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VERTIC Blog >> Verification and Monitoring
Jan 06 2016, 3:35 PM

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?

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Aug 04 2015, 5:00 PM

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.

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Verification and Monitoring
Feb 04 2015, 6:55 PM

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.

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Nov 17 2014, 6:16 PM

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. 

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Oct 02 2014, 10:25 AM

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.

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Jul 25 2014, 1:02 PM
Sitting at the heart of nuclear verification is a paradox: international inspectors need to gain the highest possible confidence that an object provided for inspection is what it is claimed to be, for example, a nuclear warhead. However, at the same time the inspectors must not learn anything about the object that could be considered classified, as all information surrounding the design of nuclear weapons can potentially be used for proliferative purposes.
 
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Verification and Monitoring
Jul 02 2014, 5:27 PM

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.

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Feb 25 2014, 6:53 PM
On 13 February 2014, 26 countries met with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in Washington, DC, to launch the new Global Health Security Agenda(GHS Agenda). Over the next five years the US, other WHO member states and international organisations will assist at least 30 partner countries to fulfil the three principles of prevention, detection and response to disease outbreaks at the source of those outbreaks – be they naturally occurring or caused by the accidental or intentional release of dangerous pathogens.
 
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Verification and Monitoring
Jan 21 2014, 6:54 PM

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.

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Oct 08 2013, 3:20 PM
For the first time since 2006, the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has unanimously supported a resolution on the agency’s international nuclear safeguards. The resolution was adopted during the last hours of this year’s General Conference which took place in September at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna and is the largest annual meeting of IAEA member states. Over the years, the resolution has become one of the highlights of the conference and is often the focus of long and protracted negotiations over its drafting and language.
 
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Aug 16 2013, 5:59 PM

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.

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Verification and Monitoring
Aug 01 2013, 2:13 PM

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.

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Jul 12 2013, 4:35 PM
As the IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security recently reviewed its current and future approaches towards nuclear security, there are rumors of upcoming talks between the Agency and Iran in August. This would be the first time both parties discuss the possibility of pursuing negotiations since the election of Hassan Rouhani, who is expected to take over as Iranian president during the same month.
 
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Jun 28 2013, 3:05 PM

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. 

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Verification and Monitoring
Jun 10 2013, 12:29 PM

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.

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Verification and Monitoring
May 31 2013, 1:07 PM
On 29 May it emerged that the British government has given the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, fresh allegations of three new incidents of chemical weapons use by Syrian government forces in March and April this year. This development once again raises the question: if proven accurate, will this trigger foreign intervention to end the civil conflict that has, over the last two years, consumed an estimated 80,000 lives?
 
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May 10 2013, 1:25 PM
Last week, the the Egyptian delegation publicly announced its formal withdrawal from the 2013 NPT ‘PrepCom’ meeting in Geneva. The walkout was staged in protest over the failure to set a date for an international conference on the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction free zone in Middle East. The conference was originally scheduled for December 2012, as part of a set of actions outlined in the final document adopted by the 2010 NPT Review Conference. However, in late November it was announced that the conference would be postponed to a non-specified future date due to conditions in the region and disagreements among the proposed participants. Notably, Iran’s position was not entirely clear, and Israel had not agreed to participate.
 
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Verification and Monitoring
May 02 2013, 7:49 PM

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?

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Apr 25 2013, 4:26 PM
On Monday, 22 April, the Preparatory Committee to the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons opened its second session in Geneva. VERTIC will attend part of the two-week event, the purpose of which is ‘to consider principles, objectives and ways in order to promote the full implementation of the Treaty, as well as its universality, and to make recommendations thereon to the Review Conference,’ as agreed in 1995 by NPT states parties when they decided to indefinitely extend the treaty and strengthen its review process.
 
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Apr 18 2013, 6:07 PM
Over recent weeks, rising tensions between the West and North Korea have pushed Syria and its 70,000 dead down the global news agenda, but as the conflict there goes on, British scientists are now reported to have found hard evidence of chemical weapons use in the country. It is a development that, if correct, marks the first proof of its kind amid a sea of accusations and counter-claims. The findings were reported by The Times of London on 12 April. According to the paper, scientists at the Ministry of Defence's chemical and biological research establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire, found traces of chemicals from a weapon in a soil sample brought out of Syria by Britain's foreign intelligence service, MI6.
 
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Apr 12 2013, 4:28 PM

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.

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Verification and Monitoring
Apr 05 2013, 6:21 PM

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.

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Mar 28 2013, 12:07 PM
As remembered recently here on the VERTIC website, 25 years ago—on 16 March 1988—Iraqi planes attacked the Kurdish town of Halabja in northern Iraq with poison gas and nerve agents. The assault, which took place alongside the so-called Anfal campaign of genocide then being waged by Saddam Hussein against Iraq’s Kurdish minority, left some 5,000 people dead. Thousands more were injured. Today, 25 years on from Halabja, the use (or alleged use) of chemical weapons is making headlines once again. This time the focus is on Syria, where last week both the Assad government and the rebel opposition accused each other of using chemical weapons in an incident in the north of country, near to the now mostly ruined city of Aleppo.
 
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Mar 24 2013, 1:13 PM
On Wednesday 20 March, The Guardianreported that several media companies and banks in South Korea were hit by a suspected cyber-attack at around 14:00 local time. The companies’ IT systems were disrupted, and ATMs and mobile banking services were also impacted. Lim Jong-in, Dean of the Graduate School of Information Security, Korea University, told the Associated Press ‘It's got to be a hacking attack’…‘Such simultaneous shutdowns cannot be caused by technical glitches.’
 
 
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Mar 14 2013, 2:23 PM

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.’

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Mar 07 2013, 1:58 PM
A quarter of a century has nearly gone by since the poison gas attack on the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja on 16 March 1988. The attack—by Iraqi forces, then also in their eighth year of fighting against Iran—left thousands dead: killed by a vicious mix of chemical agents; dead in their homes, in their vehicles, in the streets; dead trying to run, dead trying to hide. Nowadays widely considered an act of genocide, the massacre stands as one of the signature acts of repression against Iraq's Kurdish minority by Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein during the long, brutal years of his dictatorship. Today, of course, Saddam himself is dead and gone, captured and ultimately hanged following the US-led invasion of Iraq, his regime replaced by a shaky democracy. But in a time of ongoing conflict in Syria, another country whose repressive government (such as remains of it) is known to have stockpiles of chemical weapons, the possibility of another Halabja is all too real.
 
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Mar 01 2013, 12:43 PM
The Mandiant Report, released last week, has given celebrity status to a previously unknown computer security firm. Detailing the tactics and organisation of the supposed Chinese military cyber defence wing—entitled Unit 61398 or referred to by Mandiant as APT 1 (standing for Advanced Persistent Threat 1)—Mandiant’s in-depth report grew to prominence due to its reporting on the recent major attacks on the New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and the Wall Street Journal.
 
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Verification and Monitoring
Feb 21 2013, 3:34 PM

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.

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Verification and Monitoring
Feb 14 2013, 8:09 PM

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.

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Jan 31 2013, 6:24 PM
Last month, the routine six-monthly extension of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights was issued alongside expressions of serious concern at escalating violence in its area of operations and repeated, increasingly brazen violations of the 1974 Israeli-Syrian ceasefire pact that led to its formation. The violations in question have taken several forms. Syrian military forces have been observed conducting operations inside the UNDOF-monitored ‘area of separation’, where no military forces from either side are allowed, and both Israeli and Syrian forces have fired across the north-south ceasefire line known as the ‘Alpha’ line, which divides the area of separation from Israeli-occupied Golan. An attack on a UN convoy on 29 November, which left a number of UNDOF personnel wounded, has raised the level of concern still further.
 
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Verification and Monitoring
Jan 24 2013, 8:43 PM
Cyber security is now a key priority in many countries’ national policy agendas and its importance to states will continue to grow into the foreseeable future. The fundamentally transboundary nature of cyber space means that a considerable portion of government, and other stakeholders’, efforts needs to be put into identifying and agreeing to rules of the road that enable the opportunities cyber space has to offer to be fully realised and its potential for disruption to be minimised.
 
 
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Jan 10 2013, 7:30 PM

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.

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Dec 20 2012, 12:09 PM
Last week, VERTIC’s Andreas Persbo and David Cliff attended the annual December conference on nuclear non-proliferation at Wilton Park in West Sussex. The meeting, which brought together more than 70 diplomats, commentators, academics and think-tankers to discuss a broad range of current issues in the world of nuclear arms control—from the state of progress under the ‘action plan’ agreed at the 2010 NPT review conference, to nuclear security, ‘latent’ proliferation, the prospect of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, US nuclear policy in the run-up to the 2015 conference, and many other topics besides.
 
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Dec 14 2012, 12:29 PM

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.

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Verification and Monitoring
Nov 23 2012, 4:05 PM
In September, Angela Woodward wrote about the UN Secretary-General’s report on Disarmament Education (see UN document A/57/124). She also highlighted the subsequent updated reports of the Secretary-General, and in particular the July 2012 report (see UN document A/67/138). This report makes for an interesting read.
 
 
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Nov 02 2012, 12:57 AM

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.

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