VERTIC's 25th anniversary conference opens

Jun 01 2011
VERTIC Blog >> Arms Control and Disarmament
Today saw the opening of VERTIC's 25th anniversary conference at the Wilton Park conference centre, set in the heart of the English countryside. The conference – ‘Uncertain futures: where next for multilateral verification?’ – has brought together some 50 participants encompassing governments, intergovernmental organisations and civil society groups (including, of course, VERTIC itself). The conference is due to run until Friday afternoon and includes eight sessions in total, two of which were held today. Chatham House rules apply.
The first session of the conference dealt with the role of multilateral verification, its importance and relevance, and the kinds of challenges that multilateral verification endeavours face in the world today. The session heard from two keynote speakers: Vitaly Matsarski, of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Tibor Toth, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation.
Following the speakers’ remarks, the floor opened for comments – and discussion flowed freely. Among the most notable of the issues debated was the possibility of applying the ‘1540 model’ (i.e. UN Security Council-mandated obligations as a way to bring treaty hold-out states into line) to areas such as environmental agreements and the IAEA’s Additional Protocol. Around the room, several argued that it was still perhaps too soon to tell whether or not the 1540 approach was, or indeed is, a successful one. Arguments were made that it could be risky to assume that the 1540 model (a not uncontroversial model it might be said, and one that is still in the process of evolution and evaluation) was applicable and appropriate to other settings.
Aside from the 1540 debate, a good portion of discussion in the first session of the conference centred on the role, achievements and shortcomings of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty – which still lacks a number of important ratifications necessary for it to come into force. The importance of entry-into-force (in order that measures such as the treaty’s consultation and clarification process and the on-site inspection mechanism can be brought into play whenever necessary) was stressed, and the capabilities of the CTBT’s nearly-complete International Monitoring System praised.  
In the second session of the day, conference participants heard first from Ruth Greenspan Bell, a Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute, and Robert Matthews of the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation. In the discussion that followed, issues raised included the difficulty of verification in a world of globalised industry and cross-border (occasionally black-market) trade, and also the possible need to review possible verification mechanisms for the Biological Weapons Convention in light of advances in modern technology.
This second session also heard arguments regarding the distinction between ‘monitoring’ and ‘verification’, two words that are often used interchangeably but which can be, in fact, very different processes indeed – especially so in the context of nuclear verification.
Another key question raised was that of the interplay between verification in the arms control field and verification in the environmental realm. Are these two areas – one of which deals with tangible objects and the other intangible impurities, and one of which arguably tends toward a presumption of guilt while the other arguably leans toward a presumption of innocence – too different to learn from one another? Or, rather, are there areas, particularly in the realm of enforcement mechanisms (exclusion from trading arrangements in particular), where firm common ground can be found.
The VERTIC blog will be updated tomorrow night with highlights of the second day of discussions – a day of four sessions and, undoubtedly, much more of the same lively and informative debate that was heard today.

Last changed: Jun 02 2011 at 2:51 PM