Update from the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Conference

Apr 12 2013
VERTIC Blog >> Verification and Monitoring

Andreas Persbo, Washington D.C.

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.

This year opened with a keynote address by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and closed with a discussion with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. Sessions in-between featured speakers such as Rose Gottemoeller, Christopher Ford, Christoph Eichhorn, and Bruno Tertrais. Sessions focussed on topics ranging from ‘Proliferation Implications of New Fuel Cycle Technologies’ to ‘Deterring Cyber and Space-Based Threats.’

Verification, monitoring or implementation featured only occasionally, and not very prominently. Most of the discussion revolved around the on-going Iranian situation, flaring hostilities between the two Koreas, and the apparent slow-down in talks between the United States and the Russian Federation. Over coffee, one participant characterised the present situation as a “hangover” following several years of optimism and progress. It is difficult to disagree. During breaks, several organisations were highlighting a downturn in funding, and a tendency of states to retreat back into familiar and well-rehearsed positions. And indeed, we heard that in sessions on the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and we heard it in the session on ‘What Nuclear Weapons Can the United States Afford?’ Increasingly, it would seem, non-governmental organisations are asked to come up with the ‘next big thing’ while the sector’s funding base is shrinking.

Leaving pessimism behind, however, Director General Amano was on good form, and delivered a spirited, balanced and well formulated speech. Of interest to us verification practitioners was his emphasis on the Agency’s potential role in nuclear disarmament verification, his remarks on progress of the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, and his comments on the ‘State level concept’ in safeguards implementation.

Mr. Amano correctly noted that, “the IAEA is not a nuclear disarmament negotiation body; it is rather the conference of disarmament in Geneva or the first committee in United Nations that negotiates the nuclear disarmament agreements or bilateral negotiations have taken place.” And indeed, overall conference participants appeared to support the operation of existing, albeit dysfunctional, multilateral fora.

According to Mr. Amano, however, the Agency can contribute with technical insights. He held that, “What the IAEA can contribute is to make its expertise, gained through verification, available for the countries, if so requested.” Very helpfully, he pointed out that “the IAEA helped to verify the disposal and dismantlement of nuclear weapons when South Africa abandoned nuclear weapons and joined the IAEA as a nonnuclear weapon state. If there are requests,” he noted, “the IAEA is ready to do more too in the area of verification of nuclear disarmament.”

On the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, Mr. Amano, responding to a question from the floor, highlighted that “there are discussions how to deal with the disposal. There are various techniques. Shall we irradiate it in the reactors, or shall we store it or shall we dispose it? These aspects should be addressed. We need to address the financial aspects; we need to define the role of the IAEA. So this is not an easy, simple task, but we have been working on this issue. Rounds of discussions have taken place. And we are continuing these efforts.” Others in the conference that I spoke to, however, were less optimistic about the prospects of getting PMDA verification arrangements agreed. One diplomat, for instance, told me that the agreement had been stalled, and that progress was slow.

Finally, in respect to safeguards, it should be recalled that the IAEA General Conference in September 2012 requested that the Secretariat reports “to the Board of Governors on the conceptualization and development of the State-level concept for safeguards.” (see GC(56)/RES/13). This report is still pending. At least one member state oppose the concept of a state level approach, maintaining that the safeguards system should be materials-driven.

There are several views of what is driving this sudden interest in an arcane area of safeguards implementation. Opinions are also divided on how the Agency should handle this request, and what the consequences might be if it is done so poorly. Mr. Amano stressed that the Agency treats all its member states in an equitable fashion. He said that they “use the standards that all the countries have to implement fully the comprehensive safeguards and other relevant obligations.” He was also careful to point out that there “is not such a thing that, well, some countries, we – our safeguard approach is generous, or some country’s approach is strict. We apply the same rule, that is, the comprehensive safeguard and relevant obligations.” The Director General’s full report is expected later this year.

Last changed: Apr 15 2013 at 10:01 AM

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