards to our “European security report card,” we did not make passing grades in some areas. This is the case for Open Skies, as well as other parts of the conventional arms control regime in Europe. We can and must do better.

As you all know, the security situation in Europe has changed dramatically since we last met in 2010, and not for the better. Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, and its ongoing destabilizing and aggressive activity in and around Ukraine have undermined peace, security, and stability across the region. While diplomacy continues, no one can ignore that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has violated the very principles upon which cooperation is built. Russia’s selective implementation of the Vienna Document and Open Skies Treaty and long-standing non-implementation of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (or “CFE)” have eroded the positive contributions of these arms control instruments.

We must find a way to rectify the current situation. Even during the Cold War, NATO and Warsaw Pact nations agreed it was in their common interest to build trust, provide early warning of developing tensions, and be transparent about military plans and postures. This was exactly the type of transparency called for by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955, and again by President George H. W. Bush in 1989 when the concept of the Open Skies Treaty was first advanced. The arms control and confidence building regimes we developed towards the end of the Cold War showed the world, as President Bush said at the time, “the true meaning of the concept of openness.”

Our success was possible because we shared a commitment to the Helsinki principles and to cooperative approaches to security which, unfortunately, is lacking in Europe today. We need to find a way forward – not walk away because Russia has veered off course. We call on Russia to join us in improving security in Europe and to return to full implementation of its OSCE commitments, including the Vienna Document, as well as its obligations under CFE and the Open Skies Treaty.


While Russian aggression in Ukraine has undermined security and confidence in Europe, the current crisis has also demonstrated the value of functioning arms control agreements. More than a dozen Open Skies flights over Ukraine and western Russia since last February, including the first use of the Treaty’s provision for “Extraordinary Observation Flights,” demonstrated the commitment of Treaty Parties to uphold this key element of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture. Unfortunately, since the tragic missile shoot-down of flight MH-17 last July from a missile system in separatist-held territory, we have been unable to conduct overflights of either Russia or Ukraine near their shared international border.

In addition to Open Skies flights, other European conventional arms control mechanisms have been used to promote stability and provide transparency. Russia’s suspension of the CFE Treaty in 2007 significantly reduced transparency about its military forces. But, CFE inspections in Ukraine and elsewhere in the neighborhood have been a source of vital information about the military forces in a time of tension.

The Vienna Document’s Confidence and Security-Building Measures have also been used extensively and in creative ways. I’m thinking in particular of the voluntary visits to dispel concerns and above-quota inspections that Ukraine has hosted throughout the crisis.

Regrettably, these steps have not been reciprocated. Russia has refused to provide substantive answers to requests for clarification under the Vienna Document’s Risk Reduction provisions and has chosen not to facilitate transparency on the buildup of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border.


My government is very concerned about Russia’s adherence to its treaty obligations. Russia’s poor compliance record with CFE and INF is now well documented, as is its practice of selective implementation of the Vienna Document and, as we have discussed, the Open Skies Treaty. We have identified a number of compliance issues that impact the conduct of Open Skies flights, including the imposition of several restrictions that impede the full implementation of these treaties.

Many of these issues are described in the United States Compliance Report for calendar year 2014, which was released last Friday on June 5. Russia should take steps to remedy these problems immediately.

Looking to the Future

Now, let me look to the future. As I said, there are certainly some problems with our report card. It is now up to all of us to get European security – and conventional arms control – back on track. As we work together to rebuild the trust and confidence that has been lost in recent years, we must also look to the future.

During the 2010 Review Conference chaired by the U.S, a major theme was the need to transition to digital sensor capability. I appreciate that the Open Skies States Parties have made a good start in the transition to digital sensors which was initiated by the Russian Federation. That first digital sensor certification was more complicated than we imagined and I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard this past year to reach agreement on improved technical decisions for future certification events that will involve digital sensors.

This was a good start, but much work remains ahead to sustain this regime. In addition to completing the digital sensor transition, we must devote further efforts to modernize and improve the fleet of aircraft. We also need to make the financial investments now that will sustain the Open Skies infrastructure in the future.

We have work to do in other parts of our conventional arms control agenda, as well. The crisis in Ukraine has highlighted the critical need to update and modernize the Vienna Document CSBMs to reflect modern military realities. It has also focused our attention on the importance of having sufficient verification opportunities in time of crisis. This will not be easy work, but it is vital nonetheless. The United States is developing proposals to contribute to this effort and we encourage all OSCE participating States to engage meaningfully and productively in this effort.

The United States and all members of NATO have consistently said that conventional arms control in Europe, based on longstanding Helsinki principles, has a role to play in building a stable and secure Europe. You all know that this has proven true in the most difficult of circumstances, building mutual confidence in the Western Balkans through the Dayton Article IV agreement. We can still explore ways to improve security in the Euro-Atlantic region, even though the security situation is not currently amenable to comprehensive new negotiations.

Mr. Chairman, it is time for everyone here to roll up their sleeves and work together to address our failing grades. Arms control treaties and confidence- and security-building measures are useful tools for building trust and confidence and they have made a vital contribution to peace and security in Europe, which we should not overlook.

There is no doubt that we need to strengthen and modernize our existing arms control and confidence building tools to increase transparency and better address today’s challenge: the challenge of building mutual confidence. Some of our problems are being addressed here at the Open Skies Review Conference and others will be addressed through our collective work at the OSCE as it commemorates its fortieth year. We should begin now by focusing on compliance with existing agreements and on building on lessons learned.

I wish all Treaty members continued success for the future implementation of the Open Skies Treaty, and I look forward to your continued contribution to the larger goal of modernizing conventional arms control in Europe.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for everyone’s attention.

Closing remarks as delivered by Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller to the Open Skies Treaty 3rd Review Conference | Vienna, June 10, 2015