Disarmament Verification: A True Partnership?

In the IPNDV’s (International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification) Deliverable One: A Framework Document with Terms and Definitions, Principles, and Good Practices, Working Group 1 addresses the rationale of verification principles, and identifies proper usages of these principles in real life. The examination of these principles are based on “existing verification mechanisms,” “work already done by previous disarmament verification initiatives,” and “existing research and publications” (2). While providing a good overview of the different principles involved in verification, as a first deliverable, the output raises two problems: first, it provides little direction for future advances, and second, it muddles the line between national and multilateral interests and inspection.

Throughout the entire deliverable, the one part in which concrete action plans are laid out is in the summary of Principle 3 – Non-Proliferation, and the limitation of transferring proliferation-sensitive knowledge. In this section, the authors argue that the IPNDV should “identify options to prevent the transfer of [sensitive] data for monitoring technologies,” and present possible methods to do so (5). This productive analysis of state of affairs, coupled with a recommendation identifies problems with the current system and attempts to solve them, which advances the work of IPNDV. Unfortunately, the other principles only offer somewhat-obvious statements that re-confirm the reason certain rules are in effect, without bringing about additional value for the IPNDV. Although the paper itself does state that its purpose is mainly descriptive, I cannot help but think that such a collection of simple normative statements cannot be helpful in helping the current IPNDV team, or propelling their future work. I would love to hear about whether you guys agree/disagree!

More importantly, my biggest qualm about this deliverable was the lack of clarity it gave on distinguishing national and multilateral affairs and interests. While Principle 4 states that the level of interference of verification is moderated, and capped by the “international legal system, [which is] based on State sovereignty” (6), Principle 7 later states that multilateral verification – such as the one described in Principle 4 – puts “multilateral entities “above” the parties” (10). Although later followed by the statement that “multilateral agreements are never entirely multilateral,” as there is an element of national verification (use of NTMs), the deliverable goes back and forth on whether the fundamental basis of multilateral verification rests upon State sovereignty, or multilateralism itself. Taken together with my earlier point, it seems to me that the deliverable is a not-so-effective document that can propel the IPNDV forward. — Christine

6 thoughts on “Disarmament Verification: A True Partnership?

  1. I also found myself wondering about the effectiveness of the principles put forth in this document, especially with some of the vague, somewhat obvious statements in many of the principles outlined. While this document was meant to provide a general framework, and does provide some examples, the vague language does, as Christine argues, provide a lack of clarity.
    In particular for me, principle 5 and 6, discussing cost-efficiency and balancing clarity, simplicity and flexibility, while valid points, are rather obvious.
    Furthermore, as Christine points out, there is an inherent tension between the national and multinational levels that makes it difficult to implement some of the ideas put forth. For example, in principle one, the author writes “effective verification provides that States have sufficient confidence that non-compliance will be detected and in due time remedied, or that appropriate action is taken to offset any advantages gained by the non-compliant party by its defection”, but this is somewhat difficult to monitor without crossing state sovereignty. Similarly, in principle two on building confidence, they describe how “Cooperative aspects of verification mechanisms can help create overall trust and build confidence between the implementing parties. Thus, they can further support the implementation of the underlying agreement” and compare this cooperation to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and while the “transparency” they advocate for is admirable, it is difficult to implement as well. This principle does not mention rogue nations, such as North Korea or Iran, and how to build confidence with dictatorial governments or hostile nations with nuclear weapons.
    The document provides many good definitions and principles, but I also found myself thinking of it as more of a stepping stone for more innovative, perhaps descriptive and more thoroughly researched framework document. Perhaps providing more case studies or delving deeper into the examples within the principles could strengthen working group one’s analysis.

  2. Similar to Christine, I found this document to be unclear about a lot of prominent issues on disarmament. One specific problem I found was on Principle 5- cost-efficiency. I found that it defined efficiency in terms of cost rather than time which was troublesome. If a country is about to use a nuclear weapon, time will be much more important than money. In creating a treaty, a country should focus on the quick and efficient was to stop detonation rather than the one that may be more financially feasible since you are dealing with human lives in nuclear proliferation and any cost for disarmament is miniscule compared to the cost of an actual nuclear bomb being used.
    In addition to critiques, I did think of some suggestions of how this document could be more helpful in bettering disarmament verification. One thing I thought of was how this document was based on existing treatises (2) but perhaps we could also learn from failed treatises and ones that did not work. This article cites the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) as a model for proliferation treaties however many powerful countries have not ratified it. While the NPT may not be a total failure, it should be seen with its limitations, especially considering that countries like North Korea, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and India have not ratified it.
    In contrast to the vagueness of much of the article, I found that the questions that were presented at the end of each Principle brought up complex issues. For example, for Principle 7 on structure there was a question “what are the advantages of a multilateral inspection body compared to a bilateral approach?” This allows for the guideline to be issue-specific which is perhaps the ultimate goal of this treaty.
    This document can be seen as a basic guideline for nuclear proliferation but there is much value in the specific issues that are omitted from this document which makes it less useful for disarmament. I look forward to hearing what my classmates have to say about this.

  3. In reading this document, I was surprised by the extent to which it considered matters of convenience for the nations subject to these measures. For example, it addressed non-interference and the need to balance verification with site security and information protection. This section to me verged on establishing an adversarial relationship between verification and states. While in reality this may be the case if states are resistant to upholding the terms of the treaty or undergoing verification, it seems like it would make sense to have this document establish verification as a beneficial and necessary process rather than a combative one. I also agree with Paul’s concern over the emphasis placed on cost-efficiency. Nuclear weapons are expensive to build and develop, and states that choose to enter this realm should reasonably expect to also bear the necessary costs of verification and treaty compliance; it seems imprudent to have disarmament and nonproliferation be limited by a desire to be overly budget conscious.
    To address the question of multilateral situations raised above, I agree that this document does not necessarily create clarity on the distinction between these categories or an obvious hierarchy. I think that the report is right to point out that states cannot reasonably be expected to put aside their own national interests. Since any multilateral situation necessarily involves state actors, a greater focus may need to be placed on recognizing that states’ unique interests will still be present and assessing how best to manage them. In some cases, states’ national security concerns and other interests may prove advantageous, for example preventing bureaucracy from impeding solutions overseen by international institutions or larger groups of nations.

  4. Like my classmates, I also found this document relatively vague, and therefore hard to take as actionable in a concrete sense. Specifically, I believe the deliverable did a good job of identifying the concerns one needs to consider when implementing verification principles into a treaty, but did little to provide guidance on what to when these concerns collide (which is, at least to me, a more difficult question). To reframe concerns raised by Christine and others about the document’s lack of clarity when distinguishing between national and sovereign interests, I believe one of the biggest holes in the deliverable is that it doesn’t give real advice on what to do when Principles 1 and 2, effectiveness and building confidence, conflict with Principle 4, noninterference. Simply put, the more information a country provides (or the verifiers have access to), the more effective and confidence-building verification is. However, demanding too much information, especially of a confidential nature, could violate a state’s sovereignty and cause that state to believe its security is being put at risk. To be fair, the report does acknowledge this tension, stating “Non-interference therefore dictates that any verification agreement must seek a balance between its objectives and its intrusiveness”. As guidance, the document asserts “as a general rule, this means that any information or data sought by the verification entity must be instrumental to establishing the required level of assurance”. However, the document doesn’t establish a standard for determining what information is instrumental, or what the required level of assurance is. Furthermore, the document doesn’t help resolve the case where certain information is absolutely necessary for effective verification, but forcing a state to provide it would nevertheless violate its sovereignty. In that case, what is the priority, verification or the state’s security and sovereignty? Charlotte is right to point out that “In some cases, states’ national security concerns and other interests may prove advantageous”, but what exactly are those cases, and who decides that? A country without nuclear weapons surely has little to fear in terms of their own interest being violated by verification, but a country such a North Korea or Iran would take a very different view. In short, the deliverable asks the right questions about this tension between the effectiveness of verification and a state’s sovereignty, but does little to provide the answers.

  5. I agree with most of the above posts, finding the IPNDV’s document to be at times obvious and also, as Christina alluded to, somewhat contradictory in its goals. Most of principles here do indeed seem pretty obvious, as if there is a more cost-effective way of achieving a goal, then it should definitely be pursued (Principle 5). In response to Paul’s concern about how arms control mechanisms are so vital that at times it is not important to worry about financial feasibility, I would be inclined to argue that the authors of this directive would probably agree; however, what they are trying to emphasize is that reduce the amount of wasted time and resources. The example given with the inspection of fuel rods highlights this objective. However, the document is still vague, so we do not know for certain what the authors think of your concern!

    With respect to Christine’s second concern over the “lack of clarity it gave on distinguishing national and multilateral affairs and interests,” I would argue that it might be worthwhile to gauge the intention of the IPNDV in the document. Perhaps they were trying to toe the line as carefully as possible and not particularly upset the balance of multilateral and national power. They might have been trying to appeal to countries that feel insecure about continuous arms control mechanisms as well as countries that advocate a more intrusive role for multilateral institutions.

    The principle of cooperation in Principle 2, which highlighted the need for transparency as well as being to request information from other states, was also quite vague, a point touched on earlier. I find it far too optimistic to expect clear transparency in arms control mechanisms from all states, especially given the inherent amount distrust that may exist between two countries. Perhaps this is, as Adrienne mentioned, a document that encourages more innovation in the field of where cooperation in arms control might be feasible, but at the moment it seems to me far too optimistic. There is always an incentive to defect from an agreement, and cooperation might just be superficially pursued.

  6. As much as I agree with my classmates’ opinions on the vagueness in guidance and clarity for the document to properly serve as a guide to disarmament verification for the IPNDV, to play devil’s advocate, I think if we pivot our lenses from a traditional guide, laying out with specificity in steps, to theoretical principles, then the document provides proper checklists that work as foundations for specific situations. In the general observation, the document does clarify that the 7 principles are to be applied “in theory to all verification scenarios and all steps of the dismantlement process. The extent to which each principle is relevant to specific verification scenarios in practice may vary and must be determined by the Partnership.” (1) Given the complexity and diversity of the situations that can not be all forecasted, such documents that lay out the necessary principles to ground discussions and actions are seen to be necessary and perhaps in the big picture be more effective to IPNDV then a much detailed guide that may not cover unexpected situations. Thus, I think in this case then how obvious some of the points were should not be subject to criticism. As a guide even though some things may be obvious, during certain times the most obvious can be forgotten and as a guide that is all encompassing for every situation, it should state the evident and non-evident points. Furthermore, the appendix which includes a flowchart of a very detailed 14-step process of an “analytic framework of various dismantlement-related activities” also demonstrates that perhaps Working Group 1 wanted to major focus for the document to be more open-ended, which might require stating the obvious and leaving open-interpretations for others given the uncertainty of situations that may arise because of the lack of historical precedents. (11) However, as others suggests hypothetical situations as examples could still have been effective in clarity and specificity without hurting the document’s purpose.

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