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If you were at Edwards Air Force Base in California on March 28 of this year, you might have caught a glimpse of a curious sight – a fully marked but unarmed Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-154M jet flying overhead taking pictures.
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You might wonder if there had been some sort of Russian military incursion into U.S. airspace. Fortunately, the reality is much more benign. The Russian Federation and the United States routinely fly over each other’s territory in a decades-old treaty meant to de-escalate tensions between the two nations.
In March of 1992, the United States and Russia signed the Open Skies Treaty, which permits each nation to conduct short-notice reconnaissance flights over the other’s entire territory to collect data on military forces and activities. The treaty didn’t take effect in earnest until 2002.
On March 28, Russia conducted its most recent sortie with American observers onboard. They flew over numerous U.S. military installations, including Edwards AFB and the Nellis Test and Training Range (NTTR) in Nevada, the location of the mysterious Area 51.
White House Takes Aim at Open Skies Treaty
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a Trump ally, has long expressed frustration with the treaty. Now, as NBC News reports, it appears that Cotton may have successfully convinced President Trump to exit the Open Skies Treaty and that the President may be preparing to do just that.
As a result, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and several other high-ranking legislators recently sent a letter to White House national security advisor Robert O’Brien saying they were “deeply concerned” by reports of a planned withdraw.
According to the letter, “Pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, an important multilateral arms control agreement would be yet another gift from the Trump Administration to Putin. The Open Skies Treaty is a critical element of U.S. and European security, and a decision to withdraw would be another blow to regional stability as well as Ukrainian security.”
The letter was also addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
Could We See the Dawn of a New Arms Race?
Earlier this year, the United States withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which limited ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 km (310 miles) and 5,500 km (3,417 miles). Trump explained the move by saying that Russia no longer abided by the treaty.
That treaty was cherished by the Russians, who clearly saw more benefit from it. This treaty prevented NATO from deploying nuclear-capable missiles close to Russian territory, perhaps in Eastern Europe.
Still, as tensions between the United States and Russia continue to escalate, one can’t help but worry about the return of the ghastly specter of nuclear annihilation. The U.S. may have squandered its Cold War victory by allowing an authoritarian regime to take power in the new Russian Federation in the mid-1990s.
US Nuclear Weapons Expenditures Are Increasing
The U.S. has plans for modernizing and maintaining its nuclear arsenal. Those plans are projected to cost taxpayers $494 billion over the next decade, or an average of $50 billion per year, according to a 2019 government estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.
White House Intent on Enabling More Nations to Acquire Nuclear Weapons
Furthermore, the White House seems intent on enabling more nations (today’s allies), to acquire nuclear weapons. In June, the Trump administration approved two nuclear technology transfers to Saudi Arabia.
The danger, as history has shown us, is that today’s allies could be tomorrow’s enemies. Imagine if we had armed the Mujahideen with weapons of mass destruction in their 1980s fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The tragedy of 9/11 could have been much worse.
As the administration continues to discard arms control treaties that have kept the world safe since the latter half of the 20th century, it is clear that the post-World War II era of peace and stability is coming to a close.
The increasing scourge of nationalism and authoritarian regimes around the world and the outright rejection of globalism show that we are approaching a dangerous period in global security. That has been shown in the EU with Brexit and most recently in Trump’s speech before the UN General Assembly last month.
Together with the wholesale disregard for crucial arms control treaties like Open Skies, citizens must make their voices heard or face the prospects of Cold War II.