VERTIC hosts NPT side-event on disarmament verification

Tuesday 8 May 2012 saw VERTIC host a side-event at the NPT PrepCom meeting in Vienna on the issue of multilateral nuclear disarmament verification. This event – hosted together with ISS Africa and with input from the New Agenda Coalition – included three presentations: one by VERTIC Researcher David Cliff; one by Michiel Combrink, representing the New Agenda Coalition; and one by VERTIC Senior Researcher David Keir.

Mr Cliff’s presentation addressed the potential advantages of adopting multilateral approaches to the verification of nuclear warhead dismantlement. His presentation opened with the proposition that the dismantlement of nuclear warheads ‘underpins the concept of nuclear disarmament’. To be considered disarmed of nuclear weapons, Mr Cliff said, ‘one can make the case that a state must not be in possession of any “usable” nuclear warheads.’ And while judgements over usability may be informed by a state’s capability to reliably deliver a warhead to a target, ‘dismantlement, while reversible, arguably represents the baseline for what constitutes a warhead’s inability to be used’, Mr Cliff said.

This presentation discussed three possible advantages that the multilateral verification of warhead dismantlement might entail. First, it would lead to ‘increased international validity in the outcome,’ Mr Cliff said. Second, it represents a means of turning nuclear disarmament into a ‘global collaborative endeavour’. And third, it was argued that such an approach would be beneficial because of the ‘opportunities it presents for the promotion of dialogue and greater understanding among parties on the issues and complexities involved.'
The presentation – which also outlines a number of possible scenarios where multilateral verification approaches could be incorporated – can be found in full here.
For his part, Mr Combrink presented on the working paper of the New Agenda Coalition entitled: ‘Multilateral nuclear disarmament verification: applying the principles of irreversibility, verifiability and transparency’. This paper – available for download here – notes that the verification of nuclear disarmament measures ‘is an indispensable element in the fulfilment of the nuclear disarmament obligations resulting from article VI of the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation] Treaty.’ And that warhead dismantlement and the verification of fissile material permanently removed from military programmes ‘are therefore important matters that will need to be dealt with as increasing progress is made on the path to a world free of nuclear weapons.’
The coalition’s paper laments the fact that, notwithstanding current activities under the US-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, ‘no further progress has been made in the development of appropriate legally binding verification arrangements, in the context of the IAEA, to strengthen safeguards in the nuclear-weapon States in support of nuclear disarmament measures.’ At present, voluntary offer safeguards agreements covering fissile material in nuclear-weapon states can still be withdrawn from safeguards and used in the development of nuclear weapons, the coalition note. ‘These measures therefore do not give effect to the principles of irreversibility, verifiability and transparency as agreed to at previous [NPT] Review Conferences and provide no assurances regarding the irreversible removal of fissile material from military programmes, particularly weapons-grade highly enriched uranium and plutonium designated as no longer required for military purposes.’
Dr Keir then presented on the technical challenges and opportunities in future multilateral nuclear disarmament verification. This presentation focused on the technical issues associated with the verified dismantlement of nuclear warheads, an issue that over recent years has been addressed as part of a collaborative research project between the UK and Norway.
In his presentation – available in full here – Dr Keir noted that, above all, any inspection team needs to ‘credibly represent the states who are stakeholders to the dismantlement operation’, as well as being ‘technically credible’ in its own right. This, he said, means that a team must be composed of personnel that are recognised as being competent to carry out agreed verification measures, that there are no conflicted affiliations among inspectors, and that where nuclear weapons design information is likely to be revealed, considerations must be made for the fact that one or more of the team may have to be from an NPT nuclear-weapon state.
Dr Keir also discussed the requirements to secure boundaries and ‘sweep’ dismantlement areas to ensure that they are free from radioactive sources (before and after dismantlement operations). And he discussed the essential importance of maintaining a ‘chain-of-custody’ throughout the dismantlement process – to ensure against any diversion of materials, and to ensure that no gaps in custody lead to shortfalls in confidence. Dr Keir noted that while some technologies relevant for use in nuclear warhead dismantlement verification are relatively mature, others (such as ‘information barrier’ devices) are not yet fit-for-purpose and require further development.
VERTIC wishes to thank Noel Stott of ISS Africa for chairing this event, and Michiel Combrink of the New Agenda Coalition for his contribution.

Last changed: May 09 2012 at 12:16 PM