By Feng Jiawei
US President Donald Trump stated on May 21 that the US would withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, which has drawn criticisms from multiple parties, including warnings from its European allies.
Wang Xiaowei, a researcher at the Center for European Studies of China University of Political Science and Law, said that the US has multiple intentions behind such a move during an interview.
Gain the upper hand in the US-Russia confrontation
The withdrawal of the US can further highlight its status as the sole superpower. As the only superpower in the world, the annual military expenditures of the US ($732 billion in 2019) are very high. Once it withdraws from the treaty, it means that it will no longer be supervised by the terms of the treaty. Instead, it can develop its military or carry out military deployment without any restrictions.
While saying the US will withdraw from the treaty, Trump also proposed that it will not pull out unless Russia abides by this treaty. He said that Russia and the US did not rule out the possibility of a new agreement. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova responded that the US did not intend to discuss with Russia on the Treaty on Open Skies.
Wang pointed out that since Russia’s military expenditure is much lower than that of the US, once it is not restricted by the treaty, the US military deployment will be easier to change than that of Russia, thus allowing the US to occupy a favorable position in the US-Russian military confrontation.
In addition, the US’s withdrawal at this time can force Russia to make concessions. The US has repeatedly asked Russia to lift the flight restrictions on its exclave Kaliningrad because the US wants to investigate the military deployment in Kaliningrad more clearly. Kaliningrad is located among NATO countries, and Russia is very sensitive to such a request. Therefore, the US threatens to withdraw from the treaty, and may consider this request as a condition if returning to the treaty.
Increase the chips for collection of protection fee from allies
After Trump’s announcement of the withdrawal, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that the withdrawal of the US would make the scope of the treaty “significantly narrower” and that Germany would work closely with “like-minded companions” in the next six months to persuade the US not to withdraw from the treaty.
In addition to Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden, and the Czech Republic issued a joint statement on May 22, expressing regret over the US withdrawal and urging Russia to start a dialogue with member states as soon as possible.
“If the US withdraws from the treaty, it will inevitably reduce the trust of the contracted European countries in security interests and even cause mutual suspicion. In this case, the US is more likely to highlight its military protection status, and can collect higher ‘protection fees’ from its allies,” said Wang.
Divert domestic contradictions
As of 10 a.m. on May 24, the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in the US exceeded 1.66 million, and the cumulative deaths were close to 100,000. Trump’s weak response to the pandemic has been criticized by the public and has had a great negative impact on his re-election campaign.
Wang analyzed that at present, the battles between the factions in the US presidential election have become increasingly fierce. Trump’s concept of “America first” has made the US government’s actions more and more extreme. Withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies is only one of these reactions. Although the withdrawal has greatly affected the prestige of the US among allies, it has created a relatively tense atmosphere conducive to Trump’s escape from the passive situation of re-election and weak response to the pandemic.
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