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Russia and the other members of the Treaty on Open Skies held a videoconference on Monday to discuss the framework’s future following America’s announcement in late May that it plans to withdraw from the agreement. The Treaty on Open Skies allows member states to conduct surveillance flights over one another’s territories under certain controlled conditions in order to reduce the likelihood of a war by miscalculation. The U.S.’ withdrawal raised concern that the global security architecture will continue to collapse


  • The Outer Space Treaty is about governing the activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space.
  • It is a treaty that forms the basis of international space law.
  • This treaty was signed in 1967, was agreed through the UN, and it remains as the ‘constitution’ of outer space.
  • Provisions in it:
    • The exploration and use of outer space shall be for the benefit of all countries.
    • It is not subject to claim by any particular nation.
    • States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities.
    • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.
  • Why was the treaty formulated?
    • Formulated to bar its signatory countries from placing weapons of mass destruction in the outer space.
    • To get the countries to use space exploration for peaceful purposes.
    • The profitability through asteroid mining and satellite exploration if uncontrolled could lead to geopolitical bid for power in the Outer Space.
    • An attempt to establish Space as a Global Commons of sorts, for the benefit of mankind.
    • To forbid any government from claiming a celestial resource such as the Moon or a planet
    • To make the State liable for damages caused by their space object.

Reasons for US Departure:

  • While it was envisaged as a key arms control agreement, many in US had for over a decade accused Russia of non-compliance with OST protocols.
  • Russia was blamed for obstructing surveillance flights on its territory, while misusing its own missions for gathering key tactical data.
  • The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Russia of violating the Treaty openly and continuously in various ways for years.
  • So the U.S. President Trump’s administration has now chosen to withdraw from the pact.
  • Russia has denied the allegations, and has called U.S.’s exit as very regrettable.

The Strategic Importance of Space Law for India:

  • India as a leading space faring nation with successful probes to moon and Mars, a comprehensive space act has become a necessity to give a greater level of acceleration to its space activities.
  • With the Indian Government making efforts to use space technology for developmental and governance activities in the country, there is a need for a well conceived space act.
  • A Space law would spell out how government would go about tackling space related issues including untoward incidents.
  • To boost private participation in the rapidly expanding Indian space activities.
  • There are 22 nations that have domestic space laws. India must also strive for it.
  • This will be a catalyst to further boost India’s space activities and regulate them to be in sync with dynamics of global space activities.  China’s showcase of military prowess in space, for example, the anti-satellite tests, makes the need for a domestic law.

Implications of US Departure:

  • The exit from the Open Skies Treaty is the most recent example of important pacts Washington has stepped away from during the Trump presidency, including the Paris Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.
  • Pompeo said that the US would reconsider its decision to withdraw if Russia demonstrates a return to full compliance.
  • This approach is reminiscent from last year when Trump had suspended US participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
  • Then too, the USA had said that it would re-engage with Russia if it sought a new treaty – a possibility that never materialised.
  • Experts believe that the same could happen with the OST, with Russia using USA’s exit as a pretext for leaving the treaty itself.
  • Russia’s departure could adversely impact USA’s European allies that rely on OST data to track Russian troop movements in the Baltic region.
  • Pulling out of the OST, an important multilateral arms control agreement would be yet another gift from the US to Russia.

Out of another treaty

  • The OST exit is only the most recent example in the list of important pacts that Washington has stepped away from during the Trump presidency, such as the Paris Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.
  • Experts are now contemplating the fate of the much larger US-Russia ‘New START’ nuclear arms control agreement, which is slated to expire in February 2021. Trump has already said that his administration would not renew the treaty unless China joins.

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