Student-led warhead dismantlement exercise held in Norway
|Jun 24 2011|
|VERTIC Blog >> Arms Control and Disarmament|
Kristiane Roe Hammer, London
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.
The Kingdom of Wum invites an inspector team from the Republic of Kom to verify the dismantlement of one Zima-class gravity bomb.’ To make the experience as realistic and authentic as possible the 20 students that took part in the exercise were divided into host and inspector team right from the start. Names for the fictitious states and their national institutions involved in the dismantlement were given. The ‘Kingdom of Wum’ got a nuclear weapons laboratory called Los Ølamos Laboratories (abbreviated LOL) and the ‘Republic of Kom’ had their nuclear research centre situated in 32 Oppenheimer Boulevard. Both teams had also developed flags for their nations and letterheads to make all documents look authentic. All this happened three weeks before the teams were to gather in Oslo, and the competition was on for being the best-prepared team. Roles were divided amongst the team members. Each team needed a team leader, nuclear physicists with expertise on subjects such as information barrier technology, managed access, tags and seals and nuclear weapon design. There were also experts on negotiations and treaties and all of the personnel had to get ready for their tasks through reading and ‘training’.
Upon arrival in Norway the intensive week we had in front got underway. Negotiating the verification procedures for the dismantlement seemed an incredible task. As inspectors, the pressure not to forget any small factor that could lead to an increased or decreased level of confidence in the actual dismantlement process taking place was immense. Even though our delegation had spent hours poring over plans for the chain-of-custody of the nuclear bomb, and had our detailed sketch of the dismantlement flow ready with tags and seals and CCTV points, the task ahead seemed overwhelming. Sleeping became a point of low priority, with four hours of sleep being a good night and two to three being the norm. The first day was spent in lectures that really made us aware of the task at hand and the difficulties that lay ahead. Dr. Nikolai Sokov from the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies at Monterey Institute of International Studies, talked about the importance of verifiable treaties and shared with us his personal anecdotes from when he participated in the START I and START II negotiations. Andreas Persbo from VERTIC briefed and quizzed us on the legal standards of disarmament and made us realize just how much there was to negotiate and what to keep in mind. The afternoon was dedicated to each team preparing a national strategy, a negotiation position paper and a national statement. This session lasted well into the night back at the hotel.
The first day of negotiations was tough. The hosts presented the inspectors with their draft for a verification procedure annex for the familiarization visit and the actual monitoring visit during the dismantlement. The inspector team realized that they should have probably done the same as this put pressure on them to come up with their changes. The negotiations went on for hours even though it was only the familiarization visit that was being negotiated. Lacking the basic necessities, such as a floor plan of the facility, it was very difficult for the inspector team to know what exactly they were dealing with. By the end of the day, there were attempts at fast-tracking the negotiations with both team leaders keen to reach an agreement... Eventually, a number of changes were agreed upon and the host team were tasked with rewriting the annex. The next day, the familiarization visit was scheduled to begin at 10.20 am, but the inspectors had by that time not yet received the updated annex and refused to conduct a visit without having seen what they had agreed upon. When the annex came the inspectors felt it was not as agreed upon and a stalemate developed – only broken when time ran out and the hosts promised a second familiarization visit if the inspectors were not satisfied after the initial one.
The inspector team was taken aback at the first round of negotiations being so heavy-going. Based on the invitation and the common goal of developing a model for warhead dismantlement verification they had assumed cooperation and partnership instead of stalemates and harsh treatment. At the same time, the hosts were perhaps surprised at how far the inspectors expected them to go in allowing inspector intrusiveness, and they had also apologized for the first day’s delays (blaming it on printing issues). The inspectors wanted to set a precedent for future dismantlement verification while it seemed to them that the hosts mostly wanted a show for the international audience. As the inspectors felt that they had been met with hostility right away it was hard to build confidence from then on.
Nonetheless, the familiarization visit was conducted to the satisfaction of both parties and, indeed, dressing up in heavy protective wear and inspecting the dismantlement facility made for an exciting experience. Six of the inspectors were allowed to spend 30 minutes inside the facility. It had been agreed upon that host personnel would take Polaroid photos on the instructions of the inspector team; these were to be used for planning the visit and were to be kept in the inspector work station and sealed along with the inspector notepads by the inspectors only to be jointly reviewed.
When the negotiations again stalemated, the inspectors refused to budge on wanting to both sweep the room and to see the nuclear warhead (or the bomb casing, as this was a gravity bomb). This had all along been our goal and what would give us confidence in the actual dismantlement, but sweeping was our red line and not negotiable. The hosts were quick in linking the sweeping and seeing the bomb casing in saying that it would have to be the one or the other. The inspectors felt pushed to accept this but as a last resort stressed the fact that because the hosts in their opinion were being very little forthcoming through the whole process they would have to write in the final report that they could guarantee that an actual dismantlement had taken place with only a ‘low level of confidence’. It was our hope that they would start caring about what the international society would think, and the fact that this would not reflect well on the host nation. This made the negotiations much more interesting; now it felt as though the host nation realized just what was at stake also for them.
The hosts blamed their reluctance in letting the inspectors see the warhead on the fact that the Article I of the NPT binds nuclear weapon states to not disclose any information that could help a non-nuclear state in developing nuclear weapons. The inspection team, on the other hand, stressed the fact that the type of bomb under mock dismantlement was purported to be an antiquated weapon and argued against accepting that the warhead casing represented classified information. We presented the hosts with a slideshow of close to a hundred photos of warheads from different nations quickly assembled from open sources. Still, this seemed to make little impression on the hosts and because of a lack of time before the scheduled monitoring visit we had to agree to disagree if the visit was to take place at all. As a result, the final report was to state that we had only verified the dismantlement with ‘low confidence’. A disappointment for us (and the world), but at least the hosts felt safe. The monitoring visit was subsequently conducted, using the ‘Odin’ weapon developed during the actual UK-Norway Initiative as well as their information barrier – both of which added to the authenticity of the whole process.
After the exercise came to an end I think we all felt great relief and on the train back to Oslo people were tired but smiling. I do not think that I have ever learned so much (or slept so little) in just five days! There were so many interesting points of reflection that came from the exercise. Even after studying non-proliferation and dismantlement exclusively for close to a year, the exercise put a lot of things into perspective and showed how difficult verification can actually be. In this field it is easy to become very detached from practicalities. We strive for nuclear disarmament and global zero, but exercises like this shows how crucial both trust and science are to actually getting there. During this exercise, physicists and policy people met and tried to look into all sides of the dismantlement process. If there is anything that is politically impossible, ‘science diplomacy’ will have to be adopted; this is how the information barrier came into being. If inspectors are not allowed to see the warhead or the physics package from a bomb, measuring the content of a container to verify that it actually contains the parts can be a way to work around that.
Last changed: Jun 24 2011 at 4:23 PMBack