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December 10, 2019

Squeezed between US and Russia - Open Skies edition

The EU is reasonable successful at low-tech structural stuff. But organisationally it is not suited to short-term strategic decision-making. Interestingly, this applies both to economic and security policy. EU fiscal policy does not adjust to the economic cycle beyond the automatic stabilisers. This is sustainable only so long as monetary policy can do the heavily lifting. On security policy the EU is dependent on the US to provide strategic decision-making and critical infrastructure. 

Monetary policy has lost traction. And the US is becoming less willing to provide a security umbrella for the EU. One example of the latter is the expectation that the US is about to withdraw from the 1992 open-skies treaty. 

Gustav Gressel writes for the European Council of Foreign Relations that the EU is likely to be the biggest loser from a unilateral withdrawal by the US. The Open Skies treaty allows its signatories to undertake reconnaissance missions over each others’ territories with low resolution cameras that would pick troop movements for example, but that do not allow extensive espionage. The EU has been heavily reliant on the Open Skies treaty for military intelligence, while the US and Russians get most of their information from high-resolution satellites which the Europeans lack. Intelligence-sharing through Nato is not an efficient substitute, Gressel writes, as we also know from the weapons-of-mass-destruction fiasco in 2003.

The author defends the Open Skies treaty if only because it opens up communication channels between countries at times of military tensions. Under the treaty, countries have to alert each other before they undertake a mission. Without the treaty, the EU would, for example, lose the ability to monitor Russian troop movements. One possible solution would be for the EU and the US to share satellite information, but there is no legal basis or treaty for that. Gressel's ire is directed mainly at the US, coupled with the usual European accusation that the US is not acting in its own strategic interest. We are not sure that Europeans are best qualified to judge what is and what isn’t in the US’s strategic interest. We should instead focus on the EU’s over-dependence on the US, which is clearly not in our own interest.

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