By Radwan Jakeem
NEW YORK (IDN) – With the international community persistently striving for a world free of nuclear weapons, verification systems and methods are crucial to understanding the complex challenges of accurately monitoring and verifying future nuclear disarmament activities which will likely subject countries to more intrusive verification than ever before.
Learning from verification experience gained by the U.S. and Russia and dialogues at the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV), the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – USA, Russia, Britain, France and China – in particular and interested States in general can contribute to an effective nuclear weapons ban as envisaged by the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
IPNDV, which started five years ago with the participation of more than 25 countries is a public-private initiative of the U.S. State Department with the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) designed to build capacity among both states with and without nuclear weapons, and develop technical solutions for monitoring and verification challenges.
Over the past three decades, the number of nuclear weapons has decreased considerably – reportedly to about 14,500 – from the peak arsenals of the Cold War. Key to these dramatic reductions, according to disarmament experts, has been the ability of countries to verify each other’s compliance with implementing the arms control treaties.
In order to lay a solid foundation for further reductions in nuclear weapons and advance nuclear disarmament goals enshrined in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), an accurate assessment of monitoring and verification issues across the nuclear weapons lifecycle is of vital importance – from production of fissile material and warheads, warhead inventories, the dismantlement of nuclear weapons, and the disposition of nuclear material resulting from the dismantlement process.
Article VI of the NPT urges each of the Parties to the Treaty to undertake “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”.
Since its first meeting in March 2015, the IPNDV has broken new ground in building a diverse international program of work. Working cooperatively together, the Partners with and without nuclear weapons have made valuable progress in identifying the challenges associated with nuclear disarmament verification and identifying potential procedures and technologies to address those challenges.
The primary focus of Phase I was the monitoring and inspection of a notional nuclear weapon dismantlement process, called the “Basic Dismantlement Scenario”. It comprises steps 6–10 of the Nuclear Weapon Dismantlement Process. Those specific steps are only one part of a broader set of nuclear weapon dismantlement activities and in turn of nuclear disarmament verification.
“The Partnership has made a substantial contribution to understanding and finding approaches to solve this core challenge of nuclear disarmament verification,” noted IPNDV. Specifically, the Partnership’s key judgment is that:
While tough challenges remain, potentially applicable technologies, information barriers, and inspection procedures provide a path forward that should make possible multilaterally monitored nuclear warhead dismantlement while successfully managing safety, security, non-proliferation, and classification concerns in a future nuclear disarmament agreement.
Phase I of the Partnership’s work concluded in November 2017 at the fifth plenary in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In Phase II, the IPNDV deepened its understanding of effective and practical verification options to support future nuclear disarmament verification and demonstrate its work through tangible activities such as exercises and demonstrations.
The IPNDV strived to increase engagement and outreach to the wider nuclear disarmament verification community, including technical and policy groups and academia. In addition, the Partnership shared its work with the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Nuclear Disarmament Verification and Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty members in preparation for the 2020 NPT Review Conference (NPT RevCon) from April 29 to May 10, 2019 at the UN Headquarters in New York.
From December 3-5, 2019, the seventh International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification plenary meeting brought 89 representatives from 24 countries, plus the European Union, to Ottawa, Canada to complete Phase II and to begin planning for Phase III.
The meeting included presentations about practical exercises and technical demonstrations that took the Partnership’s findings “from paper to practice”. Partners focused on technical gaps and policy questions to be addressed in Phase III with the government of Switzerland hosting a kick-off symposium on March 18-19 in Geneva, highlighting the work of the IPNDV and its place in the broader context of nuclear disarmament verification.
The symposium and exhibition just a few weeks ahead the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference from April 27-May 22 at UN Headquarters in New York is important particularly because of its emphasis on the findings of Phase I and II of the IPNDV related to the potential role and limits of technology in nuclear disarmament verification, the utility of practical disarmament verification exercises and demonstrations, and the IPNDV’s work in the broader context of nuclear disarmament.
The IPNDV’s Phase II Summary Report: Moving from Paper to Practice in Nuclear Disarmament Verification, released in January 2020, addressed verification of nuclear weapon declarations, verification of reductions, and technologies for verification.
It is noteworthy that after the 7th plenary meeting in December in Ottawa, IPNDV participants visited the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ Chalk River Site, the historical home to Canada’s first nuclear reactor. They observed demonstrations of experimental techniques for verifying the presence or absence of weapons-grade nuclear materials. These are important tasks for the nuclear disarmament verification process.
The Chalk River demonstration was one of five practical exercises and technology demonstrations conducted during Phase II to advance the Partnership’s ability to identify technologies and procedures that could be applied across all stages of the nuclear weapons dismantlement lifecycle.
In addition to the exercises and demonstrations, Phase II explored how to characterize other monitoring and verification considerations such as state declarations and treaty limitations.
These activities ultimately reinforced the findings of Phase I that multilateral verification of nuclear dismantlement is possible, although it will be challenging and will require a tailored application of verification options—tools, policies, and procedures—to prevent disclosure of proliferation-sensitive safety and security as well as external factors unique to a given country’s nuclear weapons enterprise. [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 February 2020]
Photo: Twenty-two participants from 11 IPNDV partner countries gathered at Forschungszentrum Jülich in Jülich, Germany on September 23, 2019 to participate in the Nuclear Disarmament Verification Exercise, jointly organized by France and Germany. Credit: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Tobias Schlößer.
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