Belgium chairs the Conference of the “Open Skies” treaty, a cornerstone of the European security architecture
This year Belgium will chair the fourth Review Conference of the "Open Skies" treaty from 7 to 9 October. This conference takes place every five years. The previous three conferences were organized by Germany (2005), the USA (2010) and Belarus (2015). The "Open Skies" treaty offers the possibility to carry out unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of the 34 states parties. In this way it is possible to fly over the territories of treaty states in order to make photo and radar images of each other's territory. Since the entry into force of the treaty in 2002, 1534 observation flights have already been carried out. The "Open Skies" treaty is designed to increase mutual understanding and trust by giving all treaty states - regardless of their size - the opportunity to obtain information about military or other activities of interest to them.
"Open Skies" is to date the most far-reaching international effort to promote the openness and transparency of military forces and their activities. Belgium considers the "Open Skies" treaty as a cornerstone of the European security architecture. The treaty contributes to security by providing transparency towards all member states involved on the basis of mutually validated images. It is a crucial part of the confidence-building framework that has been created in recent decades to increase transparency and security throughout the Euro-Atlantic area.
However, on May 22, the United States announced that it is withdrawing from the "Open Skies" treaty because of Russia's continued non-implementation of the treaty and because technological progress would make the treaty's added value increasingly limited, something that our country regrets. The recent Benelux decision to actively participate again in observation flights from 2021 onwards confirms that the treaty remains useful for our country and we will continue its implementation given the clear added value for our conventional arms control architecture and our common security.
In addition to the 34 "Open Skies" States parties, the remaining 23 OSCE participating States (which are not members of the "Open Skies" treaty) and partner countries are invited as observers. As chair, Belgium will make room for a constructive open dialogue with the aim of reaffirming the importance of the "Open Skies" treaty and the engagement of States parties to continue to implement the treaty.