The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) has announced that its International Monitoring System (IMS) detected an ‘unusual seismic event in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)’ at 01:30 UTC on 6 January 2016. The DPRK’s state-run news agency, KCNA, has issued an official announcement claiming this event was the country’s first test of a hydrogen bomb. What techniques will the CTBTO use to determine whether this was a nuclear explosion, and what materials might have caused it?Read More
The IAEA is not a party to the JCPOA. But if approved by its Board of Governors, the IAEA will be responsible for monitoring Iran’s compliance with the nuclear provisions of the agreement. Much of what the IAEA will do will be virtually identical with what the IAEA has been doing long before Iran and the six powers concluded the JCPOA, namely, implementing safeguards under Iran’s bilateral safeguards agreement pursuant to Iran’s commitment under the 1968 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) not to make or possess nuclear weapons.
Beyond routine safeguards, the IAEA will continue to address with Iran allegations concerning so-called “possible military dimensions” (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear programme. Information suggesting that Iran had done work on nuclear weapons emerged during a comprehensive investigation of Iran’s nuclear history launched by the IAEA upon request of the Board of Governors in 2003. On the same day that the JCPOA was concluded, Iran and the IAEA agreed to a “roadmap” to resolve these PMD issues by December 15.Read More
States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will be meeting in New York in April to review and discuss the operation of the Treaty. Few expect that this review will be overwhelmingly positive. The five Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) under the NPT - the US, Russia, China, France, and the UK - will meet this week under the 'P5 Process' to prepare for April's Review Conference. In a post published originally by the European Leadership Network, Hugh Chalmers discusses how the P5 Process might come to strengthen the NPT.Read More
The IAEA's investigation into Iran's disputed nuclear programme has been going on for more than a decade. After signing a Framework for Cooperation with the Agency last November, it seemed that Iran's engagement in this effort - which has ebbed and flowed with the political tides - was once again turning in favour of the IAEA. But while the Frameowork has exposed a large swathe of Iran's contentious programme to greater agency scrutiny, the step-by-step framework seems to be faltering on a familiar issue: the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme.Read More
The 58th General Conference (GC) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded last week having successfully passed a safeguards resolution that may have secured the future of a previously contentious element of the Agency's safeguards system, namely the so-called state level concept. The Conference also avoided a controversial resolution over Israel's nuclear capabilities. Some IAEA member states have argued that the resolution, if passed, could have jeopardised Israel’s engagement with a conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free-Zone (MEWMDFZ). This conference has been viewed as a key step towards a successful review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2015.Read More
Three weeks ago, David Keir, our Programme Director for Verification and Monitoring, and I returned from a two-day conference at Wilton Park named ‘Verification: Global capacity challenges’. The conference was sponsored by Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC), the US State Department and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office. This was the third conference in a series of meetings on verification. The first, ‘Uncertain futures: where next for multilateral verification?’ was held in 2010. The second, ‘Verification in the 21st Century - technological, political and institutional challenges and opportunities’ was held in 2011.Read More
The following post was authored by Mark Hibbs, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Andreas Persbo, Executive Director, VERTIC.
When the six powers and Iran announced in Geneva on November 24, 2013 that they had agreed to an “initial step” toward comprehensive resolution of the nuclear crisis, some critics glumly predicted that a final deal would never materialize. It was more likely, they asserted, that Western states keen to curb Iran’s nuclear program would face ever-greater pressure to lift sanctions, fortifying Iran’s resolve to resist long-term limits on sensitive nuclear activities. Ultimately, according to this dusky scenario, Iran would outlast its adversaries, sanctions would wither, and Iran would emerge with a rejuvenated economy and with its nuclear program back on track.
In the absence of clarity about how the Iran deal will be implemented, those of us thinking hard about the verification component have also been a little concerned. But beginning on November 24, our concerns were different--not about negotiations for the “final step” grinding to a halt, but instead about the prospect that Iran and the powers might achieve results too quickly.Read More
Recent reports in the media indicate that the UN investigation team assigned to look into allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria is soon to depart for the country. The team’s deployment has been delayed for several months while the UN and the Syrian government have debated the scope of the team’s mission, which centers on an attack in the Syrian town of Khan al-Assal on 19 March. Both the Syrian government and the rebel opposition accuse the other of carrying out the attack, as well as several others, with the UN in total having now received around a dozen reports of chemical attacks across the country from various states.Read More
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of serving my second term as the Director-General of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). I played my role in a simulation set up by the CTBTO’s Capacity Development Initiative (CDI). As last year, the gameplay felt realistic, and the outcome vote fell within what one would expect if the simulated situation had been real.Read More
On Tuesday this week, President Obama delivered an address at Georgetown University where he outlined a comprehensive strategy for addressing climate change. His speech discussed broad range measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to promote the development of renewable energy (especially through nuclear power and controversial use of fracking), to protect the US coastline from sea-level rise and flooding, and to pursue a global climate deal.Read More
The end of 2012 saw the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) celebrating its 20th anniversary amid widespread praise for the results it has attained. The programme was established in 1991, on the initiative of US Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar. Its purpose is to secure and dismantle weapons of mass destruction and related equipment and infrastructures in the former Soviet Union. Over time, it provided crucial assistance in dismantling Soviet nuclear weapons and delivery systems, destroying chemical weapons, and securing stockpiles of fissile material. CTR also oversaw the elimination of former-Soviet nuclear weapons from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus.Read More
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
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
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