The Treaty was designed as a confidence-building measures from the very beginning. To this day, there is inestimable value in a regime that, on the basis of cooperation, offers almost unlimited possibilities for observation and can thereby contribute significantly to military transparency and confidence-building. Under the Open Skies Treaty, each State Party has the right to conduct a certain number of unhindered observation flights, agreed annually, in the airspace of the other States Parties. They may use sensors for photography, radar and, as of 2006, infrared imagery, to observe from the air. Digital sensing equipment has been introduced gradually since 2013. Individuals from both the observing and observed parties are involved in the conduct of the flights. This cooperation is an important factor in enhancing confidence-building and thereby contributes to stability and cooperative security. The Treaty is furthermore intended as an aid in monitoring compliance with arms control agreements (in particular the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and the Vienna Document) and strengthening conflict-prevention and crisis management capabilities in the OSCE area.
The Open Skies Treaty also expressly allows for aerial observation in other fields. “Open Skies” observation flights can thus also be used to obtain a picture of the situation in international crises as well as for environment monitoring.
A global treaty
More that 1,200 observation flights have been successfully conducted under the Open Skies regime to date. Germany has been involved in around 12% of all observation missions and is actively committed to the further development of the Treaty.
In exercising its rights and responsibilities under the Treaty, Germany cooperates closely with other States Parties. The German Government’s view is that the Treaty is and will remain a key pillar of Euro-Atlantic arms control and confidence-building – a view the Government emphatically backed up with its 2015 resolution to acquire a new observation aircraft for Germany. A suitable aircraft was acquired in 2017. It is now being refitted with the necessary technical equipment for use in the Open Skies Treaty context. It is due to be commissioned in 2020.
The Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC) based in Vienna is the primary consulting and decision-making body for issues of Open Skies implementation. The OSCC consists of six informal working groups. At the national level, the Bundeswehr Verification Centre (ZVBw) is responsible for planing, coordinating and conducting all Open Skies missions abroad that involve Germany. Its experts also guarantee the proper conduct of Open Skies observation flights by other States Parties in German airspace. The ZVBw provides the necessary specialist personnel for these tasks and analyses the data obtained (aerial photos and videos).