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Open Skies: Transparency, Confidence-Building, and the End of the Cold War

Open Skies: Transparency, Confidence-Building, and the End of the Cold War by Peter Jones. Stanford University Press, 2014, 264 pp.

The Open Skies Treaty was negotiated at a turbulent time when the USSR and Warsaw Pact fell apart and the Western world was declared the de facto winner of the Cold War. With the treaty's ratification and eventual implementation in 2002, the countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the former Warsaw Pact, and several nonaligned European nations entered into a regime of cooperative aerial monitoring that would improve the transparency of the region while introducing measures of confidence building which would assure that each state met its numerous treaty obligations. Development and ratification of the Open Skies Treaty, however, was a long and arduous process that had to overcome major hurdles, including radical changes in the structure and personnel of the Soviet and then Russian governments, acrimonious disagreements among NATO members, and the unavoidable struggle between Greece and Turkey over the status of Cyprus. Despite these complications, the nations reached compromises that allowed Open Skies to succeed.

Readers should not be fooled by the book's title. It is much less an account of the Open Skies Treaty and its implementation than it is a behind-the-scenes look at the details of treaty negotiation between major powers and smaller nations. Open Skies will be of great value to anyone who deals with negotiations or agreements of an international nature. Author Peter Jones does an excellent job of supplying in-depth details and analyses of the two-year process of developing and ratifying the treaty. At the same time, he fairly explains the contrasting viewpoints of the significant parties and how they were eventually overcome or resolved.

The book progresses chronologically, offering lessons and recommendations at the end of each chapter. Chapter 1 goes back six decades, examining the first proposal of cooperative aerial monitoring made by President Eisenhower at the beginning of the Cold War. The next seven chapters give a thorough account of each round of Open Skies negotiations, from inception to final approval by the convention. They cover the reintroduction of the idea by President George H. W. Bush and the US government, the championing of the concept by Canada and Hungary, the stalling of the talks as the USSR crumbled and was replaced by numerous governments with new interests, and, finally, the compromises made by both sides on key issues, which led to the final agreement and eventual ratification. As Jones explains each major event, be it negotiation or interim period, he highlights key issues that arose as well as the delegates' strengths and weaknesses in dealing with them. More importantly, at the end of each chapter, the author comprehensively analyzes the period and outlines specific lessons for any future treaty negotiations.

In the final chapter, Jones, unlike most political scientists, looks beyond analyses of past treaty negotiations, offering recommendations and considerations for practitioners. Specifically, he argues that the Open Skies concept is ripe for exportation to regions of conflict as a means of promoting stability, verification, and confidence. Cooperative aerial monitoring provides assurance measures that each party involved in the struggle is complying with all treaty and agreement requirements. Further, Jones postulates that such an approach can be used to monitor the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or even environmental concerns.

Readers learn that Open Skies owed its success to the top-down political direction followed by the various governments involved in the treaty. Otherwise, most government agencies had neither the willingness nor power to successfully negotiate Open Skies. In this context, the possibility of expanding the treaty beyond its current application remains highly unlikely unless some brave senior leaders come forward and champion the cause.

Lt Col John S. Meiter, USAF
North American Aerospace Defense Command
Peterson AFB, Colorado


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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