Wilton Park conference on verification

Posted by Andreas Persbo (andreas.persbo) on Jun 26 2012
VERTIC Blog >> Arms Control and Disarmament

Last week, VERTIC and Wilton Park held their second conference on verification, this time focusing on arms control and disarmament verification. The first conference was held in June 2011, to mark VERTIC's 25th Anniversary. Since Wilton Park conferences are held in strict confidence, no names or affiliations can be mentioned in this write-up. Nevertheless, this post will attempt to summarize the main themes coming out of the meeting.

 
The first thing that came out from the discussion is that the verification community has changed over the last few decades, it has become much bigger, and the debate has deepened. In 1986 - by the time VERTIC was founded - the only intergovernmental organization dealing with verification was the IAEA. Now, several more bodies exist. In the words of one participant, ‘the field of verification has come of age’.
 
Another main point relates to the massive strides in technology development over the last few decades. One participant held that the verification community has not ‘scratched the surface’ of the use of technology, and ‘neither have governments’. High technology is becoming the ‘property of everyone’, according to another contributor. In this age, it is important to re-think the proportions between distance monitoring and on-site inspection. In addition, technology forms a bridge to youth, who need to be attracted to work in this field. The next generation of professionals should be attracted, as many present verification tasks are for perpetuity. The verification regimes are designed to ‘be around for ever’.
 
It was remarked that technology alone has never been solely relied upon to provide effective verification. Rather, effective verification is supplied by a number of techniques working together. It was also said, though, that the practice of verification is evolving towards more cooperative and innovative uses of technology.
 
A third point was related to resources. First, governments cannot be expected to ‘generate ideas’ in an environment of shrinking budgets. In addition, it may be necessary to think about lowering the general verification burden for small states with low or no levels of industry. In some cases, the verification burden is so big, that governments do not contribute to the regime. One way of getting around this is to reduce or streamline the burden of reporting.
 
One particular item of discussion was the verification of the Biological Weapons Convention. One participant argued that inspections in Iraq were ‘carried out against conventional wisdom’. In the participant’s view, the perception that the treaty itself in unverifiable is firmly entrenched. The myth, it was argued, is that inspections do not work, whereas proof indicates that inspections compelled Iraq to eventually admit its biological weapons programme. There is some evidence for civil society monitoring in this field, the establishment of the BioWeapons Monitor initiative of the Bioweapons Prevention Project  was raised, , although it is far from achieving the role of its counterparts in the landmine and cluster munition regimes and some States still struggle with civil society involvement in the regime at all. This does not mean that one could not envision a greater role for civil society verification of CBRN obligations in the future. The world of information technology is a new and emerging area. It is new ground worth exploring, but it requires careful consideration. Political and legal protection of whistleblowers, for instance, is critical, but may also be problematic.
 
The meeting also discussed the proposed zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. In the view of participants, this process is ‘novel’. Without doubt, the ‘initiative has to come from the Middle East’. One of the main challenges will be to integrate verification efforts relating to all weapons systems (nuclear, biological and chemical) as well as the verification systems relating to ballistic missiles. There will be a trade-off in selecting between a regional and an international organisation carrying out verification activities.
 
The meeting also heard reflections on the future of the UK-Norway Initiative on nuclear warhead dismantlement verification, of which VERTIC was part until 2010. In the view of some participants, the value of the initiative is mostly related to issues of multilateralism, civil society, and technological development. We heard that some participants want the effort to be “concrete and relevant”.
 
The organizers and participants considered this conference a great success and VERTIC intends to continue this cooperation with Wilton Park to host more verification-themed conferences in the coming years.

Last changed: Jun 26 2012 at 2:06 PM

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