Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Return to Cold War Mentality - Part II The Open Skies Treaty

In Part I of this two part posting, I looked at the recent passing of House Resolution 6393 - Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 by the House which contains some interesting legislation that will impact the relationship between the United States and Russia, particularly in this new, post-2016 election, anti-Russia environment.  In part one, I looked at Title V Sections 501 which establishes an interagency committee to counter the active measures that Russia is allegedly taking to impact America's political scene through the media (i.e. the so-called "fake media") and Section 502 which puts significant travel restrictions on Russia diplomats located on American soil.  In this posting, I will look at Section 503 which looks at the Treaty on Open Skies and how American legislators want to exclude Russia from the intelligence sharing aspect of the Treaty.  As I pointed out, please keep in mind that the bill passed by a very wide margin of 390 to 30 with members of both sides voting in favour of H.R. 6393 

Let's start by looking at the actual wording of H.R. 6398, Title V Section 503 keeping in mind that ODNI stands for Office of the Director of National Intelligence: 

(Sec. 503) The ODNI must conduct a study to determine the feasibility of creating an intelligence sharing arrangement and database to provide foreign countries that were parties to the Treaty on Open Skies on February 22, 2016 (except for the Russian Federation or the Republic of Belarus), with aerial imagery of the territories or other parties to the treaty that is comparable, delivered more frequently, and in equal or higher resolution than imagery available through the database established under the treaty. (The Treaty on Open Skies, done at Helsinki on March 24, 1992, and entered into force January 1, 2002, established a regime for unarmed aerial observation flights over the territories of other state party participants.)

The ODNI's imagery sharing study must evaluate: (1) methods by which the United States could collect and provide imagery through commercial satellites, national technical means, or other intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms under an information sharing arrangement; (2) the ability of other state parties to contribute to the arrangement; (3) statutory impediments or funding insufficiencies; (4) whether imagery of Moscow, Chechnya, the international border between Russia and Georgia, Kaliningrad, or the Republic of Belarus could be provided under such an arrangement; and (5) the costs of such an arrangement compared to the costs under the treaty for plane maintenance, aircraft fuel, crew expenses, mitigation measures necessary associated with Russian Federation overflights over the United States or other state parties, and new sensor development and acquisition.

The ODNI must report on: (1) the extent to which Russian flights under the Open Skies Treaty contribute to the Russian Federation's war fighting doctrine, and (2) the Russian Federation's capability to exceed the imagery limits set forth in the treaty."  (my bold)

It is key to note that the ODNI will conduct a study to determine the feasibility of creating an intelligence sharing arrangement and database with aerial images of the territories of the nations signing the Treaty on Open Skies except for the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus.  This is a very important development as you will see. 

For those of you who are not aware of the Treaty on Open Skies (OST), the Treaty established a regime of unarmed observation flights over the all of the territories of the Treaty's signatory states, a type of mutual assurance insurance.  According to the U.S. Department of State, this Treaty is designed to:

"...enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information through aerial imaging on military forces and activities of concern to them. Open Skies is one of the most wide-ranging international arms control efforts to date to promote openness and transparency in military forces and activities.".

The observation aircraft can either be supplied by the state being observed or by the state wishing to do the observing.    The Treaty was entered into force on January 1, 2002 and there are currently 35 state signatories which includes:

Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The observation aircraft used in the overflights can either be supplied by the state being observed or by the state wishing to do the observing.  Here are the surveillance aircraft permitted:

Bulgaria An-30
Hungary An-26
POD Group C-130 (Canada, France, Italy)
Romania An-30
Russian Federation An-30 and Tu-154
Sweden Saab-340
Turkey Casa CN-235
Ukraine An-30
United States OC-135B

According to the Department of State, since 2002 when the Treaty entered into force, the United States has flown nearly three-times as many flights over Russia as the Russians have flown over the United States (196 vs. 71).  In addition, the United States can request copies of images taken by other member states over Russian territory; as such, there have been over 500 flights by over member states over Russian territory.  For your information, the United States and Russian Federation are each allowed 42 flights as their passive quota annually along with as many flights as part of their annual active quota.

Here's what the U.S. State Department has to say about America's (and its partners) ability to image Russian territory:

"The United States flew over the arctic and far east regions of Russia in April 2016 and the most recent flight over Kaliningrad was by Poland in May 2016. Russia has placed certain altitude restrictions over Moscow; a distance limit of 500 kilometers over Kaliningrad, and refused overflights within 10 kilometers of part of its border with Georgia."

As I noted above, the United States Congress is attempting to shut out the Russians by not providing them with the higher resolution imagery that would be available to the other Treaty signatories.  This is particularly interesting given that, on February 22, 2016, the Russians asked the United States if it could fly aircraft equipped with high-powered digital cameras over the United States.   This would give Russia a faster and more reliable means of conducting surveillance, particularly when compared to the rather ancient wet-film processing that is used by other nations in the Treaty and was not well received by Washington particularly given this critique of Russia's compliance to the Treaty (OST):

With that, I would like to close the second part of this two part posting.  With the original raison d'ĂȘtre for the Treaty on Open Skies being one of enhancement of mutual understanding and confidence between the signatories, the passing of H.R. 6393 would suggest that the Treaty is losing much of its clout.  One thing we can be certain of, the war drums are beating and, at the very least, we are definitely seeing a return to the Cold War mentality of three decades ago.  Unfortunately, as we've learned in past conflicts, those who lead us into war, remain alive, those who follow, get sent to the front lines as cannon fodder.

1 comment:

  1. This information should go viral, for it's crucial as a way the west is pushing a war against Russia. And the whole world should be aware of it. The war mongering neocons are gonna destroy this planet. And someone please explain what the elite's predictions are, because no one is gonna stay alive after it, not even them.