CANADA

OPENING THE SKIES

NATO AND WARSAW PACT MINISTERS MEET IN OTTAWA TO CLEAR THE WAY FOR INSPECTION OVERFLIGHTS

MARC CLARK February 12 1990
CANADA

OPENING THE SKIES

NATO AND WARSAW PACT MINISTERS MEET IN OTTAWA TO CLEAR THE WAY FOR INSPECTION OVERFLIGHTS

MARC CLARK February 12 1990

OPENING THE SKIES

NATO AND WARSAW PACT MINISTERS MEET IN OTTAWA TO CLEAR THE WAY FOR INSPECTION OVERFLIGHTS

CANADA

At 9:16 a.m. on Jan. 6, a Canadian Forces C-130 Hercules transport rumbled off the runway at Ferihegy Airport, near Budapest, and climbed to 15,000 feet above the Hungarian countryside. It carried 15 Canadian airmen and officials, 11 Hungarian observers—and hopes for a more peaceful world. For almost three hours, the C-130 cruised over Hungary, flying over several sensitive Soviet military bases along the way. That flight was the first test of the feasibility of the so-called open skies concept, under which members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact would be able to fly over each others’ coun-

tries, photographing military bases and scanning with airborne radar to make sure that the other side was not preparing for war while talking about peace. It is an old proposal long frustrated by mutual suspicions. But next week in Ottawa, after months of intensive work by Canadian diplomats, a meeting of NATO and Warsaw Pact foreign ministers is expected to breathe new life into the idea. The host diplomats are convinced that they stand on the verge of a diplomatic triumph that will make the open-skies concept a reality.

After the two-day meeting of ministers and officials from the 16 NATO and seven Warsaw Pact nations—including Soviet Foreign Minis-

ter Eduard Shevardnadze and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker—an army of 200 officials will spend two more weeks hammering out a formal open-skies treaty. Some analysts caution that serious differences remain unresolved. But Canadian diplomats say they are certain that the essential elements of a treaty will be negotiated in Ottawa, although some details of the agreement may not be resolved until a further round of talks that are scheduled to precede a signing ceremony in the Hungarian capital of Budapest in April or May. Said Ralph Lysyshyn, director of the external affairs department’s arms-control and disarmament division: “This effort is doomed to succeed.” At the very least, the meeting will make history. The Ottawa conference, which will take place in the Government Conference Centre, will be the first to bring NATO and Warsaw Pact foreign ministers together around a single table since the current wave of reform ^ began sweeping through I Eastern Europe last fall. In| deed, it will be the first time u ever that the ministers have met outside Europe. And since the previous joint meeting last March in Vienna, five of the seven Warsaw Pact representatives have changed, the exceptions being East Germany’s Oskar Fischer and Shevardnadze. Within NATO, meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark is now the second-longest-serving foreign minister in the 16-nation alliance, after West Ger-

many’s Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Said Abbie Dann, a spokesman for Clark: “We are dealing with a new epoch and a new crowd. It is extraordinary.”

The only foreign minister not expected last week to attend the Ottawa meeting on Feb. 12 and 13 was Denmark’s Uffe Ellemann-Jensen,

who recently underwent back surgery. Instead, another Danish representative will join the NATO and Warsaw Pact ministers in spending part of the conference reviewing conventional arms-reduction talks that are now under way in Vienna. Those negotiations are expected by year’s end to yield a treaty slashing NATO and the Warsaw Pact's troop levels by up to 20 per cent. But the focus of the Ottawa conference will clearly be on open skies.

Indeed, some diplomats say that Canada’s success in promoting open skies is a sign that diplomatic efforts by the middle powers can still result in concrete achievements. The efforts began when officials at External—including Lysyshyn—learned through diplomatic contacts late last March that President George Bush had asked his staff to develop a list of arms-control options. His request came at a critical moment. With NATO leaders preparing to meet in Brussels on May 29 to mark the 40th anniversary of the alliance, an embarrassing fight was shaping up over German opposition to the continued stationing of short-range nuclear weapons on German soil. Bush wanted to announce a new disarmament initiative to distract attention from the issue. Said John Noble, director general of External Affairs’ International Security and Arms Control Bureau: “We were faced with the prospect of a NATO summit celebrating 40 years of unity breaking down.” For his part, Lysyshyn knew the history of the concept, first proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955 and rejected at that time by the Soviets. Lysyshyn also knew that, under a wide-ranging open-skies agreement, the middle and lesser powers—including Canada—stood to gain the most. That is because, as long as surveillance aircraft belonging to each alliance are excluded from the other’s airspace, the smaller members of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact have to rely on the sophisticated spying abilities of their respective superpowers for much of the information they receive about their potential adversaries. Proponents of open skies argue that lesser powers would be better off gathering their own information from independent overflights. Says Lysyshyn: “Open skies is democratic.”

With the Brussels summit just weeks away, Canadian officials decided to make an effort to actively promote the concept. In late April, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sent Bush a letter asking the President to support open skies, offering Canada’s help and asking that it be put on the agenda for Mulroney’s coming visit to Washing| ton. On May 4, when Mulroney and Í Clark sat down to lunch with Bush and 5 Baker in Washington, the U.S. Presi^ dent asked his Canadian guests to discuss the concept further. The next day, Bush told his officials that he would propose an open-skies treaty at the NATO conference. Last week, a senior U.S. official told Maclean ’s that the Canadian intervention was crucial to the President’s decision. “The letter and Mulroney’s visit came at an extraordinarily opportune

moment,” he said. “We had a short list, and there were mixed feelings about a number of the ideas on it. The visit tipped the balance.”

On May 12, 1989, Bush told the graduating class of Texas A&M University near Austin that he backed the open-skies concept. Canadian officials were delighted—and prepared. Canadian diplomats promoted Bush’s speech in the capitals of Europe and handed out copies of several studies of the implications of open skies that, in the words of one Canadian official, “we just happened to have on hand.” Then, at the May 28 NATO summit, the Europeans unanimously endorsed the concept.

Still, the Soviets were slow to embrace the idea. Said one Canadian diplomat: “Their initial criticism was exactly the same as in 1955. It was as if someone just opened up the file on open skies and restated the position.” And even in the United States, open skies initially fared little better. Privately, some counterintelligence wings of the many-facetted U.S. defence community expressed reservations about the prospect of Soviet aircraft flying over missile bases in North and South Dakota. But other U.S. intelligence experts concluded that open skies could provide a valuable alternative to the existing array of spy satellites. They noted that reconnaissance satellites are expensive, fly predictable paths that permit enemy military commanders to conceal critical weapons and cannot produce clear images through thick clouds. By contrast, aircraft are relatively cheap, can fly to any location and carry a wide range of equipment, including sophisticated radar systems that can produce picturelike images, even at night or in clouds.

But if Washington could use open skies to gather high-quality information, so could Moscow. Bush listened to competing arguments from his advisers advocating both wide-ranging and restricted open-skies agreements, then instructed his officials to pursue a wide-ranging proposal. That decision formed the basis of discussions with NATO partners that ended on Dec. 15 with the release of a joint NATO document outlining an open-skies policy.

Under that plan, the number of flights allowed over each country would vary according to size. Larger countries, including Canada, the United States and the Soviet Union, could be subject to one or two overflights per week by unarmed observation planes. The flights could be requested with as little as 16 hours notice to the country being overflown. Within six hours of landing in the host country, the crew would file a flight plan outlining a route to be flown 24 hours later. The host country could close areas to overflight only if the airspace were closed to all aircraft for such valid safety reasons as the presence of troops firing artillery shells in training. The host country would also have the right to inspect the aircraft and put observers aboard for the flight.

In the meantime, Canadian officials had been busy behind the scenes. At NATO talks, they offered answers to technical questions and smoothed discussions. But one crucial stumbling block remained: getting the Warsaw Pact countries to sit down at the negotiating table to

work out an open-skies treaty. Help came from Hungarian officials, who in June had quietly approached the Canadians to offer assistance. With the behind-the-scenes efforts of the Hungarians, Warsaw Pact countries, including the Soviet Union, began to show interest. In November, representatives from several of the Warsaw Pact nations attended an international open-skies symposium in Ottawa, where Hungarian officials joined forces with Canadian representatives to promote the concept.

It was during that Ottawa symposium, in the course of a private dinner between Canadian and Hungarian officials, that the two teams

conceived the idea of Canada conducting a test overflight of Hungarian territory—as well as the possibility of a reciprocal overflight by a Hungarian aircrew over Canada. As the two sides completed plans for the overflight over the next two months, Canadian officials chose a route that would take them over the most sensitive Soviet military bases in Hungary. When they discussed their plans with Soviet officials, they were stunned by the reaction. Recalled one Canadian involved in the discussions: “The Soviets said, ‘Don’t talk to us, talk to the Hungarians. It’s their airspace.’ ” Indeed, the preparations for this week’s conference underscored the new independence of the Soviet Union’s former East Bloc satellites. At one point during the discussions, recalled a Canadian diplomat, one Hungarian official told a Canadian that the final treaty

should not refer only to members of NATO or the Warsaw Pact because, the Hungarian said, “in 10 years, we don’t intend to be part of the Warsaw Pact.” A Soviet official standing alongside him “didn’t bat an eye.”

Last week, NATO and Warsaw Pact representatives approved rules of procedure for the Ottawa conference. But stumbling blocks in the negotiations still remain. Moscow has criticized two aspects of the NATO proposal. First, Moscow wants the right to conduct overflights of U.S. bases in nonalliance countries not taking part in the negotiations, including Japan and the Philippines. The Soviets would also like signatories to pool all information from overflights. Under the NATO proposal, countries would share data only within their respective alliances. Tariq Rauf, a senior analyst at the Canadian Centre for Arms Control in Ottawa, a nonprofit independent research agency, said that the Soviets are clearly concerned that NATO would exploit what Moscow views as the West’s technological edge to gain more and better information. And he added that the Soviets are also worried that the overflights could be used for such nonmilitary purposes as assessing wheat crops. Said Rauf: “It could be a deal-breaker. External Affairs is overly optimistic when it says a treaty is certain.”

But Canadian officials were adamant that the negotiations in Ottawa will result in an open-skies treaty. Said one diplomat: “The differences ï that exist right now can be z easily negotiated.” Canadian I officials also appeared confis dent that a treaty would be quickly extended to include most of the 13 European countries, including Finland and Sweden, that are not members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. And they pointed out that the Ottawa conference itself proves that it is possible to achieve extraordinary co-operation with nations that were recently Canada’s foes—particularly, in this case, Hungary. Indeed, with international relations undergoing reforms without parallel since the end of the Second World War, some Canadian officials went further. For them, this week’s conference seemed to usher in a new era of opportunity for Canadian diplomats, one in which this country may enjoy an expanded influence as nations on both sides of the former Iron Curtain grope towards a new, and less hostile, world order.

MARC CLARK in Ottawa with IAN MATHER in London

IAN MATHER