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Cultivating Confidence: Verification, Monitoring and Enforcement for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

Cultivating Confidence: Verification, Monitoring and Enforcement for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

by Corey Hinderstein

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Ten expert contributors present a blueprint for actions future government leaders will need to guide policy making to reduce nuclear dangers. The authors identify the key technical, political, and diplomatic challenges associated with verifying, monitoring, and enforcing a world free of nuclear weapons and provide potential solutions to those challenges.


Ten expert contributors present a blueprint for actions future government leaders will need to guide policy making to reduce nuclear dangers. The authors identify the key technical, political, and diplomatic challenges associated with verifying, monitoring, and enforcing a world free of nuclear weapons and provide potential solutions to those challenges.

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Cultivating Confidence

Verification, Monitoring and Enforcement for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

By Corey Hinderstein

Nuclear Threat Initiative

Copyright © 2010 Nuclear Threat Initiative
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8179-1206-2


Political Dimensions of Determining "Effective" Verification


There is general, though not universal, agreement among political leaders that the current levels of nuclear weapons in the world are much too high for any rational purpose.

Commitment to significant reductions in the levels of nuclear weapons will be very important for nonproliferation goals — in particular, at the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

Reductions to about 1,000 deployed strategic nuclear weapons each for the United States and the Russian Federation could be carried out bilaterally using existing and proven verification techniques.

Reductions to fewer than about 1,000 deployed strategic nuclear weapons would entail increasingly difficult political and technical decisions. These would include how to involve all states with nuclear weapons in the process, how to structure smaller forces, how to maintain deterrence (including extended deterrence), targeting issues, the role of antiballistic missile (ABM) defenses, and, perhaps above all, verification issues. In addition, at this level, we could not continue to ignore tactical and nondeployed nuclear weapons.

At levels below about 50 to 100 nuclear weapons, verification issues would be even more crucial and difficult. Although many arms control verification regimes are in place and operating effectively, these, as they stand today, would not be adequate for providing confidence at very low levels.

If we wish to move toward a world free of nuclear weapons, we must begin now to devise more effective and intrusive verification and transparency regimes. These will obviously apply to the current nuclear weapon states (NWS) and other states with nuclear weapons, but non–nuclear weapon states (NNWS) will also have to accept some such measures. Scientific research to this end should be stepped up. We also need to begin to change the political culture surrounding nuclear weapons; in particular, we need to continue to decrease the roles and legitimacy of nuclear weapons.

Some additional important decisions will come into play as we approach zero. While it is useful to begin to think about these, such decisions need not be made now. Among these would be the question of hedging capabilities and who should control the last few nuclear weapons. In addition, the role of conventional weapons and the concern that the reduction/elimination of nuclear weapons must not make the world safe for conventional war must be addressed. It is important that the debate not be allowed to focus on these endgame issues now. Interesting as they are, their detailed solutions will not be needed and are probably not foreseeable for many years. Becoming obsessed with how to eliminate the last 10 nuclear weapons should not be allowed to delay the important next steps that are relatively easily and safely available now.

It would be naive to assume that there will not be strong opposition to deep reductions and that there will not be compliance problems. Therefore, we will need more vigorous and effective implementation and compliance mechanisms than exist today. Although arms control agreements are generally operating effectively, international efforts to deal with compliance issues to date have been cumbersome, inconsistent, and uneven. We may need new compliance and enforcement bodies to assure confidence in all states that agreements are operating as intended. We will also need to improve our use and understanding of terms like monitoring, verification, and confidence-building measures. Part of this process should be gaining a deeper understanding of nations' perception and tolerance of risk. This should include education of publics about what is possible and what is important in the world of verification and compliance.

Recognizing that moving toward a world free of nuclear weapons would be seen by some as a radical and dangerous move, careful attention to creating a favorable political climate and meeting the legitimate concerns of skeptics, especially in the areas of verification and compliance, will be absolutely essential. Serious problems in these areas, whether real or perceived, could bring the entire process to a halt rather quickly.


Based on official statements in the UN First Committee, the Conference on Disarmament, Review Conferences of the NPT, as well as in many other sources, it is clear that the vast majority of world leaders believe that the level of nuclear weapons in the world is far too high. They frequently cite Article VI of the NPT as requiring deep reductions in and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. There is a renewed drive for fulfilling this commitment, inspired by the well-known efforts of George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and others. The British government has also been very active. President Barack Obama has stated, "I state clearly and with conviction America's committment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has recently spoken in similar terms, urging "deep and verifiable reductions" in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. A recent article in Foreign Affairs laid out a comprehensive rationale for going to zero and urged "airtight verification," though without specifying what this means or how it could be achieved.

This new effort brings the issue of verification, always a key component of arms control, to the fore. Verification is one of the most commonly used concepts in arms control and nonproliferation. The word comes from the Latin verificare — "to prove to be true by demonstration, evidence, or testimony." In the U.S. government, the concept is actually divided into two parts. Monitoring is used to denote the collection of data relevant to an obligation in an agreement. This could be from satellites or other national technical means (NTM), inspectors on the ground, or other sources, including human sources and open sources. Verification is used to denote a judgment, made at the political level (a government or international body), as to whether a party is in compliance with its obligations. In popular usage in the United States and elsewhere, however, verification is commonly used to include both functions.

Verification is a neutral concept and says nothing about its effectiveness. In general, it is not useful, beyond a bumper-sticker mentality, to ask whether an agreement is "verifiable" or "not verifiable." Any agreement may be monitored/verified with some degree of confidence. Whether this is "good enough" or not is a somewhat subjective decision that must be made on a case-by-case basis. Inputs to this decision would include the difficulty of cheating, the consequences of undetected cheating, the compliance history of the party in question, what options are being given up in the agreement, and so forth. In the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations, the standard for good enough with respect to agreements on nuclear weapons was "adequate verification." The Reagan administration, wishing to place greater stress on verification, ridiculed this standard and replaced it with "effective verification." However, when the new standard was finally defined, it proved to be virtually identical to the earlier one — that is, the ability to detect any significant violations that could change the strategic balance in time to take corrective action. While establishing changing the strategic balance as the standard was appropriate in the context of U.S.-Soviet competition during the Cold War, a better criterion for effective verification now might be to refer to the timely detection of actions that would have a significant military or political impact. A further standard mentioned by Secretary James Baker in connection with the START treaty is the desirability of being able to detect a pattern of small violations. Such a pattern, even if it were not significant substantively, could have a negative political impact, especially if it appeared to be deliberate.

As we move to lower levels, any uncertainty about compliance may assume greater prominence. Therefore, it will be important to be precise in the use of terms like monitoring, verification, and confidence-building measures, which can carry political weight. Educating the public should be a key part of this effort. However, regardless of how carefully we explain to the public what is possible, and what is and what is not important, it is clear that considerable subjectivity will remain, and different conclusions regarding what is "effective" will be reached by different people and in different contexts. In the context of this discussion, it is obvious that the ability to detect 10 illegal nuclear weapons would be far more important in a world in which only a handful are allowed than in a world in which thousands are allowed. In any case, the concept of "effective verification" has become widely used throughout the world and, properly understood, is a useful shorthand for a complicated issue.

It is clear that 100 percent confidence in monitoring/verification will not be possible or necessary in most cases. There are, of course, important cases in which 100 percent confidence is possible. This was true, for example, when Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) missile systems were blown up, crushed, or launched to destruction in the presence of U.S. and Soviet inspectors. The same should be true for the dismantlement of nuclear weapons under the circumstances foreseen in this study. Where 100 percent confidence is not possible is in assuring that no additional missiles or nuclear weapons are hidden elsewhere. This dilemma is illustrated by the experience of United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA in Iraq). They could not conclusively prove the negative — the absence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). However, they could and did provide compelling evidence that was not given sufficient consideration by the international community and, given more time, could have made a more convincing case for the absence of WMDs.

It has long been known that a major benefit from a system of effective verification is deterrence. The fact and perception that violations are likely to be detected and punished can deter potential violators from attempting violations in the first place. An interesting example of this is that Saddam Hussein's perception of the capabilities of the UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors was evidently a key factor in his decision not to pursue Iraq's WMD programs after the first Gulf War.

To be politically acceptable, verification must strike a balance between the rights of both the monitoring and monitored parties. On the one hand, the monitoring party (perhaps an international organization) must have sufficient access to information to be able to gain a reasonable assurance that obligations are being complied with. On the other hand, the monitored party must be protected from unwarranted intelligence gathering or unreasonable interference with its normal activities. In some cases, this may involve the need to protect proprietary information. Striking this balance has been a major issue in negotiating virtually all modern arms control agreements, especially those involving on-site inspection. The fact that these agreements are generally operating successfully shows that the negotiators have been able to strike a good balance between these competing interests. Moving toward zero nuclear weapons will almost certainly require moving the balance more toward greater access and transparency. Indeed, the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States judges in its "Interim Report" that it will require "a fundamental transformation of the world political order."

Experience with Existing Arms Control Agreements

A significant number of arms control agreements are operating successfully today, and much can be learned from experiences with them. They govern nuclear, chemical, biological, and conventional weapons. They have quantitative, qualitative, and operational constraints, along with many types of inspections and requirements for data exchanges. Most have some sort of implementation body. Some have encountered compliance issues. The precedents set by these agreements should facilitate the political and technical decisions and compromises that will be needed to reach a world free of nuclear weapons. The most relevant agreements are discussed briefly in the following sections.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

It is curious that something as important as the NPT has no organization responsible for overall implementation. The IAEA is responsible primarily for safeguards. These are designed to detect the diversion of a "significant quantity" of fissile material (defined as 8 kilograms of plutonium or 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium [HEU]) from peaceful applications. The IAEA is capable of detecting microscopic amounts of fissile material but, of course, must know where to look. Weaknesses in the system, which involved inspecting only declared sites, were exposed by the illegal activities of Iraq and are being addressed by the Additional Protocol. With some 500 inspectors conducting some 2,000 inspections per year, plus the work of its Action Team in Iraq, the IAEA has vast experience and should be a valuable source of expertise and advice for the tasks posed by this study. Its overall annual budget is just under 300 million euros, of which about 117 million is devoted to nuclear verification. The Board of Governors has the power to report/refer compliance issues to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and has done so with both North Korea and Iran. The IAEA received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

SALT I Agreements

Neither the Interim Agreement on Strategic Offensive Arms nor the ABM Treaty remains in force. The former achieved its goals with minimal compliance problems. The ABM Treaty, however, was a source of controversy until the United States withdrew in 2002. One major problem was a radar the Soviet Union constructed in Siberia, which was not permitted by the treaty. After years of controversy, the Soviets admitted their violation and dismantled it. Another major controversy concerned the U.S. switch, during the Reagan administration, from the "traditional" interpretation of what activities were allowed to the more permissive "broad" interpretation. This was hotly disputed by the Soviets, along with many experts in the United States, until the United States returned to the traditional interpretation during the Carter administration.

INF Treaty

The INF Treaty successfully eliminated all ground-launched U.S. and Soviet ballistic and cruise missiles (almost 2,700 in all) with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. It provided the model for most arms control on-site inspections (OSIs) and contained five types of inspections, including perimeter and portal continuous monitoring (PPCM) of one key facility on each side. The latter experience should be quite useful in designing monitoring systems for deep reductions in nuclear weapons. During the 13 years of inspections, which ended in 2001, 851 were conducted. These were carried out at 130 sites in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, and at 31 sites in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy. The treaty remains in force.

START Treaty

The START Treaty achieved its ambitious reductions in deployed strategic offensive nuclear weapons systems by 2001. START has 12 different types of OSIs, plus PPCM. Through the 2009 expiration of the treaty, the United States conducted 659 START inspections and Russia 481. The cost to the United States of conducting a START inspection in Siberia or the Russian Far East was roughly $250,000. The treaty provided for special access visits (a kind of challenge inspection), but this was never used, since suspicions of undeclared illegal facilities never arose. A massive data exchange of over 100 pages was updated every six months with data on the numbers, locations, and technical characteristics of specified systems. Between these updates, an extensive system of notifications, using the Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers of the sides, maintained an up-to-date database of the numbers and locations of all relevant systems.

The treaty generally operated very successfully. Issues generally involved differing interpretations of treaty language or circumstances not foreseen by the negotiators. The Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission (JCIC) met at least twice a year in Geneva and issued over 100 agreements and joint statements to improve the treaty's viability and effectiveness.


Excerpted from Cultivating Confidence by Corey Hinderstein. Copyright © 2010 Nuclear Threat Initiative. Excerpted by permission of Nuclear Threat Initiative.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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