The US is giving notice that in six months it will withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, blaming Russia for “continued erosion of the arms control architecture”. There’s no doubt that Russia isn’t fulfilling every single aspect of this particular Treaty, but when it comes to eviscerating the hard won body of global agreements? That’s the Trump administration all the way.
Let’s just take a quick look back at the last few years.
Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action, the Iran deal. As a result, Iran’s slowly been stepping away from its obligations and instead of an intrusive verification mechanism to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, the international community is worried about growing capabilities and shortened timelines. Because of the Trump administration Iran might develop a nuclear bomb.
Then there was the Paris agreement. Years of effort culminating in some steps that could maybe, just maybe, help limit the climate crisis. But no, Trump jumped.
Of course there is also the INF treaty. The first instrument to ban an entire class of missiles. Designed to protect the Europeans from the day the East/West cold war might turn hot. Trump decided to get out of that too. Quite a few European leaders stood right by him as well. Defending this indefensible action while Raytheon locked in contracts potentially worth billions.
Oh, and don’t forget the anti-personnel landmine treaty. Although the US hasn’t ratified, Trump said they’d withdraw the signature. Because, you know, the US needs to make sure that it can continue to maim children and farmers for decades after it slaughters civilians in so-called police actions.
And where are the Europeans? Are foreign ministers standing up and demanding that they won’t put money into NATO unless the US administration reinstates the security safety net that’s prevented cold from turning hot? Why won’t Heads of State make it clear that new intermediate range missiles are not welcome in their countries? Why do they continue to cover for these bad policies- because they’re afraid of Russia? Frankly, using the Ukraine as an excuse five years after the fact comes across as too little too late.
Maybe, like someone in an abusive relationship, they just don’t see a way out. Maybe, like those survivors of domestic violence they know that the most dangerous moment is right after they leave. So, instead, they stay. They stay and put up with the pain. Put up with the shame. Get the biggest sunglasses they can find so they might be able to show their face to their own public.
But people are not fooled. We see that US behaviours are decreasing stability, increasing hostility, and putting lives and livelihoods at risk. We know that it’s dangerous to leave but at some point enough is enough. We cannot passively let our elected leadership sit back and watch the intricate global safety net of disarmament, arms control and transparency agreements burn to ashes.
Who will have the courage to say ‘enough is enough’?
The withdrawal of the US from the Open Skies treaty is a direct challenge to global security interests, and it should be recognised as such. European leaders in particular need to wake up and get themselves to safety. They can find it with each other. Leaders across the globe have negotiated without the support of the US. It’s time to do that again, to strengthen multilateralism so it is resilient and resistant to the whims of one.
The pandemic has taught us that listening to experts, sharing information, and denying ourselves a bit for the greater good can save lives. Dealing with global security challenges, including the systematic decimation of arms control architecture, needs to take that same approach. It just might be time to dump the bad boyfriend, and find solace with real friends to take care of what matters.