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The Treaty on Open Skies

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The Treaty on Open Skies permits its States Parties to conduct observation flights unhindered, in an area stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok.

Russian observation aircraft in the Czech Republic
Russian observation aircraft in the Czech Republic© picture-alliance/ dpa
The Treaty on Open Skies was signed on 24 March 1992 by NATO’s members and the Warsaw Pact states. Once ratified by all the States Parties, it entered into force as a legally binding document on 1 January 2002. The Treaty currently has 34 States Parties. It applies in the territories of all States Parties and covers an area from Vancouver to Vladivostok. The Open Skies treaty is an important confidence-building measure in the OSCE area. Since it was first implemented, the Open Skies regime has proven its worth as an integral element in cooperative arms control in the Euro-Atlantic area.

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.

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).

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Treaty on Open Skies PDF / 228 KB