The IAEA safeguards resolution: return to consensus

Posted by () on Oct 08 2013
VERTIC Blog >> Verification and Monitoring
Sonia Drobysz and Hassan Elbahtimy, London
This article was published in the 142nd edition of Trust & Verify. It is published here with a few additions.
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. Recent episodes of the resolution’s journey were chronicled by Andreas Persbo on this blog in 2011 and on the ACW in 2012.
The resolution goes back a long way. It was first introduced in 1991 by Australia and 12 other countries to support efforts to strengthen the effectiveness and efficiency of the agency’s safeguards. At that time, the resolution enjoyed wide support and was adopted by consensus. This was largely due to the agency’s experience of safeguards implementation in Iraq that had highlighted gaps, vulnerabilities but also what many considered as systematic shortcomings in the application of nuclear safeguards.
Ever since, however, the resolution has grown both in length and complexity to reflect the main safeguards issues of the day. In the early nineties it echoed growing appreciation of the importance of extending verification to undeclared sites and facilities. In 1997, it started to include references in support of the Additional Protocol. From 2006, it has been linked with various issues related to the Middle East fuelled by Arab states’ frustration on lack of progress on a regional nuclear weapons free zone as well as controversies related to the Iranian nuclear issue. The consensus on the resolution eventually broke in 2007 and since then the future of the resolution has been subject to annual speculation. The adoption of the resolution by consensus is particularly significant this year given that the conference did not adopt one in 2011 and was passed last year with a majority vote rather than consensus.

This year’s resolution includes notable changes that potentially mark a departure from the resolutions adopted in previous years. Importantly, the title of the resolution has changed. When first introduced in 1991, the resolution was simply called ‘Strengthening the safeguards system.’ After the introduction of the Additional Protocol in 1997, it was replaced with a rather long title but one that reflected the development of the new instrument: ‘Strengthening the effectiveness and improving the efficiency of the safeguards system and application of the Model Additional Protocol.’ This year’s resolution went back to a pre-1997 formula and removed the reference to the Additional Protocol from the resolution’s title.
Also interestingly, the newly adopted resolution seems to have been purged from most references to the ‘State-level’ concept, which has been the focus of many discussions in the IAEA recently. As described by IAEA’s Director General Amano in the Board of Governors meeting earlier in September, the concept ‘involves giving consideration to a State as a whole, rather than focusing primarily on declared nuclear material and facilities.’ The Director General re-emphasised the role of the State-level concept in his address to the General Conference by stating that ‘the State-level approach […] is indispensable to discharge […] safeguards responsibilities under budget constraints,’ as it enables the agency to concentrate its efforts on areas that it considers to have greater safeguards significance.
Individual state-level approaches are currently being implemented in 53 countries, and the concept itself is supported by the European Union and the United States among others. Nonetheless, other states have been vocal in expressing their concerns about the risk of discriminatory application of safeguards and that political factors could affect or influence safeguards implementation and evaluation. They also raise issues focusing on the agency’s use of a wide and expanding spectrum of information These concerns have posed some challenges to wider acceptance of the concept.
As part of the on-going discussion in the agency about the State-level concept, the IAEA secretariat reported on the ‘conceptualization and development’ of the concept to this year’s September meeting of the Board of Governors (as it was requested to do by last year’s General Conference). The report, however, did not meet some states’ expectations. For example, Russia in its statement to the General Conference, took note of the report but said that the work of the Secretariat was ‘far from complete.’ It also pointed out that ‘any changes in the safeguards application methodology shall be subject to discussion among the IAEA member-states, and shall be underpinned by the decision of the IAEA Board of Governors.’ Iran further noted that the State-level concept was ‘still vague and that there are several ambiguities in the Secretariat’s recent report [which] needs further elaboration and clarification.’
This year’s safeguards resolution seems to indicate that a cautious attitude toward the state-level concept had the upper hand. For example, last year’s preambular paragraph ‘m’ in which the General Conference took ‘note of the work being undertaken by the Secretariat in conceptualizing and developing State-level approaches to safeguards’. Also, operative paragraph 20 that urged ‘the Secretariat to continue to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of safeguards through the use of a State-level approach in the planning, implementation and evaluation of safeguards activities’ was deleted from the new resolution.
As these references to the concept were deleted, new text was inserted that reflects the anxieties of some of the states cautious about the State-level concept. In one instance, new language was inserted that stresses that safeguards ‘should remain non-discriminatory and only objective factors should be used to determine safeguards implementation, while political or other extraneous considerations are not included.’ (preambular paragraph ‘r’). In another instance, the new resolution calls on the agency to draw ‘independent objective conclusions using only impartial and technically based evaluation methods.’ (operative paragraph 7) The new resolution also takes note that the Director General will produce a ‘supplementary document’ on State-level approaches providing further clarification and information on the issue.
Disarmament and the application of safeguards in nuclear-weapons states have traditionally occupied a prominent place in discussions on the resolution. This year, they featured again as important issues during negotiations. Failure to agree on disarmament language was one of the reasons, if not the main driver, for the failure to adopt the resolution in 2011. This year’s resolution, however, sees two new preambular paragraphs that specifically address the issue. The first recalls ‘the IAEA Statute and in particular article III.B.1 which states that, in carrying out its functions, the Agency shall conduct its activities […] in conformity with policies of the United Nations furthering the establishment of safeguarded worldwide disarmament and in conformity with any international agreements entered into pursuant to such policies.’ The second further recalls that ‘the 2010 NPT Review Conference in Action 30 of the Final Document called for the wider application of safeguards to peaceful nuclear facilities in the nuclear-weapon States […] and stressed that comprehensive safeguards and additional protocols should be universally applied once complete elimination of nuclear weapons has been achieved.’
This year’s resolution also included some noteworthy changes. A preambular paragraph on the use of open source information, which was included in last year’s resolution was deleted this year. The Iranian delegation has consistently expressed its reservation about this paragraph in previous years. Also a new paragraph was inserted that notes that Agency has been able to draw ‘broader safeguards conclusions’ in 60 countries. It means that for these countries, there are no indications of diversion of declared nuclear material but also no indications of undeclared nuclear material or activities. Significantly, these countries have both comprehensive safeguards agreements and an Additional Protocol in force.
The resolution’s unanimous adoption is certainly a welcome development in as much as it fosters a spirit of cooperation and harmony on a topic that can trigger heated discussions in the agency’s corridors. That said, the resolution is likely to have little bearing on the actual implementation of safeguards since that is governed by international treaties, safeguards agreements and established procedures and practices. The resolution might, however, give some guidance on possible trends for evolution of safeguards practice. Arguably, the resolution’s true value is in how much it reflects state positions on safeguards issues but also in providing room for such positions to mature and evolve, and for observers of the process to follow these developments The consensus achieved this year was based on a fine balance between positions but one that has introduced some daring changes to the resolution. How sustainable this new formula is remains to be seen.

Last changed: Oct 08 2013 at 3:14 PM