Nuclear warhead dismantlement exercise held in Norway

Posted by David Cliff (david.cliff) on Jul 05 2012
VERTIC Blog >> Arms Control and Disarmament
David Cliff, London
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. The first was in 2011, involving students from King's College London while the second had taken place earlier in June 2012 - also involving students from King's.

These simulations have their roots in the so-called UK-Norway Initiative on verified nuclear warhead dismantlement: a collaborative endeavour (and one that remains ongoing) between the United Kingdom and Norway to investigate the technical issues surrounding verified dismantlement, especially with regard to the involvement of non-nuclear-weapon states. Where the involvement of such states is envisaged in dismantlement verification, health and safety and national security concerns need to be overlaid with concerns over the possible leakage of nuclear weapon design information. Even the inadvertent transfer of such information to a non-nuclear-weapon state with no intention to develop nuclear weapons could represent a breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And that is a position no nuclear-weapon state would like to be in, and a charge none would want to have to answer.

For the German students taking part in last week's simulation, these issues were uppermost in their minds as they negotiated access to the mock dismantlement facility for both a 'familiarisation visit' and an actual monitoring visit. Germany, as a non-nuclear-weapon state, would face exactly the same degree of restrictions as Norway were it to at some stage become involved with a verified warhead dismantlement process.
In the end, the student inspectors negotiated a protocol that resulted in them reaching a conclusion of reasonably high confidence that dismantlement of one nuclear warhead had occurred as declared. They coped admirably, too, with the mischievous inclusion of a 'second source' in the dismantlement room. By performing radiation measurements on this source before and after dismantlement, and by negotiating that the hatch to where the source was located was monitored at all times by a notional CCTV camera, the inspectors were able to adeptly negotiate their way around this potential pitfall - or outright show-stopper - in the verification exercise.
During the week, VERTIC's Executive Director Andreas Persbo, Senior Researcher David Keir and myself all delivered lectures on various aspects of warhead dismantlement verification. Mr Persbo talked about the main factors that would, should and could influence negotiations over a verification protocol, Dr Keir spoke on the various technical aspects of the process and the kinds of technical tools that can be used, and I gave a presentation outlining some of the key factors that - to my mind - can help make for a successful dismantlement inspection.
There are, I argued, five factors that can underpin a successful dismantlement exercise of this kind. The first is that their ought to be clarity over mission purpose and procedure - essentially meaning that a good inspection mission needs a 'meaningful' declaration to be provided by the host party, and that both sides need to have agreed on as many procedural matters as possible before the dismantlement and inspection process begins. Procedural matters are set out in a verification protocol - which the Hamburg students spent several days, and nights, working on - and the more detailed and ambiguity-free this document is, I argued, the less chance there is for confusion and arguments to arise later.
Second, I spoke of the need for their to be sufficient - but not indefinite - time allotted for negotiations and familiarisation. Negotiations cannot be allowed to go for ever, I argued, if a host party was looking to stall and stall, for instance, or if inspectors were forever pushing and pushing against an immovable red-line. Ultimately, a kind of balance needs to be found, because the final objective is not to sit in rooms and debate how things should be done but to reach a point where what is going to be done can be done with a sufficiently high degree of inspection confidence.
Third I identified the need for inspectors to have access to appropriate equipment, certified and authenticated for use - so that both the host and inspecting party have confidence in the technical tools (radiation measuring devices and so on) being used inside the dismantlement facility. Fourth was the need for the 'right' team, and especially for an inspection team to have a strong team leader and lead negotiator.
And last, but by no means least (and indeed perhaps most importantly of all), I stressed the need for all parties to have the right attitude to the verification mission. These kind of inspections - which are conceived of being between a state wanting to dismantle in good faith and an inspection team wanting to confirm that dismantlement took place, not to steal secrets or proliferative information - are not zero-sum games. Verified warhead dismantlement of this kind is a collaborative endeavour. The objective is not to get one over on the other side but to work together to reach a conclusion that the inspection team is comfortable with and which reflects well on the hosting party. Put simply, I argued, for a nuclear warhead dismantlement verification mission to be a success, both sides effectively have to win. If either side 'loses', the whole endeavour has failed. And each side needs to be aware of that at all times - and the students from Hamburg understood that well.
My thanks to Ibrahim Said at the University of Oslo and Ole Reistad of the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority for inviting me to take part in what was an extremely interesting and lively week in Norway. If the doubling of exercises that took place between last year and this year is anything to go by, this initiative has a long way to run - and great scope left to expand.

Last changed: Jul 05 2012 at 3:58 PM