Updated: May 26
Donald Trump continues to take America down the road to isolationism, putting our nation in jeopardy of losing support from the rest of the free world. Pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, is just the latest example.
Among its original signatories in March 1991 were all of America’s allies in NATO, as well as some long-time adversaries. A few countries, like Russia, were slow to ratify, so it didn’t go into effect until 2002.
As of today, 35 countries belong to this treaty, whose purpose is to maintain international peace by allowing certified surveillance aircraft of participating countries to fly over and observe each other’s military installations and activity without fear of reprisal.
The original goal was to decrease tensions and to increase transparency among nations, notably the treaty’s two biggest rivals, Russia and the United States.
In practice Russia would permit, upon request, and at specified intervals, a pre-approved American plane to observe military operations/facilities throughout Russia’s vast lands, and vice versa—and so on and so forth with all participating countries. Conflict created by clandestine operations, or by unverified suspicion of arms build-ups, would evaporate.
And thus it stood for three decades.
President Donald Trump has now added Open Skies to his pile of trashed alliances and treaties.
Let us assume Trump’s reason for pulling out—Russia’s chronic violation of the treaty—is true. (Not incidentally, Russia accuses the United States of the same thing.) And let us also assume that from a technological perspective this kind of aerial surveillance is outdated anyway.
Such concessions do not offset the harm done by withdrawing.
There is the obvious problem, as reported on May 21 by David Sanger in The New York Times:
“Mr. Trump’s decision, rumored for some time, is bound to further aggravate European allies, including those in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, who are also signatories to the treaty [emphasis added].”
Similarly, John Hudson and Paul Sonne in The Washington Post write:
“A withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies risks driving another wedge between the United States and its European allies, some of which urged the United States to remain in the pact [emphasis added].”
A classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater!
Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seem unable or unwilling to acknowledge that crucial allies, whose patience has been sorely tested time and time again by the MAGA man, must bear the brunt of their unilateral decision.
For as Sanger points out, “Russia will almost certainly respond by also cutting off their [other signatories’] flights, which the allies use to monitor troop movements on their borders—especially important to the Baltic nations.”
Trump has left 30-odd allies in the lurch, just as he left the Kurds in the lurch when the United States pulled out of Syria, leaving our anti-Isis comrades to fend for themselves against Turkey, the remnants of Isis, and other enemies.
When it comes to Russia, Donald Trump’s inconsistencies endanger national security. How exactly does one make America great again by making decisions that actually empower Russia?
Trump gave, and continues to give, Russia a free pass on U.S. election interference. With shame we recall the spectacle of 45 mortifying himself and the entire nation at the U.S./Russian summit in Helsinki in July 2018. Contradicting his own national intelligence advisors and overwhelming evidence, he instead sucked up to Vladimir Putin: “He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
With Open Skies, the repercussions of not giving Russia a pass will be felt by 30 innocent countries who wish to keep the pact intact.
Trump and his State Department are oblivious to the harm done, in the first example, to democracy, and in the second example to global peace through collaboration.
In other words, Trump’s solution is far worse than the problem.
We see Trump using the same my-way-or-the-highway tactic with the World Health Organization (WHO). Trump claims WHO has been too easy on China, which Trump has repeatedly demonized not only for being Covid-19’s ground-zero, but also for failing to release details about the pandemic in a timely manner.
But instead of using diplomacy to resolve differences with China, he punishes WHO.
This humanitarian agency can no longer depend on 900 million U.S. dollars donated biennially.
And once again, this will be at best a pyrrhic victory for our myopic president.
For one thing, other members of WHO will be left to face the huge shortfall, thereby soiling our reputation around the planet. In turn, China will fill the income and image-gap caused by America’s failure to live up to its obligations or to lead the world through a global crisis.
Moreover, the other work done by WHO (Earth to Donald Trump: Covid-19 is not the only disease studied by WHO’s scientists) in its 150 field offices will be hit hard.
Finally, the president’s attempt to shift blame onto others—WHO, China, the Democrats—won’t disguise the fact that his garbled responses to the coronavirus (“We think we have it very well under control,” “We’re in great shape,” “We’re going to be pretty soon at only five people,” “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear”) was shackled from the outset by an administration equal parts unprepared and incompetent.
But is anyone really surprised anymore by Trump’s blinkered behavior?
He and his advisers have had plenty of practice throwing allies under the bus. Previously axed by this administration has been America’s membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran Nuclear Treaty, and UNESCO.
Hugely significant pacts: tossed aside, shattered, and abandoned rather than renegotiated for the benefit of all parties, including, for succeeding generations, the United States itself.
When it comes to treaties and pacts and partnerships, Trump is like a combination of spoiled brat and addicted gambler who, losing a hand because of another player’s alleged cheating, sweeps all the cards and dice off the table, kicks it over, and storms out, leaving someone else to clean up the mess.
But someday our allies may refuse to pick up after us.
Someday, we may return to the table only to find no one there willing to play another round with the United States of America.