Open Skies Treaty Review Conference: Opening Statement

Mr. Chairperson, Ambassadors, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. It is a pleasure to be here to address the third Review Conference. I’ve had the privilege of working with many of you on conventional arms control issues, including Open Skies. As you know, implementing this Treaty requires a high-level of commitment, extensive coordination between representatives from a variety of agencies – MFA, MoD, and Air Traffic Control to name just a few. By working together, we have accomplished much, including the conduct of more than 1,150 observation flights. These flights have offered openness and transparency and improved levels of confidence and security-building among Treaty parties.

This Conference is an important occasion for all the Treaty partners to review the accomplishments and challenges during the last five years, and also do some thinking about what we need to do for the long-term effectiveness of the Treaty.

When we reflect back, we see several developments since we last met in 2010. First, one of the major objectives identified during the Second Review Conference was the importance of transition to digital sensor capability. We have begun that transition with the certification of Russia’s digital sensor for the AN-30 last year and the subsequent hard work to improve procedures for future certification events.

That positive and forward looking development has been counterbalanced, unfortunately, by events that have transformed the European security environment and the circumstances in which the Open Skies Treaty operates. During the last fifteen months Open Skies has been used in an effort to observe military activity in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and related deployments. This included the first ever use of Extraordinary observation flights in support of observing Russian military activity taking place along the Ukraine-Russia border. While Open Skies flights have provided valuable transparency and demonstrated the commitment of States Parties to uphold the Treaty, their implementation has been hindered by threats to their safety, particularly in the wake of the shoot-down of flight MH-17 in Ukraine last July from a missile system in separatist-held territory.

Going forward, we see a number of challenges that must be addressed to maintain this valuable regime. First, we need to resolve a number of compliance and implementation issues that are impeding the effectiveness of Treaty observation flights. In particular, we need to address the Russian Federation’s implementation of the Treaty, including airspace restrictions; unauthorized sub-limits on maximum flight distances; the prevention of States Parties from conducting quota flights unless they pay in advance; and inadequate airfield and air traffic control procedures. In all of these respects, the Treaty must be implemented by all Parties according to its terms. Disregarding Treaty procedures undermines the integrity of the regime and calls into question the Parties’ adherence to their legal obligations under the Treaty. We look forward to detailed discussions of these issues during the Working Sessions.

Second, this regime is only as robust as the sensors, aircraft, and infrastructure that make its implementation by States Parties possible. Parties must commit the resources for acquisition of digital systems that will reduce our reliance on film suppliers. We must also turn our attention to the long-term sustainability issues that we identified in 2010. We called then for strategic planning by all States Parties to ensure there are sufficient assets available to sustain Treaty operations for the future.

Mr. Chair, we thank your delegation for all its hard work to prepare for this important Conference. Having been in your shoes five years ago, we know exactly how much effort is involved. We look forward to a productive conference and continued cooperation with all our Treaty partners this week.

Thank you.

Opening statement as delivered by Deputy Assistant Secretary Delawie to the Open Skies Treaty 3rd Review Conference, Vienna | June 8, 2015