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
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 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 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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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