On Monday, the Russian Federation will officially ask for permission to start flying surveillance planes over U.S. skies. Aerial surveillance flights will harness the power of highly-advanced digital cameras to “observe” the American landscape. You may be asking yourself, how the hell is this possible? Why is the United States even considering such an arrogant proposal?
Well, surprisingly, Russia isn’t entirely out of bounds. Both the United States and Russia have signed on to something called the Treaty on Open Skies (OS), which “allows unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of all 34 member nations to foster transparency about military activity and help monitor arms control and other agreements,” according to CBS News.
The State Department’s website provides a more detailed explanation:
The Treaty on Open Skies establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the territories of its signatories. The 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 treaty, like the Paris accord on climate change, would perhaps make a modicum of sense in a pre-lapsarian world. Despite Russia’s inglorious historical experiments with communist utopia (naturally turned dystopia), Vladimir Putin’s police state is, by all intents and purposes, a bad actor. The U.S. national security apparatus agrees. High-ranking military officials are gravely concerned about Russia’s impulse to milk the treaty for all it’s worth and use it to spy on the U.S.
"The treaty has become a critical component of Russia's intelligence collection capability directed at the United States," states Admiral Cecil D. Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command. "In addition to overflying military installations, Russian Open Skies flights can overfly and collect on Department of Defense and national security or national critical infrastructure. The vulnerability exposed by exploitation of this data and costs of mitigation are increasingly difficult to characterize."
It doesn’t take an admiral to state the obvious, however. If Moscow has a way of legally (and illegally) gathering intelligence on the United States, it will exploit the opportunity in a heartbeat.
Accordingly, Russia plans on formally asking the Vienna-based Open Skies Consultative Commission for permission to “fly an aircraft equipped with high-tech sensors over the United States, according to a senior congressional staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the staff member wasn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly,” reports CBS News.
With Russia’s increasing hostilities against U.S. allies in Syria and its unchecked colonial takeover of Crimea, the OS treaty may in fact be an anachronism, a relic of the time when Moscow’s imperialistic impulses remained dormant.
“The open skies construct was designed for a different era," explains Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. "I'm very concerned about how it's applied today."
In fact, Russia has violated several terms of the treaty which allow for free aerial observation over all territory. The former Soviet Union, not surprisingly, has placed restrictions on international surveillance over its capital, Moscow, Chechnya, a predominately Muslim territory upon which Vladimir Putin has conducted a scorched campaign, in clear violation of the Geneva convention, and South Ossetia, a territory contested by Georgia.
"The vulnerability exposed by exploitation of this data and costs of mitigation are increasingly difficult to characterize."
Admiral Cecil D. Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command
According to former assistant secretary of state for the bureau of arms control and the bureau of international security and nonproliferation, Steve Rademaker, Russia has "adopted a number of measures that are inconsistent with the spirit" of the treaty as it is "selectively implementing" the accords "in a way that suits its interests."
Perhaps it’s time for a new Russian reset?