This week, the Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Protection Act (more commonly known as CISPA) is under consideration by the US Senate. Four versions of the bill have been rejected in Congress since 2012, so it seems unlikely that the bill will pass. Just last week, an online petition opposing the bill attracted over 117,000 signatures. The future of cyber security policy may not be with CISPA, but why not?Read More
Earlier this week, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrapped up their 15th bi-annual Nuclear Policy Conference. This conference, widely recognised to be one of the highlights on the nuclear arms control and disarmament agenda, spans two days and attracts some 800 participants from 46 countries. The conference was lively. Printing off all Twitter comments alone would consume at least 100 pages of paper.Read More
On Tuesday this week, North Korea announced plans to restart its reactor at Yongbyon—a 30-year-old graphite-moderated five-megawatt reactor (5MWe) capable of producing plutonium. Two days later, the North was observed deploying ‘powerful’ ballistic missile to its eastern shore, which it threatened to use against the US and South Korea. These developments have gripped the international community in mass speculation: does North Korea pose a genuine threat or is this simply a case of heavy-handed brinkmanship? With what little is known about nuclear activities in North Korea, the room for speculation is large. Verification of nuclear facilities in North Korea has been absent for a number of years and reliable information on its current and future nuclear capabilities is limited.Read More
Shortly before Christmas 2012, I was present at a luncheon hosted by the London embassy of the Republic of Korea. A few hours earlier that day the DPRK had launched, and publicised the launch of, a space rocket apparently capable of delivering a nuclear warhead which, as far as the diners knew at the time, North Korea still did not possess in a developed form. Despite bellicose comments from some around the table, the arguments around the lunch table were evenly divided between ‘this changes nothing’ and ‘we are witnessing the birth of a new nuclear weapon-owning state.’Read More
There can be few people who have not by now seen the spectacular video images of the meteor blazing across the Russian sky in daylight on 15 February this year. The light output was startling in its brilliance, casting intense shadows of buildings and vehicles. Some of the footage also captured the sound of the event. But how many realise that this provided a further proof of the capability of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty international monitoring system?
In fact, a lot of the sound produced by this object as it entered the earth’s atmosphere could not be heard by human ears, as it was of a lower frequency than we can detect. This, so-called infrasound, with a frequency of less than 20 Hertz, is one of the signatures of a nuclear explosion too and is a phenomenon that the CTBT International Monitoring System network has been set up to detect. Infrasound detection is one of the four key monitoring systems of the CTBT; the others being seismic signal detection, hydro-acoustic sensing and radionuclide detection in the atmosphere.Read More
On 12 February 2013, the DPRK announced that it had conducted its third nuclear test. Hours before the announcement, however, data started to flow from various monitoring stations indicating seismic activity in North Korea. This gave considerable credibility to the assertion that the DPRK conducted an explosive test possibly of a nuclear nature.Read More
The case of Ms Bond, a woman convicted in the United States under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) Implementation Act for putting highly toxic chemicals on the car door handles, doorknob and mailbox of a former friend, will be considered by the US Supreme Court again. Due to its focus on the balance of power in a federalist system, this case is particular to the US domestic legal order. However, as the Court will address the application of the CWC Implementation Act to Ms Bond’s criminal acts, it is also of interest to other CWC States Parties that have adopted or are in the process of adopting implementing legislation for the CWC.Read More
Scott Spence, VERTIC’s Senior Legal Officer, attended the ‘UNSCR 1540 Civil Society Forum - Opportunities for Engagement’, which took place in the Vienna International Centre (the VIC) during 8-10 January. He reflects on this important event in this week’s blog post.
Recent weeks have seen mounting fears that the Syrian government may resort to the use of chemical weapons against rebel forces seeking its overthrow – a move that could mark a tipping point towards international military engagement.Read More
At VERTIC we are concerned with threats to society such as nuclear, biological, chemical and cyber security. An article in the Sunday Times (25th Nov.) described a new project set up at Cambridge University, for the study of the proposition that super-intelligent computers could become a threat to humanity. It says that: ‘The center for the study of existential risk — where “existential” implies a threat to humanity’s existence — is being co-launched by Lord Rees, the astronomer royal who is one of the world’s leading cosmologists. Its purpose is to study the “four greatest threats” to the human species: artificial intelligence, climate change, nuclear war and rogue biotechnology. Rees’s 2003 book, ‘Our Final Century’, had warned that the destructiveness of humanity meant our species could wipe itself out by 2100. He is launching the centre with Huw Price, the Bertrand Russell professor of philosophy at Cambridge, and Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype.Read More
During the Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) over a week ago, States Parties took note of the latest figures compiled by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on national implementation of the Convention. Under Article VII of the CWC, States Parties are required to adopt national implementation measures to fulfill their obligations under the Convention in accordance with their constitutional processes (paragraph 1). States Parties are also required to inform the OPCW of the legislative measures they have taken (paragraph 5). In this way, the OPCW is able to gather data on the number of States Parties that have adopted national implementation measures and assess the comprehensiveness of the measures they have taken.Read More
On 29 November, a number of civil society actors participated in an invitation-only meeting with States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and with staff from the Technical Secretariat of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), including the Director-General. We discussed how civil society actors such as VERTIC can contribute to the Organization’s efforts to strengthen the Convention and its operation. Scott Spence, Senior Legal Officer, took the opportunity to share some thoughts on how, in particular, we can work with the OPCW to promote universality and national implementation of the CWC.
The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Meeting of States Parties will convene in Geneva in one month’s time. Amongst other items, the meeting will discuss “Strengthening national implementation”, which is a standing item for each meeting in the 2012-15 intersessional period. What is the current status of BWC States Parties’ national implementation, at least in terms of their national regulatory frameworks? Let me take you through some interesting statistics drawn from VERTIC’s BW legislation surveys.
There are plenty of threats in cyberspace currently worrying governments around the world: espionage, damage to critical infrastructure, the theft of intellectual property, and others besides. The range of potential adversaries is equally as diverse: states or state-sponsored actors, terrorists, ‘hacktivists’, foreign companies and criminal organisations. The types of attack are numerous and they can be very fast, easily concealable and able to bypass conventional defences at national boundaries.Read More
The plenary body of the Preparatory Commission of the CTBTO will meet next week, on 22-24 October 2012, to consider, amongst other things, the bids to take over after Ambassador Tibor Toth. Who might be elected?
The safeguards resolution of the IAEA General Conference has, for many years, been one of the highlights and great dreads of the conference. Member states anxieties and excessive wrangling over its text tends to ensure that the final day of the conference ends around midnight. While this adds to the excitement of the conference, it is also a very costly undertaking. Sitting in the conference hall in the middle of the night surely raises questions as to whether it is all worth it.Read More
Since the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in 2011, there have been calls for increasing safety levels in nuclear plants worldwide. The incident in Japan was the fourth significant accident in the 55-year history of nuclear reactor operation. The first occurred in 1957 at the Windscale reactor in the UK. Two decades later, in 1979, a reactor at Three Mile Island in the USA was severely damaged, though radioactive material releases were slight. The third incident is well-known: the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, Ukraine, where the destruction of a reactor by steam explosion, fire and core disruption had significant health and environmental consequences, mainly due to fission product release and dispersion, as well as a human death toll at the site itself.Read More
Ten years ago the United Nations Secretary-General released the “United Nations Study on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education” (A/57/124, 30 August 2002). The study was prepared over two years by an eminent group of experts drawn from Egypt, Hungary, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Peru, Poland and Sweden and informed by wide-ranging consultations with civil society. Its findings highlighted the importance of empowering individuals, through such education, to contribute to achieving disarmament and non-proliferation measures and, ultimately, general and complete disarmament under effective international control.Read More
Mark Hibbs’ recent post about the risks facing IAEA inspectors in Iran, should Israel decide to attack the country, gives rise to a number of pertinent questions relating to matters of both law and policy. They are not new by any means, but they are nevertheless important.Read More
On 28 July 2012 the Ugandan government and the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the Ebola virus was the culprit behind a spate of deaths in Kibaale district, Western Uganda.Read More
The ongoing unrest in Syria has continued to dominate the headlines as concerns have mounted about the country’s chemical weapons stockpiles. At the same time, these stockpiles raise interesting questions of international law.
On Friday, 20 July 2012, I was appointed Director-General of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Organization (CTBTO). At least I was, in the simulated universe of the latest CTBTO Intensive Policy Course: Multilateral Verification, Collective Security: The Contribution of the CTBT. The course, which is part of the organization’s Capacity Development Initiative (or CDI for short), had over 450 participants. A fair number of those took part in the first-ever simulation of the prospective Executive Council in action.Read More
The Meeting of Experts (MX) for the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) took place in Geneva from 16 to 20 July. Ambassador Boujemâa Delmi of Algeria chaired the meeting, which focused on the topics Agreed upon at the Seventh BWC Review Conference in December 2011: recent advances in the life sciences and mechanisms to address the emerging threats they pose, effective ways to further the goals of the BWC through greater cooperation and assistance, enhanced national implementation, and renewed confidence-building measures (CBMs). Experts from states parties, international organisations, observer entities and non-governmental organizations gathered in Geneva to participate in the MX.Read More
The Arms Trade Treaty is being negotiated this month under the auspices of the United Nations in New York. The first of their kind, they mark a culmination of multilateral efforts to develop a legally binding instrument of common international standards for the transfer of conventional weapons. What has happened so far, and with only 6 days of negotiation left, can any real progress be made?Read More
The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Meeting of Experts will convene next week in Geneva. National implementation is on the agenda, as a standing item for this inter-sessional process, and VERTIC will give a presentation on this topic as an invited Guest of the meeting. As a recent outbreak of kiwifruit vine disease in New Zealand has shown, national implementation of biosecurity measures is an ongoing task, which is worthy of such regular consideration by the BWC regime.Read More
Last week, I participated in a nuclear warhead dismantlement exercise in Oslo, Norway, involving students from the University of Hamburg - half of whom played the role of a host country, while the other half took on the role of inspectors. This simulation was the third such student exercise to have taken place under the auspices of the University of Oslo to build capacity and awareness of these issues among the 'next generation' of nuclear arms control professionals.Read More
Last month, the case United States v Bond reached its final stage. Following a decision last year by the US Supreme Court which allowed Ms Carol Anne Bond to challenge her conviction under the ‘Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) Implementation Act of 1998’, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has now reviewed her case and upheld her conviction.Read More
Last week, VERTIC and Wilton Park held their second conference on verification, this time focusing on arms control and disarmament verification. The first conference was held in June 2011, to mark VERTIC's 25th Anniversary. Since Wilton Park conferences are held in strict confidence, no names or affiliations can be mentioned in this write-up. Nevertheless, this post will attempt to summarize the main themes coming out of the meeting.Read More
One of the main characters in Tony Scott’s 1998 film ‘Enemy of the State’, Edward Lyle, at one point exclaims, ‘you know the Hubble Telescope that looks up to the stars? They've got over a hundred spy satellites looking down at us’. He then adds, as an afterthought, ‘that's classified’. Well, not any more. Sometime last year, administrators at the US National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) got a surprising call from colleagues at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). They told them to head over to a facility owned by the aerospace company ITT Excelis to pick up some hardware that the NRO, which operates the US fleet of spy-satellites, no longer needed.Read More
Inadequate biological waste management constitutes a risk that could lead to proliferation of infectious material and accidental outbreaks. International instruments exist to counter these dangers: the Basel Convention aims to limit and regulate hazardous wastes to minimize possible impacts on human and animal health as well as the environment. The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) necessitates the adoption of biosecurity measures – including biological waste management – to prevent proliferation of dual use material. The adoption by countries of effective measures to securely manage biological waste would help implementation of both international agreements and make progress towards the aims they promote.Read More
Historical documents pertaining to the 1925 Geneva Protocol are now available online through the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ treaty database. Scanned copies of original instruments of accession, ratification and succession, along with documents relating to reservations, are now a mouse-click away. It is important to have access to these original documents, rather than the potted, translated summaries of their contents that were previously available, to determine the precise legal status of the Protocol’s prohibitions on the use of biological and chemical weapons with respect to each State.Read More
In June 2012, Oslo will play host to selected experts and diplomats from across a range of scientific, technical, legal and policy areas related to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation – not to mention top graduate students in the field of international security. This being because June will see the Universities of Oslo, Hamburg and King’s College London carry out the ‘Second International Full-Scale Nuclear Disarmament Verification Simulation’.Read More
Next week, VERTIC will give three presentations at the NPT PrepCom at two different meetings – rolling out or highlighting several new and exciting projects. Here in London, there will be changes to the way this blog is administered. We will strive to keep you updated with new online content every Thursday, as customary. However, our organization’s permanent staff will from now on share the editorial responsibility for the content.Read More
Now that the dust has settled on the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), held last month in Seoul, commentators have begun releasing their reviews. These reviews are not universally complementary by any means. A common thread, illuminating a flaw in a patchwork approach towards improved nuclear security, weaves many of these commentaries together. In one form or another, calls are being made for a more transparent approach to demonstrating nationally-implemented measures for improved nuclear security.Read More
In recent months, tensions over the Iranian nuclear programme have escalated considerably. This increase, and the associated rise in Western pressure on Iran’s government (not to mention the talk of war), is largely the result of two factors. First, the November 2011 publication – by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – of a broad-ranging overview of suspected Iranian nuclear weapons-related research and development. And second, an increase in Iran’s uranium enrichment capability (highly-enriched uranium being one of the two kinds of material essential for developing nuclear explosive devices) through the activation of a new enrichment facility.Read More
It is often difficult, even for those that specialize in verification, to get a grip on how the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) safeguards system actually works. Most would know that it involves the state declaring that they have a certain amount of material, with the IAEA checking that the declaration is correct. But how does the inspectors actually go about checking this, and how do states in practice declare their fissile material holdings? A new set of documents on the Agency website shows just that.Read More
The debate continues on whether to publish scientific research that details how avian flu, a highly deadly virus for both birds and humans, can be made transmissible between mammals. In a previous post, it was mentioned that publishing this research in a redacted fashion and sharing it with a select group of researchers can be supported under the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). While a World Health Organization meeting in February called for full publication of the study, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade has now pointed out that the researchers, who are based in the Netherlands, have to request an export permit. How is export control law related to the publication of this research?Read More
Last year China announced that it was taking preliminary steps towards implementing a nation-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cap-and-trade scheme. As trial projects begin in seven cities and provinces, it seems the world’s largest emitter of GHGs may soon join the EU as the second global actor to implement cap-and-trade. Following in the EU’s steps has given China the benefit of hindsight, and the nation is under no illusions as to the volatility and complexity of carbon trading. Such schemes require firm control and robust monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV), as the EU discovered when the value of their carbon credits plummeted to a four-year low in January. Is the current Chinese MRV infrastructure up to the task?
North Korea and the US announced recently that they have reached an agreement whereby North Korea undertakes to stop conducting nuclear and long-range missile tests, and to halt nuclear activities at the Yongbyon facility. Importantly, the DPRK has also announced it shall allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors back to Yongbyon to confirm aspects of this suspension. The UN nuclear watchdog has stated that its inspectors are ready to monitor the key site. Given the fractious relationship the DPRK has had with Agency inspectors, how might this long-awaited return play out, and where might the limits of North Korean cooperation lie?Read More
Short-lived pollutants such as black carbon do not typically enjoy the same attention given to greenhouse gases in multilateral climate change negotiations, despite making a significant contribution to global warming. But recent news suggests that when nations focus on these pollutants, they can agree to powerful mitigation measures in a relatively short time. With financial support from a small number of nations, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will soon implement a programme aimed at tackling these pollutants at their source; the inefficient burning of fuels. According to UNEP, if implemented widely enough this programme alone could halve the global temperature rise projected for 2050. Despite this potential, all financial support for this ‘second front in the fight against global warming’ has come from outside the dominant multilateral climate change negotiating forum. Is there a way to monitor the global levels of black carbon, and if there is how might it widen and improve the support for this new front?Read More
As of 1 January 2012 aircraft operators with flights originating or terminating at airports within the European Community must participate in the European Greenhouse Gas Emission Allowance Trading Scheme (EU ETS). The EU ETS has been in place for energy intensive industrial installations since 2005, and is now the first market-based trading scheme to include emissions from aviation activities. As the expansion covers all incoming and outgoing flights, non-EU states have begun questioning its international legitimacy. Do the monitoring, reporting and verification procedures for the expanded emissions trading scheme shed any light on their concerns?Read More
For those attempting to detect sensitive fissile materials, the nature of their quarry creates significant obstacles to their hunt. Issues relating to safety, security, secrecy and size all work against nuclear inspectors, and are all unavoidably the result of the items of concern. The radiation produced by some materials, and the potentially devastating uses of others, requires such a high level of material isolation that direct interaction by nuclear inspectors is highly unlikely. This makes finding these materials somewhat like looking for a needle in a haystack, without the ability to search through the haystack. And the consequences of missing the needle can be huge. This problem was not over-stated by the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei when he said: ‘Either we begin finding creative, outside-the-box solutions or the international nuclear safeguards regime will become obsolete.’ Thankfully, recent advances in radiation detection technology show that this call has not gone unanswered.Read More
Scientists in the Netherlands and the United States may have changed avian flu into a superflu virus. With a human mortality rate of 60%, avian flu was already a highly dangerous disease. But the new version is also highly contagious, potentially spreading from human to human as easily as the seasonal flu. Although the scientists were eager to publish their results, security experts doubted whether the findings should be disclosed, stating that publication of the study could serve as a recipe for biological weapons. What does the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) say on the silencing or sharing of scientific developments?Read More
Following the conclusion of the Seventh Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), it is clear there has been no significant progress towards formally verifying compliance to the convention. Considering the impact of what little progress that was made at the conference, and what steps can be taken to improve confidence in the convention, is therefore all the more important.Read More
Collecting sufficient quantities of fissile material is often considered the most challenging step towards acquiring nuclear weapons. As such, controlling the techniques used for accumulating highly-enriched uranium is a crucial aspect of nuclear non-proliferation. Laser enrichment, a third-generation technology offering a cheap and efficient route to enriched uranium, has recently moved one step closer to becoming a commercially-viable reality. Provided this technological development reaches a successful conclusion, it is worth considering the potential proliferation risks involved. What could both national and international authorities put in place, in terms of verification and safeguarding, to mitigate the risks posed?Read More
After an intense two weeks of negotiations in Durban, the seventeenth UN climate change conference came to a dramatic close on the 11th of December. The quantity of decisions and reports produced is a clear indication of the intimidating workload which kept delegates negotiating in to the final moments of a two-day extension. With the conference outcomes in hand, the final blog post of 2011 will wrap up this year’s coverage of climate change negotiations by reflecting on issues raised by previous posts.Read More
This year's Wilton Park Conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is now officially over. All that remains is the carol service and the formal dinner. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to chair a break-out group on verification and today, my rapporteur, Ms Meena Singelee, gave a short overview of the outcome of our discussions.Read More
Although negotiations at the 17th Conference of Parties (COP 17) under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) are still underway, indicators of progress have already emerged. In particular, a draft decision circulated by a technical working group contains a number of interesting provisions for the monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of forest-protection activities. As the Conference of Parties nears its end, what does this draft tell us about the development of forest protection verification?Read More
Earlier this month China announced the opening of a Beijing-based air quality monitoring centre to the public, and the adoption of stricter air quality monitoring standards. This announcement comes on the back of a social media campaign launched by high-profile figures within Chinese society. These recent changes raise questions of the transparency of China’s environmental monitoring system.Read More
The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBTO) recently announced the approval of a budget for the next on-site inspection (OSI) exercise. With a budget of US$10,300,000, this exercise will be a significant step towards strengthening the organisation’s OSI capabilities. The first such exercise, held in September 2008, revealed a number of important issues that will have to be resolved before the CTBTO's OSI capabilities reach full strength. What is the aim of OSI exercises, and why are they important for the overall development of the CTBTO’s verification capabilities?
When the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meet this week, the 35 member-state representatives will have some important decisions to make. Last Tuesday’s IAEA report on Iran has yet again stirred intense debate over the nature of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and the appropriate policy responses. While certain states may advocate particular responses to the disclosures contained in this document, ultimately the appropriate multilateral response will come through the Board of Governors. In the light cast by the clear and detailed case against Iran contained within the Director General’s report, what could or should the Board of Governors do?Read More
Stanford Professor Siegfried Hecker, a regular visitor to North Korea, recently highlighted the possibility that the isolated nation might turn to further nuclear testing. The South Korean government also fear this possibility. Why might North Korea return to nuclear testing? And if they do, how easy will it be to detect?Read More
As noted last week, a frenzy of submissions and proposals has emerged in the run up to the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A particular talking point in the conference, which is to be held in Durban (November 28 – 9 December 2011), will relate to India’s recent submission to the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA). This submission suggests some interesting adjustments to common verification practices under the Convention.Read More
The 17th Conference of Parties (COP 17) under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban is fast approaching. After meeting in Panama for the last time before Durban, delegates from two fundamental negotiating strands produced texts to facilitate negotiations. With less than five weeks remaining, the resulting texts will give the Conference of Parties a lot to discuss. However, it seems they will be unable to promote the outcome which many developing states hope for; realising a second commitment period (CP2) under the Kyoto Protocol (KP).Read More
On 23 September 2011, over 160 ministers and senior officials convened at the United Nations in New York for the seventh biennial Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Their two-fold purpose was deceptively simple. First, to “urge all States to remain seized of the issue at the highest political level.” Second, to encourage holdout Annex II States to commit themselves to signing and ratifying the CTBT “at the earliest possible date, thus ridding the world once and for all of nuclear test explosions.” Guinea was the latest to ratify the treaty mere days beforehand, rounding up a list of 155 ratifications and 182 States Signatories. However, this small victory is obscured by the lack of significant movement on other fronts. Despite the rhetoric of political urgency and confidence-building, key players remain unmoved. For the 15th anniversary of the CTBT Organization (CTBTO), founded in 1996, this was unfortunate.
The development of confidence-building measures (CBMs) between India and Pakistan was recently given a boost by a July meeting of the Colombo Group in Sofia, Bulgaria. The Group, comprised primarily of South Asian security experts, engaged in a mock exercise to explore the verified retirement of surplus short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). This activity, which involved participants from both states, hoped to identify the fundamental issues involved in conducting practical dismantlement exercises in order to build towards an actual verification agreement. As India’s Prithvi I SRBM and Pakistan’s Haft I SRBM approach obsolescence, this is an ideal time to ascertain whether their removal from service can be used to build trust between both states.
An op-ed recently published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists suggests that there might be a new way to detect underground nuclear test explosions. The authors, a group of scientists from Ohio State University, have been working on turning a troublesome vulnerability of a common system into something useful. Their findings suggest that data from Global Positioning Systems (GPS), commonly used in navigation, could be used to augment existing detection techniques by detecting airborne shockwaves created by underground test explosions. The location of such explosions can then be narrowed down by comparing data on these shockwaves collected from nearby GPS receivers. This seems like a fascinating potential use of existing technology. However, there is an important issue which could prevent it from becoming a reality.Read More
Before the introduction of satellites, measuring the extent of Arctic sea ice was an arduous task. Historical studies using shipping logs, exhibitions and diaries give a rough indication of the spread of Arctic ice over hundreds of years. Today, a network of satellites monitor the scope of the ice while on-ice and underwater observations determine changes to the depth. The information provided by these techniques paint a dramatic picture of the future of the Arctic region. It is therefore important that they are understood, appreciated, and improved.
As some may have noticed, last week’s IAEA General Conference ended without member states being able to agree on a safeguards resolution. Reuters put the blame on some member states, quoting two Western envoys. This story was picked up by Global Security Newswire on 27 September. While there is some truth to the story, it doesn’t pick up on all the complexities of the debate.Read More
Earlier tonight, the IAEA General Conference ended with the adoption of resolutions on application of safeguards in the Middle East and nuclear security, but failed on safeguards and postponed discussions on Israeli nuclear capabilities.Read More
Day four of the IAEA General Conference saw some interesting developments. The general debate concluded with the final country statements. Following this, the plenary moved onto other agenda items: the resolution on the DPRK, examination of credentials and the appointment of the Board of Governors.Read More
During the third day of the 55th IAEA General Conference, country statements concluded, safeguards were deliberated, and discussions were held on nuclear safety in the wake of the Fukushima accident. With only two days of discussion left, some progress has been made on finalising texts. However, contentious issues remain regarding a nuclear security resolution and the language used to describe the Additional Protocol.
Today at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference, country statements continued in the plenary. These statements focused on safety, the Middle East and safeguards implementation issues. At the same time, the Committee of the Whole held its first session during which discussions on the safeguards resolution began. Safeguards were also discussed at length during a side event hosted by the Swiss government.Read More
This morning the 55th regular session of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference opened in Vienna. After welcoming all the participants the elected president of the conference, Ambassador Cornel Feruta of Romania, highlighted nuclear safety as one of the main topics of this year’s session. He called on the plenary to endorse the action plan on nuclear safety and security adopted by the IAEA Board of Governors last week. The plan was presented as the first step of an ongoing effort to ensure all nuclear activities are conducted in a safe manner.Read More
The Guardian recently reported that the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) blocked a planning application from REG Windpower to build a wind farm near Eskdalemuir. The MoD prevented construction because the vibrations from the wind farms would disturb seismic monitoring activities at Eskdalemuir. Although this frustrated REG Windpower, the Eskdalemuir monitor is part of the CTBT’s International Monitoring System (IMS). Preventing interference with this system is important, and the MoD has a strong reason to deny the application. The MoD would object to any new turbines within 50 km of the station to ensure monitoring is not disturbed. Wind power developers are free to build outside of the 50 km zone. The problem is that Eskdalemuir is an ideal space for wind farms because it is open and sparsely populated. Unfortunately, those are the same qualities that make it an excellent seismic monitoring site.Read More
At the end of November, South Africa will host representatives from up to 194 states for the 17th Conference of Parties (COP 17) under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC). The first Kyoto Protocol (KP) commitment period will expire next year. There is now significant pressure from developing states for a second commitment period to extend this, the only legally-binding set of emission reductions. However if South Africa hope to realise the conference motto of ‘Working Together, Saving Tomorrow’, they must respond to this pressure with great subtlety.Read More
The United States Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) recently conducted a study which highlights potential improvements in national methods of biological pathogen surveillance and detection. The paper is entitled ‘The NYC Native Air Sampling Pilot Project: Using HVAC Filter Data for Urban Biological Incident Characterization’. It shows that commercial heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, installed in many modern buildings, could be used to improve existing methods for monitoring the spread of airborne biological agents.Read More
From 18-22 July, 2011, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Republic of Ukraine held a regional training course for customs authorities in Eastern Europe. 20 participants from 16 states gathered in Kiev to explore technical aspects of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) transfers regime. Opening the training course, Mr Ruslan Nimchynskyi, Acting Head of Arms Control for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, noted that the fullest exchange of chemicals for peaceful purposes requires effective implementation of the CWC transfers regime.Read More
On 20 July 2011, the UN Security Council again held a debate on whether climate change is a threat to international peace and security. If it found so, the Council would be free to use its powers under the UN Charter to address it. The first such meeting in four years revealed new issues and cast a different light on the more familiar ones. What was the outcome of these discussions, and how did the Council see its role?Read More
On 1 August 2011, new amendments to the MARPOL 73/78 convention under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) came into force. The new amendments which were signed on the 26 March 2010 affect both annexes I and VI of the MARPOL 73/78 convention, whose name is shorthand for the ‘International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978’. The amended annexes regulate maritime activities with the aim of preventing crude oil pollution and reducing air pollution.Read More
A zone free of weapons of mass destruction has long been a stated desire of many, if not all, of the governments in the broader Middle East. However, bitter disagreement pervades on how to reach this goal. A recent round of discussions in Brussels has shown that discussion is possible, but also clearly highlighted that the road towards the objective remains mined with difficult obstacles.Read More
As a student of nuclear weapons proliferation, I have often hoped that one day I would be referred to as a ‘nuclear weapons specialist’. During the first student-led warhead dismantlement simulation, held in Oslo between 13-17 June 2011, I was somewhat prematurely asked to become exactly that. Along with 19 other students, I spent five days at the Norwegian Institute for Energy Technology outside Oslo as a citizen of a fictitious country, negotiating a verification protocol for a conceptual warhead dismantlement treaty known as the ‘Maghda Agreement’.Read More
Today, space-based satellite monitoring systems face a problem. Their sensors, which are become ever more sophisticated, produce more information than can be easily transmitted back to earth. Installing better computing equipment on the satellites could break this bottleneck. But can today’s complicated chips withstand one of the great hazards of orbit, space radiation?
After the director-general of the International Atomic Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, produced his report on the suspected Syrian reactor in late May, VERTIC’s Andreas Persbo described the three likely options for what could happen next. The first involved DG Amano calling for a so-called ‘Special Inspection’ in the country under its 1992 Safeguards Agreement (Article 72, INFCIRC/407). The second option was for the IAEA Board of Governors to skip this step and put forward a resolution finding Syria in non-compliance with its safeguards obligations, subsequently referring Syria direct to the United Nations Security Council for further action. A third alternative was simply to do nothing. On 9 June the Board took option two, the first such referral since Iran’s case was sent to the United Nations five years ago. The Security Council will now discuss the matter, and probably soon.Read More
Paul van den IJssel, President-designate of the Seventh Review Conference for the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), was quoted last week as saying that he is pleased that the BWC does not receive as much attention as other treaties, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). As Robert Kadlec, the biosecurity adviser under former President George W. Bush noted, the community has ‘had no Prague speech ... [or] biological summit on this issue.’Read More
Between 13-17 June 2011, students with backgrounds in the fields of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear physics gathered in Norway to verify the dismantlement of a mock nuclear warhead.Read More
One of the most significant elements of the ‘Cancun Agreements’ was the creation of a ‘Green Climate Fund’ (GCF). On 28-29 April this year, the delegates chosen to design the fund gathered for their first meeting. There, they emphasised the importance of ‘clear accountability’ and ‘good governance’. But how are parties progressing towards these goals and what difficulties are likely to arise?Read More
A recent article, making use of Google Earth imagery, on the environmental website Mongabay, has called attention to the damaged forests of Sarawak (a state in Malaysian Borneo), comparing their poor health with the apparently pristine forests just across the border in Indonesian and Bruneian territory.
Good morning everyone and welcome to the third session. It is, of course, always a pleasure to be back at Wilton Park. And I am very pleased to see so many friends and colleagues here. I'm also very pleased to have two former VERTIC directors, Trevor Findlay and Angela Woodward, around the table. And I hear that Patricia Lewis may join us over Skype from California later this evening.Read More
Today saw the final two sessions of the VERTIC 25th anniversary conference held, with great engagement from participants, in the beautiful Wilton Park setting that the VERTIC staff have been pleased to call home for the last three days.Read More
Today saw the second day of discussions at the VERTIC-Wilton Park conference in West Sussex.Read More
Today saw the opening of VERTIC's 25th anniversary conference at the Wilton Park conference centre, set in the heart of the English countryside.Read More
An EU-funded research has developed a chip that can screen water for biological pathogens. The tiny chip renders slow laboratory analysis unnecessary and old-fashioned. This type of screening could prevent or severely limit the effects of a potential bio-attack on drinking water supplies. With the chip ready what they need now are buyers.Read More
If a global agreement on climate change is to succeed, parties need to be able to trust that the others are keeping to their part of the bargain. Indispensable for this is the timely provision of reliable data. Recently, however, some have highlighted that a lack of resources and know-how in developing countries on forest carbon monitoring is leading to great errors in their reporting. In the long run, such errors could mean that the credibility of the monitoring regime could be undermined. However, how serious is that risk?Read More
A French team has developed a radiation detector that detects five times as many antineutrinos as earlier detectors developed. The detector, called Nucifer, is part of a new generation of detectors that could potentially revolutionize nuclear reactor monitoring. The IAEA has taken renewed interested in the technology and the detectors, that for years had been considered too large and unreliable.Read More
The recently-disclosed existence an Iranian manufacturing facility involved in the production of centrifuge components for uranium enrichment serves as a useful illustration of the verification problems associated with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme. Whilst not a breach of its duties under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the revelation does not build confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iranian nuclear program and illustrates the value of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol in allaying proliferation concerns.Read More
Fourteen years of gridlock at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) seem set to continue, as its first session of 2011 ended last week with deliberations mostly having explored familiar territory.Read More
Amendment of the ICC Rome Statute to explicitly expand the ICC's jurisdiction to chemical and biological use in times of international or domestic armed conflict is now more urgent than ever.Read More
Last week’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Syria was widely anticipated. The country has been under suspicions of non-compliance with the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for some time. The background is well-known. In September 2007, the Israeli Air Force suddenly and without warning bombed a facility in the middle of the Syrian desert. The Syrian and Israeli governments then remained surprisingly tight-lipped about the strike. The Israelis did not want to implicate an ally whose airspace they used for the strike. The Syrians seemingly only wanted to hush up the affair as quickly as possible.Read More
On 17 February 2011, David Cliff and I travelled to Glion, Switzerland, to have VERTIC's draft report on irreversibility reviewed.
These were my opening remarks.Read More
Kara Allen, a former VERTIC intern and Virginia Law graduate writes on amendment of the Rome Statute to explicitly include chemical and biological weapons use as war crimes.Read More
The NIM Team has added the Holy See's new counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering legislation to the BWC Legislation Database.Read More
Last Friday, we released edition No. 131 of Trust & Verify, and the first edition in our anniversary year. The New Year brings with it many exciting prospects and opportunities, not least for arms control and disarmament.Read More
The annual Wilton Park conference on arms control and disarmament is always well attended. Those arriving late may find themselves without a chair. This happened to me this year, as I missed the first two days due to a series of meetings in London. However, I found the first meeting that I was able to attend very stimulating, despite having to stand up for parts of it. Truth be told, as I was standing close to a radiator on a cold day, I didn’t mind that much.Read More
The NIM team - Angela, Scott, Rocio, Samir and Yasemin - hosted a side event at the BWC MSP.Read More
Earlier today, the eleventh Safeguards Symposium of the International Atomic Energy Agency was brought to a close by safeguards head Herman Nackaerts, who told participants that he was ‘personally delighted’ by the event’s outcome. The Symposium has succeeded in its objective to foster dialogue, Mr Nackaerts said, and strengthened his conviction that the challenges facing the Agency’s safeguards department can be met.Read More