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Military Observation Flights Bolster Peace in Europe
March 29, 2012

By Phillip Kurata
IIP Staff Writer

Closeup of a woman's face
Rose Gottemoeller, acting under secretary for arms control and international security (photo: AP images)

The chief U.S. arms control official has called on former Cold War adversaries to continue cooperating to improve the effectiveness of military observation flights over each other’s territory to minimize the chance of triggering an accidental war.

“Together we have progressed from ‘peaceful coexistence’ during the Cold War to what I would now call an era of ‘peaceful partnership,’” Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller said in Vienna March 27.

She spoke in praise of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, in which 24 member countries of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact agreed to allow military observation flights over their territory. Quoting former Secretary of State James Baker, Gottemoeller said openness and transparency in military matters is “the most direct path to greater predictability and reduced risk of inadvertent war” and that Open Skies is “potentially the most ambitious measure to build confidence ever undertaken.”

The acting under secretary said the treaty could become obsolete if its signatories do not commit sufficient resources and new technologies to keep it effective.

“The biggest single challenge we face for the continued success of the treaty is the future availability of resources. The treaty will only be as good as the states parties [members] make it, so we urge all parties to redouble their efforts to modernize the treaty and allow for the use of new technologies and ensure sufficient assets for future operations,” she said.

Gottemoeller said the United States has begun to install digital electro-optical sensors on its observation aircraft, and she urged other treaty members to do likewise “as soon as possible.” She said the information gathered with the new technologies should “be used to address a wider range of transnational threats and verification challenges.”

Former President Dwight Eisenhower first proposed at the historic Geneva Conference in 1955 that the United States and the former Soviet Union permit each other to send observation flights over the other’s territory. His primary concern then was “to relieve the world of the great fear of surprise and devastating attack,” as quoted by Gottemoeller.

Former President George H.W. Bush reintroduced the notion in 1989, and the Open Skies Treaty was signed three years later.

Gottemoeller said the Open Skies Treaty works in conjunction with two other agreements — the Vienna Document and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty —  to ease military tensions in Europe.

The Vienna Document, signed in 1999, contains provisions for exchange and verification of military information, such as the size of defense budgets and the location, size and strength of military units, and for observation of military activities.

The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, signed in 1990, established limits for NATO and the former Warsaw Pact on key categories of conventional military equipment in Europe and mandated the destruction of excess weaponry.