Wilton Park Verification Conference

Posted by Andreas Persbo (andreas.persbo) on Jul 02 2014
VERTIC Blog >> Verification and Monitoring

Three weeks ago, David Keir, our Programme Director for Verification and Monitoring, and I returned from a two-day conference at Wilton Park named ‘Verification: Global capacity challenges’. The conference was sponsored by Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC), the US State Department and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office. This was the third conference in a series of meetings on verification. The first, ‘Uncertain futures: where next for multilateral verification?’ was held in 2010. The second, ‘Verification in the 21st Century - technological, political and institutional challenges and opportunities’ was held in 2011.

The conference discussed the future of verification, and the need for verification practitioners to be mindful of the great technological and scientific advances of our time. At the same time, the opening session did highlight how the verification enterprise has evolved---highlighting in particular the great leap of the 1990s.

The conference heard a number of presentations on societal verification. In particular, how civil society organisations through the use of crowdsourcing can reach accurate conclusions in a relatively short time. The conference also heard how civil society is embracing technologies which, up to relatively recently, have been available only to national intelligence services. In particular, satellite imagery is becoming cheaper and more available, and the coverage is continually improving. The meeting heard that the vast amount of data available on social media can be mined for information. Twitter alone generates 170bn messages per day. While this information can be used to detect and potentially respond to emergencies and other high-profile events such as the London riots, its value for arms control verification was unclear.

The conference heard a presentation on the US-UK initiative on warhead verification. The two countries have, for more than a decade, been collaborating on issues relating to warhead verification. The first exercise under the initiative was held in the United Kingdom in 2002. It looks to identify and develop technologies and procedures to: Protect sensitive information, increase monitoring confidence in warhead dismantlement, provide chain-of-custody throughout the dismantlement process and monitor storage of highly enriched uranium and plutonium resulting from nuclear weapon dismantlement.

The US-UK initiative is significant as the two countries have legal arrangements in place to enable the controlled dissemination of classified information. What this means in practice is that exercises can be set up to trial initial uncertain concepts with little risk of breaching national classification rules. Measurements can, for instance, be made on real nuclear weapon systems.

Presently, the initiative is considering a vast array of issues, such as:

  • A systems approach for the development of monitoring regimes;
  • Equipment design principles to allow certification and authentication information protection;
  • Data authentication, acquisition, and management;
  • Next Generation of Tamper Indicating Devices, Enclosures, and systems;
  • Next Generation Attribute Measurement Systems that can adequately measure a wide variety of device designs;
  • Understanding sensitivities of information contained in data sets; and
  • Methodology to confirm that the object is truly a nuclear warhead

Sessions on fissile material disposition and the future of safeguards focused on the applicability of existing regimes onto disarmament situations. Of particular interest was the presentation on the Trilateral Initiative. This initiative, more than a decade old now, was never institutionalised by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It’s conclusions and methodology are still relevant for the task of disposing sensitive fissionable material originating from weapons. Many participants highlighted that it was time to make the documents public so that the initiative can be updated in light of current technology. The IAEA State Level Concept (SLC) was also highlighted. One participant noted that the SLC “contribute to a more even debate between [nuclear weapon states] and [non-nuclear weapon states] on verification and disarmament”. In particular, many agreed that a desirable end state for the disarmament effort is to bring all states in under comprehensive Agency safeguards.

Finally, the meeting heard presentations on how various verification regimes could be joined in respect to the Middle East WMD-Free Zone. It also heard two compelling presentations on recent verification and monitoring efforts in Syria.

Last changed: Jul 02 2014 at 4:36 PM