The Movement Towards “Effective” Verification Mechanisms

Edward Ifft’s article examines the political dimensions of a verification system within a nuclear weapons context. In his view, there are several challenges to establishing a trusted mechanism of monitoring, verification, and compliance. First, countries with less experience in arms control agreements or with serious regional security concerns are often uneasy about the increased transparency required for a reduction in nuclear arms. Second, states that advocated for nuclear disarmament in the past may not maintain that position when they are told to give up their own arsenals. Third, the elimination of nuclear weapons may give unfair advantage to countries with conventional weapons. Fourth, verification systems must be able to constrain delivery systems and fissile material as well as nuclear warheads. Fifth, it is unclear who has the authority to resolve compliance disputes, and no consensus as to how to improve the resolution of the disputes. Finally, there are disagreements amongst nations about who should pay for these systems.

Despite these challenges, Ifft argues that attempting nuclear disarmament without an effective and trusted system of monitoring and verification can be dangerous: dishonesty throughout the disarmament process is likely, as is the risk of disputes, charges and countercharges (especially as the number of nuclear warheads decrease). There will also certainly be significant opposition to the outlines proposed by Ifft from nuclear and non-nuclear countries alike, the latter countries’ argument being that giving up nuclear weapons would decrease national security, and that the system would not be enough to guarantee the compliance of others.

Ifft offers several options for the international community: countries could recommit to eliminating their nuclear arsenals under the NPT, lay out a schedule for achieving these goals, and begin research and development into the tools necessary for effective verification. Talks on nuclear disarmament could begin amongst nuclear and nonnuclear states, and states can uphold a “zero tolerance” policy towards states that fail to comply to arms control agreements, “naming and shaming” when necessary. States can also increase the transparency of their nuclear activities, and create an international committee that uses satellites to monitor and verify nuclear disarmament.

Yet Ifft’s proposals either do not seem to address the challenges that he himself had laid out at the beginning of his article, or do not seem forceful enough to compel a meaningful change in the current international paradigm. He had argued, for instance, that countries can increase the transparency of their nuclear activities to facilitate the establishment of a verification system, yet also mentioned that this is precisely what countries are hesitant of doing due to national security concerns. Likewise, he had argued for a “naming and shaming” policy for countries that do not abide by arms control agreements, yet similar policies have hitherto not been very successful at compelling countries like North Korea and Iran to comply by international regulations. Of course, the argument could be made that his proposals could foster the initial political conditions necessary for an eventual collective international effort, though what measures should be taken afterwards is not necessarily clear. — Michael

19 thoughts on “The Movement Towards “Effective” Verification Mechanisms

  1. Edward Ifft’s article adds to the discussion of nuclear disarmament by proposing stronger mechanisms for monitoring, verifying and building confidence in disarmament agreements. As my classmate Michael clearly argues above, Ifft’s proposed improvements to current disarmament efforts (i.e. “naming and shaming”, and recommitting to eliminate nuclear arsenals), fail to address the underlying factors rendering this process ineffective (i.e. inherent distrust among nations, national security concerns, domestic politics, risk tolerance, lack of accountability for hypocrisy, etc). I think it would be interested to view Ifft’s proposals through the lens of the START treaty, as discussed in Wolf’s 2011 report on the Monitoring and Verification of Arm’s Control.

    The START treaty is a bilateral agreement between the United States and Russia regarding the reduction and limited development of strategic offensive weapons. It aims to promote confidence and transparency in compliance with arms control agreements through a process of mutual inspection. While these inspections cannot provide perfect information on a country’s weapon development activity, it is an important mechanism for removing a certain degree of doubt and allowing countries to orchestrate a timely and appropriate response to violations (rather than unnecessary escalation based on speculation). While the START treaty has not lead to eradication of nuclear weapons in the US or Russia, it has provided unprecedented intelligence, transparency, and cautious confidence in mutual compliance – factors that Ifft highlights as prerequisites to massive and successful disarmament effort. There are three key strengths of the START agreement that I believe Ifft’s proposals should incorporate: first, a realistic/limited scope; secondly, the acknowledgment and incorporation of factors that traditionally undermine disarmament; finally, an even playing field.

    First, Ifft’s proposals attempts to tackle the problem of nuclear disarmament at the international level. In contrast, the START agreement is a bilateral agreement so the scope is much more reasonable. At this moment in time, it is unfeasible to expect a global “police” force to monitor the nuclear activity of every nation. Even when international verification occurs, it is unlikely that the information gathered will be seen as credible enough to build the confidence of all countries to a level in which they feel comfortable moving toward total disarmament (particularly those in a position of power like the US with no real consequence in the face of hypocrisy). In the START agreement, the US is primarily concerned about Russia so they are able to gather their own intelligence (with Russian consent). Perhaps, it is better to have a series of agreements and mutual accountability than a blanket policy that is difficult to enforce.

    Secondly, the START agreement uses the mutual distrust of nations (which is normally a liability with respect to disarmament efforts) as a tool for progress. Since the history of relations between the US and Russia suggest an inherent distrust of intentions, the agreement to monitor each others activity is ingenious because it makes both countries less likely to violate the agreement and while also providing the intelligence to discourage unnecessary escalation. In contrast “Naming and shaming”, adopting “zero tolerance” and recommitting to previous agreements fails to address the underlying issues.

    Finally, while Ifft highlights the experience that the US has monitoring and taking out military items, the article fails to address the uneven nature of this agreement. For international agreements to work, there needs to be reciprocity and accountability for all actors.

  2. Lauren and Michael have both expressed that in Edward Ifft’s discussion for stronger mechanisms of monitoring and verifying nuclear disarmament agreements, he ignores many of the underlying issues that challenge the achievement of these measures. I want to point out that this is not necessarily the case. Ifft clearly states that part of this process should include a “deeper understanding of nations’ perception and tolerance of risk,” and he proposes that this can be produced in the form of education of “what is possible and what is important in the world of verification and compliance.” To achieve this understanding of global positions on nuclear weapons, however, measures must stem from heavily investing in increased agreements and surveillance of nuclear weapons, as Ifft proposes. In Iran, for example, the additional protocol of their nuclear deal with the US and expanded abilities of the inspectors has significantly increased US and global understanding of Iran’s nuclear situation, and likewise decreased US distrust in Iran. In Russia, Lauren discusses the START agreement, which attempted to accomplish the same thing. The agreement along with stronger investigations increased transparency and confidence between the two nations, precisely what Ifft notes as the necessary factors for successful nuclear disarmament efforts. Overall, Ifft does not disregard inherent issues that characterize nuclear disarmament but contributes to the conversation by providing a key starting point in which all countries, particularly the US, should begin at to accelerate the implementation of the nuclear weapons states’ disarmament obligations.

  3. In the matter of the effectiveness of Ifft’s paper, I agree more with Lisa’s analysis of his work: as a valuable starting point in the conversation, as well as a fairly comprehensive analysis of past attempts to limit the existence of nuclear weapons throughout the world. Disarmament is clearly a tough issue to tackle in a single piece of literature, but in my opinion Ifft does a good job at laying out the requisites for an effective monitoring and verification process. The key in such a process seems to be patience, and a willingness to take small steps forward in order to gradually accomplish the overall goal of disarmament. The aforementioned agreements have indeed been effective, in Iran and Russia for example, and a continued devotion to scaling back must be achieved. However, it is certainly demoralizing to hear our current president vocalize a wish to scale-up our nuclear weapons program. Although arguments can be made that nuclear weapons do provide a certain level of national security, Ifft and previous experts that we have read and heard make it clear that the only long-term solution is disarmament.

    Gradual progress in disarmament seems to be the key takeaway. Reciprocity and accountability are essential, as Lauren states, but it is clear to me that we have indeed made real progress in nuclear weapons disarmament, while maintaining those two qualities. Ifft provides a soft solution of sorts, that really serves as guidelines for those who wield national influence.

  4. While I agree with Lauren that the START treaty could be an important step in the nuclear disarmament of the United States and Russia, I think that many of the benefits of the treaty (increased transparency, limits on available nuclear weapons, and the reduction of existing stockpiles of warheads) can be severely undermined when the President publicly denounces the aims and terms of the agreement.
    On February 9th, President Trump was reported to have dismissed President Putin’s requests to extend the NEW START treaty, calling it “one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration.” Trump argued that the treaty weakened the United States and benefited Russia’s nuclear program.
    Although Trump was mistaken about the details of the NEW START deal, his fears are very common in the discussion surrounding nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. As Michael notes, Ifft’s paper highlights honesty and trust as key factors in the nuclear disarmament process. Ifft suggests that dishonestly would be rampant, and as we have discussed in class nuclear safety organizations like the IAEA are markedly limited in their ability to investigate and hold nations accountable for their failure to abide by international nonproliferation agreements. Hampered by a lack of funding and a reliance on the support of uncooperative governments, these organizations would be powerless to combat any attempts to avoid the restrictions of a nuclear disarmament treaty.
    For these reasons, nuclear disarmament seems to require a strong international governing body that can enforce a balance and maintain the delicate equilibrium of nuclear states. Trump’s fears of a toothless nuclear arms reduction treaty (however baseless they may be) are representative of the general fear and distrust that characterize global disarmament.

  5. Michael makes a number of good points about the state of our current international verification system and potential flaws in Edward Ifft’s Article. For one thing, much of what Ifft calls for in his piece is already in existence, whether it is effective or not. For one, the UN General Assembly recently passed resolution A/C.1/71/L.41 in November, calling for an international conference to take place in 2017 on creating a new treaty potentially outlawing nuclear weapons. Although the P-5 and most of NATO will be boycotting it, it represents a major shift in the international community’s approach to nuclear proliferation and chances are the P-5 will eventually have to engage with this movement, whether they like it or not.

    Another key point where Ifft’s argument fails to recognize the current situation is his “naming and shaming” strategy. A key element of the international community’s current strategy to combat what it considers bad behavior, including nuclear proliferation, has been naming and shaming. In some ways, this has been effective in isolating countries for poor behaviors and forcing them to the negotiation table. I disagree with Michael that this has been ineffective, as Iran did come to negotiate with the P5+1 and produce the JCPOA. Ifft’s call for an international committee to monitor satellite imagery and provide increased verification seems to disregard that much of what the IAEA already does is satellite monitoring and on the ground verification. Although the IAEA doesn’t have control over its own satellites, the system still provides an effective means to gain insight into a state’s nuclear program. It is true that the current system of verification of nuclear proliferation is weak, but the recommendations provided by Ifft either seem naïve or already in place in the current international regime. If we really want an effective solution, we’re going to have to think outside the box of conventional verification and transparency mechanisms in international relations.

  6. I agree with Ifft on the challenges that disarmament faces and on the necessity of pushing forward anyway to resolve them. I also agree with Michael’s point that Ifft fails to suggest potential solutions that fully address these challenges. Having said that, if it were an easy problem it would have been solved long ago. Ifft’s article continues to keep the discussion going, even if not in a novel way. Additionally, the methods he lays out are at least somewhat effective in most scenarios. As Ethan points out, although “naming and shaming” did not work on North Korea, it did work on Iran. There will always be a particularly stubborn government, and separate punishments should be devised for that country, but policy that will work on other hold outs should also still be implemented.

    It is not a contradiction to state that countries should increase transparency about their nuclear programs while also mentioning that many are reluctant to do so. This is a good starting point for people to come together and devise ways to help countries get past their reluctance. Ifft helps provide a basic road map for continuing the discussion in helpful directions. As Sam and others have mentioned, our current president seems to be in favor of increasing our arsenal rather than diminishing it. In times like these, more discussion on the merits of disarmament is always a valuable thing.

  7. In addition to what my classmates have noted so far, I believe that Ifft fails to address an important contradiction that he himself propagates in the piece. On the one hand, Ifft notes that, post-ratification, “technical developments and unforseen changes…are likely to occur,” making it essential that effective agreements can adapt to evolving international conditions “without having to resort to the very cumbersome and difficult amendment procedure” (15-16). On the other hand, however, Ifft emphasizes the importance of clear, detailed definitions for all terms included in the agreement in order to avoid any confusion “related to the interpretations of language” (20). In many ways, these two considerations contradict themselves, because as definitions become more specific, their applicability to a changed environment lessens significantly. In other words, Ifft argues that future weapons treaties must be both specific enough to avoid confusion while broad enough to adapt to different international contexts, without acknowledging the contradiction inherent in these two statements. This seems like an important barrier to the development of a long-lasting and effective nuclear treaty worth considering (in addition to all of the other factors Ifft brings up in his piece), especially given the speed of current technology advancements that could completely alter the labels and details of relevant weapons. It would be a shame to achieve a consensus on a nuclear weapons treaty only to have it become irrelevant shortly after due to the development of new weapons technology.

  8. Michael ends with a debate between two important statements: that Ifft’s proposals do not address the challenges laid out at the beginning of his article, and that those arguments are not forceful enough to compel a meaningful change in the current state of affairs of nuclear weapons. Although Michael gives Ifft the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that only one of these statements may actually be accurate, it seems that both are indeed the case, according to the examples given by Michael that increasing the transparency of nuclear verification is met with hesitance by nuclear states and that current “naming and shaming” policies have been ineffective with regard to nuclear states that are not included in the NPT. It seems a bit obvious that these discrepancies will make themselves evident when one of Ifft’s arguments his introduction is the statement that it is difficult to reduce nuclear arms below a certain threshold (namely, below 50-100 weapons) due to verification issues. To me, this almost seemed like an implicit argument that we should not work to make verification techniques more thorough because it would dissuade nuclear states from submitting to IAEA verification checks; however, if we don’t work to make verification techniques as accurate, efficient, and thorough as possible, then it seems that there is really no point in having them at all. Therefore, I will explore the more specific solutions tangentially touched upon by Ifft that may have the potential for success in efficient nuclear disarmament. The START treaty seems to be one of the best efforts in nuclear disarmament since the US and Russia hold the large majority of the world’s nuclear weapons. Ifft’s arguments are predicated upon the assumption that there is still much time left before we reach the “endgame” (deciding where and how the last few nuclear weapons should be destroyed), so it seems like a good idea to focus on targeting the largest parts of the nuclear disarmament problem (i.e. the US and Russian stockpiles) before focusing on the nuclear states with much smaller stockpiles. Additionally to this solution, I would suggest increased funding of research on the reintegration of plutonium from nuclear weapons into nuclear fuel, a technique currently used by France, among other states, to create mixed oxide fuel for reactors. Because of the high radioactivity of fissile materials, it is not a simple problem to decrease the size of nuclear stockpiles because there is no easy place to put the U-235 and Pu-239 from the weapons. Perhaps increasing the safety and efficiency of reintegrating plutonium into nuclear fuel would give politicians another option of how to get rid of nuclear weapons, thus enabling them to decrease stockpiles more quickly. Nevertheless, this method of reintegration still poses a prevalent proliferation concern and will not be 100% popular with various governments.

  9. Paige mentions how there are provisions for such dismantling in the START treaty, but not in the Moscow treaty. It is important for us to recognize which treaties have been effective in providing for the actual dismantling of weapons, and which have not. I think that Ifft’s Introduction to his book merely solidifies how difficult it would be to actually implement dismantlement measures in the future. My bigger question after reading this piece is, why does Ifft say “this is an interesting question, but now one that needs to be answered now” when talking about whether there should be a small residue of nuclear weapons retained (Ifft 20)? He does not fully address the issue he discusses throughout the piece, about whether it would be feasible to actually eradicate nuclear weapons from the world, however he does provide many options for improving control measures for compliance.

    As Michael mentioned, Ifft does not provide alternatives or suggestions regarding compliance issues. Instead, he seems to say that “there is no consensus on how to achieve” enforcement (Ifft 22). He says that states should recommit themselves to the goals of the NPT, which Ifft previously states was not effective as there is no overarching organization that oversees compliance issues. It is important to discuss the countries that have NOT signed on to treaties such as the NPT – how will we deal with those countries in the future?

  10. Michael touches briefly on Ifft’s position that the lack of an enforcement agency with jurisdiction over compliance disputes poses a challenge for countries bound by treaties and politically binding agreements and for the movement to decrease nuclear arms in general. Natalie furthers this conversation by addressing the fact that Ifft states there is yet to be any consensus on how to enforce the provisions of nuclear non-proliferation treaties. Additionally, Ifft posits that an issue warranting immediate attention is the fact that there is no international tribunal that can determine the innocence or guilt of a country accused of being in violation of an agreement (Ifft, 21). I’d like to use this comment to talk about the issue of enforcement within the international sphere more generally and to draw a parallel between nuclear non-proliferation treaty enforcement and enforcement against human rights violations.

    Enforcement is frequently a difficult and ambiguous topic that extends to various subjects in the international arena. For example, the UN published a Universal Declaration of Human rights, and 48 states have signed it, but it remains unclear who is responsible for enforcement of the declaration when human rights are violated by governments. While this declaration is not a treaty, it gives the legal definitions that substantiate what human rights violations are, and is used to apply moral and political pressure to the signatory governments. The treaties described by Ifft have similar characteristics, but include monitoring and verification either by an international agency or bilaterally by another country. On the other hand, the status of human rights is not actively monitored bilaterally or internationally and therefore only garners international attention when an infraction has already occurred. While nuclear arms regulation and human rights watches on the international level differ in their proactive and reactionary natures, respectively, an important parallel can be drawn. In her guest lecture, Ray Acherson emphasized the fact that the use of a nuclear weapon would be a crime against humanity. The cases of crimes against humanity and the ambiguity of human rights enforcement shows us that, even in cases where a grave violation of rights has already occurred, the international regulatory bodies such as the UN are ill-equipped to serve as judge, jury, and executioner. With this in mind, perhaps the United States’ position that state-parties must determine guilt, innocence, and enforcement measures is partially valid (Ifft, 21-22), but this does not entirely solve the problem for smaller states that would lack sufficient enforcement power.

  11. The problem I have with Ifft’s reading is that it treats “more effective and intrusive verification and transparency regimes” as something that is a function of a number of variables, with perhaps the greatest being improved trust and coordination, which is partially exogenous to nuclear weapons and treaties dealing with nuclear weapons. Ifft highlights that there is a (1) a sovereignty issue, with countries balancing greater transparency and intrusiveness with sovereignty claims, and
    (2) the possibility that a country could simply be hiding nuclear weapons out of sight (…where 100 percent confidence is not possible is in assuring that no additional or nuclear weapons are hidden elsewhere”). My issue, which is not properly treated by Ifft in my opinion, is with the #2.

    Greater trust and coordination can result from improved verification mechanisms, and thus facilitative disarmament, but in my opinion Ifft fails to see how greater trust and cooperation is itself exogenous to nuclear arms deals. When Ifft says the following: “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… that it will require ‘a fundamental transformation of the world political order,’ he errs in seeing how the latter sentence doesn’t support the first sentence. And this is where (2), from the first paragraph, comes into play, since countries can’t be 100 percent sure that other countries aren’t simply hiding/not reporting part of their nuclear stockpile, it is almost unthinkable to eliminate nuclear weapons in our current political climate. For total elimination to occur, the cultural, regional, and ethnic cleavages as well as the nationalist ideologies that precipitate so much of our international conflict would have to be significantly reduced and mitigated. In my estimation, the world has become more nationalist and has retracted away from global integration (Trump, Brexit, etc.), increasing fear and mistrust. Greater global integration and a fundamental reconnection of the global order is first and most pressing in achieving a zero nuclear weapon equilibrium, far more important that verification and enforcement mechanisms.

  12. I want to second some of the sentiments expressed in Craig’s comment. What is to become of verification and disarmament schemes in light of the new administration’s comments on nuclear weapons? Although it was on the campaign trail, Trump said himself that proliferation is “going to happen anyway,” and that some American allies should have access to a nuclear arsenal. Ifft makes the point that verification and compliance mechanisms are only successful if they have the perception of efficacy. Regardless of the actual metrics on verification and disarmament, if Congress, the President, and the public do not believe that they are effective, then they will have little incentive to continue support for these programs. Additionally, given that many of these disarmament agreements were negotiated as politically binding agreements but not formal treaties leaves room for concern in the Trump administration. The Trump administration has signaled a willingness to modify or outright walk away from international agreements, with everything from the TPP to NATO on the chopping block. The Trump administration does not particularly seem to care about losing the confidence of the international community — what’s to stop it from walking away from arms control agreements?

  13. I think that Lauren brings up an important example in START. As we heard in the lecture today, START is a paradigm for an effective verification system, that holds both the US and Russia accountable in destroying current weapons as well as preventing future production of new weapons. Additionally, in this treaty, not only weapons are being verified, but the delivery vehicles as well, which adds another layer. The cooperative use of technology, such as satellites to verify the destruction of planes, for example, is another point of merit in this treaty. The START treaty provides potential jumping off points we can think of using when we think of verification of future treaties. However, it is not certain that any given state will have these mechanisms of verification.

    I, like many of my peers, believe that Ifft ignores some of the more pressing issues in establishing an effective, international verification system. It is important to look at the overall framework of a verification system, and work from there. I thought that today’s lecture laid out a solid framework for a verification system in a treaty. Specifically, the correctness, completeness, provenance, and irreversibility aspects. Correctness is the foundation for any verification system, because any declaration of weapons needs to be verified as true to begin the process. Following the truth is “the whole truth” or the completeness of the declaration, as we saw in the Iran example, they may truthfully disclose the location of nuclear facilities, but if they do not disclose all locations, the treaty would fail. Finally, there is provenance, which is essential in order to trace the entire life of the material of a weapon. In the long-term, irreversibility is important to sustain the non-proliferation, and ensure there is no regression back to old weapons.

    Any verification system can be assessed using these four categories in order to measure its effectiveness. I think that this framework would add much to Ifft’s argument. Thinking about these situations on a broader scale, and establishing general frameworks such as the one above, will help immensely to make the issue of verification much easier to handle, and complete.

  14. In his post, Michael effectively outlines many of the issues the international community faces in implementing verification measures, and he is right that Edward Ifft’s article, while presenting many policy options, does not include a perfect solution to nuclear weapons.

    There seems to be a general theme throughout the comments that perhaps implementing effective verification measures is unfeasible: that countries will never trust each other or be willing to cooperate, and thus verification measures will be unenforceable. However, in his article, Ifft appears to be very conscious of these issues and emphasizes that verification is merely the first step to nuclear disarmament. While nuclear disarmament may be unattainable in the near future, verification mechanisms would go a long way in making the world safer. For one, a hindrance to nuclear disarmament at the moment is countries’ lack of trust for one another; yet, with increased verification, it is possible to gradually increase the trust between countries. That is, once countries begin complying with verification mechanisms, they will make avail of increased transparency and may therefore feel more secure in embracing verification mechanisms further domestically. This increased trust would also foster cooperation, enabling countries to jointly bolster watchdog agencies like the IAEA, who could assume agency over the enforcement of a verification treaty.

    Some of my peers – and Ifft himself – have argued that there might not be enough incentive to abide by a verification treaty. Taking the examples of North Korea and Iran, there are countries who would unabashedly abstain from a treaty, developing a nuclear weapons program unchecked by any form of international shame. This is absolutely a real concern, and fortunately, the majority of nations globally have been disinclined to brazen shows of nuclear force. However, when dealing with countries like North Korea and Iran, it is important to remember that public shaming is not the only method of discouraging the development of nuclear weapons. The international community still has multilateral policy options, such as economic sanctions, which it can implement outside of a nuclear weapons treaty.

  15. As I was reading the Ifft article, as well as the posts above, I found myself thinking about public relations, especially as it relates to how these plans are portrayed and publicized in the international community. Ifft states in his introduction, “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.” I found the use of “intrusive” in this context to be the most interesting, as even though I understand that refers to a heightened physical presence of inspectors, I also think it is a troubling word to many international leaders (especially NWS) who are generally very cagey and unwilling to surrender any more information about their nuclear programs than is absolutely necessary. As was also stated above by Ethan and others, these states (as of right now) have been unwilling to consider complete disarmament of nuclear weapons, something I attribute to the aforementioned information security issue amongst other things. To bring it around to the original point, I believe that this is largely a PR problem in that these plans need to be created and promoted from the standpoint of protecting state secrets (or something akin to that) in order to be made more palatable to the NWS. It is not that these states are necessarily unmoved by the moral argument behind complete disarmament. It is just that, in the minds of many government officials, the security concerns surrounding such a process tend to outweigh the benefits. How we shift that balance and make it seem like complete disarmament is in their favor, I am not sure. But it is worth it to discuss.

  16. I agree with Michael that the article points out some major problems but fails to deliver any real or meaningful solutions. First, I have always had a problem with the idea of nuclear disarmament from the beginning. Perhaps it is because I am just too shallow when it comes to this issue, but I only see this as realistic in some sort of utopian galaxy. I cannot imagine a scenario in which countries will voluntarily disarm with little to no guarantee that other countries would do the same. And some countries simply will not disarm. Could you imagine North Korea working so hard for its nuclear/arms capabilities only to voluntarily give them up? I also feel like it would be foolish for a country such as the United States to disarm and basically render itself defenseless to any other country – as the United States surely has a fair amount of aggressors around the world. The only scenario in which I can realistically see some sort of total disarmament is if the world were to be in perfect harmony and/or some sort of one-world government. In that case, weapons would not be needed anyway. Maybe it is the pessimist in me, but I highly doubt that will ever happen.

    Some seem to think that a proper method of verification would lead to disarmament, and I do agree that it would lead closer to disarmament, but that is one of the very problems. It is so difficult to force compliance on these countries without sending the world into total chaos. Michael is correct that a “naming and shaming” policy is useless because countries such as North Korea basically just cannot be shamed. I am not sure what other form of a meaningful “zero tolerance” policy could be put in place – especially if the entire world is theoretically disarming. We cannot even enforce similar zero tolerance policies for well-established laws and norms already. Take a look at Syria – a country in unbelievable violation of the Geneva Conventions and that has used chemical weapons on its own people. President Trump authorizes a minimal mission to force compliance and compel Assad to stop using chemical weapons, and the world goes nuts. Russia even appears to side with Syria. I am undecided if Trump was right or wrong in his action, but my point is that many of the international laws/treaties already established are pointless because no one wants to interfere to the point of enforcement. I understand why it is risky, but it also defeats the point of these measures.

    Thus, I guess that my main point is that nuclear disarmament and some new approach to verification/forcing compliance always theoretically sounds appealing. However, I think the fact of the matter is that it will never happen. No country is ever going to disarm with the naïve expectation that everyone else will follow along. Furthermore, nobody is going to be able to force compliance effectively because it would risk another potential world war. Forced compliance would, at the very least, require all major world superpowers to agree which is almost an impossibility – Russian and Chinese (and sometimes American) loyalty is constantly in question due to a number of factors. Therefore, I think the unfortunate solution to this dilemma simply is that there is no solution.

  17. Many of my classmates have made the observation that Ifft’s article suggests few new or viable options for verification procedures that are more intrusive and more effective than the ones that have been used in treaties currently in force. But I do think that Ifft provides a paradigm, based on a couple of key assumptions, that would let the nuclear weapons states start to move towards zero. As I understood it, his suggested approach is that states continue to commit to gradual reductions, and learn from the successes and failures of the verification measures agreed to in past treaty negotiations in designing the monitoring and verification procedures for the next one. This rests on the assumption of a large and sustained political will by all the NWS to commit to further disarmament. This political will depends on the deepening and spread of a norm against the use and, most importantly, possession of nuclear weapons as a legitimate instrument of war. The point that I think many of my classmates’ responses miss is that this norm doesn’t yet fully exist, but it is developing, and if it continues to, it may influence state behavior in ways that don’t seem rational today.

    Essentially, the less “okay” nuclear weapons become, the more states will consent to more intrusive verification procedures, and so while the concept of states consenting to the sorts of verification regimes that Ifft is discussing for the nuclear “endgame” seems impossible to us now, under the public and normative pressure that could be imposed by this anti-nuclear norm, if it ever becomes this strong, states might agree to such verification.

    As I see it, zero depends on the development of this anti-nuclear norm, and the development of verification technologies to keep pace with (or ideally spur forward) the maximum intrusiveness that NWS will permit at each point in time. I don’t think it will ever be in the strategic interest of the NWS to get to zero, but it could be a rational decision under the right normative conditions.

  18. Ifft, and the commenters above, corroborate that the punishment and incentives provided by the IAEA currently to support nuclear non-proliferation aren’t strong enough to fully support nuclear weapons reductions.
    Still, we shouldn’t downplay how effective START and economic sanctions can be when trying to deter nuclear proliferation. Currently, Russia, Iran (pre-2015’s agreement), and North Korea are just examples of countries that have been hobbled by the lack of economic growth spurred by economic sanctions by countries for either international conflicts (Russia, annexation of Crimea) or nuclear weapons development (Korea). I actually used to doubt the effectiveness of economic sanctions and still do to a degree, given the level of poverty prevalent in North Korea and even, to some degree, Iran/ Russia as a result of sanctions. Still, why have sanctions not been so effective at preventing aggression from states like Russia and Iran? I argue that there’s a lack of universality of sanctions, which makes sense given shifting alliances between countries around the world – but in return, it makes it hard for countries to agree on one unified vision for a nuclear-free world.
    This is why I doubt Caroline’s argument that the ‘less “okay” nuclear weapons become, the more states will consent to more intrusive verification procedures”. Public and normative pressure could be imposed by the anti-nuclear norm, but the anti-proliferation movement isn’t necessarily something that’s new – it’s an idea that’s been around for decades yet a nuclear-free world still doesn’t exist.
    So I believe that Ifft downplays the importance of regulatory institutions that exist outside of the IAEA, whether it’s the EU, NATO, or any other geopolitical alliance around the globe. While the IAEA may not have much enforcement power, coalitions of companies can provide greater pressure on offending countries to reduce their nuclear capabilities.
    Consider also that if a country doesn’t agree to eliminate its nuclear stockpile, its implicitly worried that it will have to use the stockpile. So contracts should be brokered by non-biased parties, like international governments, between opposing powers like Russia and the US to do a better just out of keeping NW out of use.

  19. In Michael’s post, he argues that Ifft’s own proposals, “do not seem forceful enough to compel a meaningful change in the current international paradigm.” In the short run, this may be true—it is difficult for a single treaty to guarantee NWS disarmament. There are far too many incentives for NWS to cheat the treaty, leaving them with asymmetric nuclear capabilities.

    Like Caroline, however, I believe that treaties focused on “naming and shaming” policies will have a positive effect on shaping our international norms regarding nuclear weapons. This point is given merit in Ifft’s discussion of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The CWC is responsible for the destruction of 71,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, of which 60% have already been destroyed. Ifft believes that the success of the CWC is mostly attributable to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague. The OPCW, an independent organization responsible for the implementation of the CWC, conducts formal inspections of chemical weapons sights to ensure parties are complying. Ifft lauds this structure of verification by an independent international organization. In fact, one of Ifft’s criticisms of the NPT is that it, “has no organization responsible for overall implementation.”

    But, Ifft gives undue credit to the organization without properly addressing the shifts in chemical weapons norms. Like Professor Glaser discussed in class, widespread chemical weapons use in WWI was seen as an atrocity. Chemical weapon use led to the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning these types of gases. In the case of chemical weapons, their extermination is largely due to a shift in international norms. Techniques like Ifft’s “naming and shaming” can only help shift what the world deems to be justified. In cases like Iran and North Korea, compliance may come only by coercion. The rest of NWS, however, can be influenced by changing norms.

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