ON JANUARY 1, the Open Skies Treaty entered into force, paving the way for its 26 state-parties to officially begin unarmed reconnaissance flights over each others' territories later this year.
For any given year, the number of flights that a country may conduct over others and has to permit over its own territory is limited by a quota system loosely based on the size of a country's territory. For example, Russia, which shares its quota with Belarus, and the United States are obliged to permit up to 42 reconnaissance flights over their territories annually, although Portugal only needs to permit two. All states-parties have a reduced number of flights that they must allow during the first round of treaty flights, which extends until the end of 2003.
A U.S. government official said treaty flights are not expected to begin until this August because the planes to be used in conducting the flights must be checked out and certified as treaty compliant. This certification period is tentatively scheduled to occur from mid-April to July.
As part of the plane certification, inspectors will check whether the plane's sensors, which are supposed to be capable of enabling an observing party to distinguish between tanks and trucks on the ground, match the specifications of those permitted by the treaty. …