Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk

 

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of serving my second term as the Director-General of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). I played my role in a simulation set up by the CTBTO’s Capacity Development Initiative (CDI). As last year, the gameplay felt realistic, and the outcome vote fell within what one would expect if the simulated situation had been real.

I wrote about my first term experience last year (Simulating the CTBTO Executive Council, 2 August 2012). Back then, the Executive Council chose to resolve the question without a vote – an on-site inspection was not authorized. Instead, the CTBTO were to implement confidence-building measures in accordance with article IV.68 of the Treaty and Part III of its Protocol. This was a smart move, which respected the boundaries of the treaty. It also allowed for a resolution of the situation without resorting to an on-site inspection with all that that entails. However, the solution was not without its dangers. The reason why inspection times are detailed in the treaty, and why they are relatively short, is because some evidence evaporates quite quickly. A confidence building measure, hence, allows some isotopes to decay into quantities so small that they’re becoming virtually impossible to detect.

The events of 2013

This year’s scenario was skilfully drafted, and left less room for ambiguity. On 18 May 2013, a seismic event was detected in the Federal Democratic Republic of Azania—a fictional country loosely modelled on South Africa. Equilibria – modelled on Austria – requested consultation and clarification with Azania. The Azanians explained that the event had been a very large chemical explosion – approximately 2.5 kilotons – at the Potters River Weapons range. This range, co-incidentally, also happened to be a nuclear test site at the time when Azania had its own weapons. Unsurprisingly, the Equilibrians were not satisfied with the explanation, and requested an on-site inspection. When the Council met, however, they found the absence of radionuclide data troubling, and the request was voted down.

Of course, the story did not end there. On 12 July 2013, Xenon-131m and Xenon-133 were detected by an IMS monitoring station at Reunion. Later, on 16 July 2013, the same isotopes were detected again, this time by a station at Kerguelen. The Equilibrians therefore submitted another on-site inspection request on 17 July 2013. The Council convened the following day, and this is where this year’s simulation began.

One problem in the game was that Azania is a major radioisotope producer (so is South Africa). This production results in periodic releases, sometimes in large quantities, of Xenon-133. This background complicates drawing conclusions on whether a suspicious event originated from a release from a civilian process, or from a nuclear detonation. It does not mean that it becomes impossible, simply more difficult (as this paper clearly shows).

As would be expected, the game data did not hold up to closer scrutiny. It was a combination of the seismic signature of real earthquake that occurred in South Africa and ‘adopted’ radionuclide data, mostly taken from the most recent DPRK test. Both Pierce Corden, my in-game IDC director, and I quickly drilled some holes in the scenario. The data, however, was not the point of the exercise. One objective was to see how a political body would react to two pieces of information which were separately inconclusive, but which, taken together, would support an on-site inspection request. A very large explosive event, combined with the release of radionuclides, the absence of in-depth consultation and clarification, would point to the need to conduct an inspection, if nothing else simply to confirm that nothing untoward had happened.

Technical verification is slaved to political expediency

However, politics is not a slave to technical data, or objective legal argumentation. Politics have a life of its own, sometimes disregarding the most compelling technical or legal case. Several participants observed, as they did last year, that the simulation was unrealistic, as it did not involve technical expertise. They argued that in a real situation, the Executive Council would have an ample supply of technical advisors.

Well, don’t count on it. Some member states will not have the necessary technical knowledge, but they would still need to vote. If verification history teaches us anything, it is that evidence and data is often overlooked or cherry-picked. States see what is politically expedient to see. After all, we all know that global warming is not really happening, that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction, and that Iran’s nuclear programme warrants no further investigation. It is, in other words, reasonable to ask whether technical input into the verification process is a deciding variable in all instances. Nancy Gallagher has devoted a large part of her life to this question, and her books ‪Arms Control‬: ‪New Approaches to Theory and Policy‬‬‬ and The Politics of Verification are, in my mind, must-read contributions to the debate.‬‬

After a request has been received by the CTBTO, the clock is ticking, and the vote is all but inevitable. The only way an on-site inspection can avoid being voted on is if the requesting state withdraws its request. In this scenario, the request was submitted by a European state against a non-aligned African threshold-state, under suspicion of having reconstituted its nuclear programme. But is this really the most conceivable non-compliance scenario under the CTBT?

For one, I believe that the most likely showdown in the Executive Council will be between the nuclear weapon states. A less likely scenario involves allegations levelled against a threshold state. Now imagine that the Russian Federation accuses the United States, or the United States accuses China, that they have unlawfully tested a nuclear device. This is an act that, if proven, would constitute a serious breach of law and trust, and something that could have far-reaching policy consequences. Does anyone reading this honestly envision a calm, scientifically rigorous, and legally consistent debate in a relaxed Executive Council? If so, I envy your belief in human rationality.

Politics is messy, and when superpowers clash, assume involvement on the very highest level. Expect presidents to make personal phone calls to cash in on every single favour listed in the book. The CTBTO Executive Council must call a vote within 96 hours. Those four days will be incredibly intense. With a UN Security Council in likely deadlock, all eyes will be on Vienna. Wagramerstrasse will be filled with TV vans and everyone leaving or entering the building will be pestered for information. The NGO community will be stacked up outside the closed Council doors, waiting to push their views on those delegations unlucky (or smart) enough to run into them. A lot of people will get grey hairs, and many careers and livelihoods will hang in the balance.

Play and showdown

Now, the simulation held two weeks ago in Vienna was less tense. There were also some amusing moments. The Iranian player, for instance, told me that the Israeli player had walked up wanting to coordinate the vote with her, to which she responded, “you got to be kidding!” Can’t blame the Israelis for trying, I suppose.

The questions and arguments circulating around the floor were both technical and political by nature. Had there been previous large releases of radionuclides from the region? How deep was the seismic event? If the event was a very large chemical explosion, why had not the Azanians notified the CTBTO in advance, in accordance with article IV.68 of the Treaty? Can the technical secretariat provide the Council with more information on the outcome of its consultation and clarification effort? Was the on-site inspection request properly formatted? If not, should the Director-General work with Azania to reformat the request (and what happens then with the decision deadline)? There were many others.

Two questions stood out as particularly interesting. The first related to the issue of ‘frivolous or abusive on-site inspection requests’ (article IV.67). This is a safeguard in the Treaty designed to make the requesting state party think twice before submitting a request. In the simulation, two requests had been submitted (and some noted that the same state requested a OSI last year, which was turned down). A few delegations moved to have the Council immediately consider whether the third OSI request had been abusive, and called for the expulsion of Equilibria from the Executive Council. Judging from the response in the room, I believe that this card will turn out to be an important one in a ‘live’ situation.

The second question was more topical. Some delegations pointed out that if Azania had, indeed, tested a nuclear device, they would need to see IAEA safeguards data. After all, the country had been implementing an Additional Protocol for years, and the Agency had not raised any concerns. The Azanian government must, therefore, have engaged on a very elaborate deception strategy to amass the required fissile material for the device. If the CTBTO could request safeguards confidential data from the IAEA, the Executive Council would have more to go on. However, article IV.44 of the Treaty does not enable the Director-General to reach out to the neighbouring Agency (note the word ‘within’ in the article).

State parties could table the information, but the Agency is not likely to release safeguards confidential information to anyone but the safeguarded state. Technically, the IAEA Board of Governors could convene, then request a report from the IAEA Director General. The BOG rules of procedure usually stipulate a 72-hour notice period before any meeting, although this can be waived in ‘exceptional circumstances’. The question then is whether the IAEA could put together a report within the CTBT 96-hour timeline? Probably, if they cancel all shore-leaves and lock the VIC doors.

In real life, the question whether the IAEA and the Provisional Technical Secretariat is free to exchange data is still largely unresolved, and was put to the test during the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

Returning to the simulation. As it happened, bloc politics and policy trumped technical considerations. The roll-call vote was scheduled with 45 minutes to go until the deadline. The chair drew the first country to place the vote randomly, and the honour fell on India. This is when things took a surprising turn.

The Iranian player told me over drinks later in the evening that their straw poll had indicated that the request would receive 25 affirmative votes. It would hence be defeated, leaving the option open to hit the Equilibrians hard with sanctions enumerated in article IV.67 in the Treaty. However, shortly after the red light on India’s microphone went on, those hopes were crushed. After a long statement, India changed its vote to a yes. As India changed, several other delegations changed with it. The on-site inspection request passed with a two-vote margin. Many players said that they had been following India’s lead, simply because it’s a powerful non-aligned player, not easily crossed. If the chair had not drawn India as the first to cast its vote, the situation might have played out differently.

Yet again, the CTBTO had put together a persuasive simulation of the Executive Council. It threw up many more aspects of treaty implementation than last year, and as such was a highly valuable learning experience. Of course, it would not been possible without the diligent work of Mr. Jean Du Preez and his team; Ms. Marcy Fowler, this year’s chair; Dr. Pierce Corden, the in-play IDC director; and Ms. Fanny Tonos Paniagua, the in-play CTBTO legal advisor. Many thanks to all of them for making my second, and most likely final, term as Director-General a treasured memory.

 
 

Some of you know that I am a regular visitor in Vienna, and that I haven’t missed a General Conference since 2004. Most of you also know that I’m not a very diligent blogger anymore. Having said that, I thought it would be useful to give the ACW community my take on what’s been going on with the safeguards resolution this year. I will leave it to Jeffrey to put in a suitable illustration. He always does, and it often involves ABBA or Swedish chefs, or what have you.

[Editor's note: Not always. But see below.]

The safeguards resolution of the IAEA General Conference has, for many years, been one of the highlights and great dreads of the conference. Member states anxieties and excessive wrangling over its text tends to ensure that the final day of the conference ends around midnight. While this adds to the excitement of the conference, it is also a very costly undertaking. Sitting in the conference hall in the middle of the night surely raises questions as to whether it is all worth it.

For sure, the resolution is the one that receives a lot of attention from the media, and that may be one of the reasons that member states invest so heavily in it. But all this effort can also be explained by simple economics. The resolution addresses one of the central work areas of the organization, an area worth some 37 per cent of the regular budget. From that perspective, it is natural that member states are keen to have a say in how that money is spent.

Background to the resolution
The safeguards resolution was introduced in 1991. At the time, it represented an important shift in the internal debate on safeguards. Prior to its introduction, resolutions on safeguards tended to focus on the financing of the safeguards system, and not its operation. Since then, however, the IAEA membership has focused not so much on how the system should be financed, but on how it can be improved.

Last year, the conference could not unite on language, breaking a two-decade long string of formulated, reformulated and restated understandings on the safeguards system. But divisions on the resolution started well before that, with the introduction in 2001 of language recognizing the importance of achieving universal application of the safeguards system, and urging states to bring into force comprehensive safeguards agreements. This forced the conference, for many years, to have a separate vote on this paragraph, after which members voted on the resolution as a whole. At first, this was done by hand (hence making it impossible for those scrutinizing the record to see who voted for what).

Since 2007, however, a roll call has been requested on both amendments and the resolution as a whole, making divisions clear to see. Those who have wanted to see the additional paragraph have abstained from the resolution as a whole. The core group of persistent abstainers is rather small: Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria. It is likely supported by Iraq, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen, who have abstained on those occasions that they’ve been present in the conference hall. In addition, a group of nations comprising Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Pakistan have abstained most of the time, but voted in favour at one occasion. Interestingly, where Iran and India goes on the vote is difficult to predict. Both have voted for the resolution twice, but abstained three times since 2007.

The list of those consistently voting for the resolution is rather long, but includes the vast majority of industrialized nations with significant nuclear activities. For many states, the resolution serves the purpose of providing at least some guidance on the future direction of safeguards. They do not want to jeopardize this, and this becomes important when analyzing the support for the introduction of new language.

Disarmament language on the roll
The press seem to have focused on the roll-call vote on disarmament language inserted by Iran in the preambular part of the resolution, a relatively harmless addition that safeguards is a fundamental component of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Similar language was proposed in 2010. Egypt had proposed changing the title to refer to ‘nuclear verification’ and argued, in support of its position, that ‘the Agency had an important role to play in verifying nuclear disarmament as well as nuclear non-proliferation, and there were precedents for discussing the Agency’s role in verifying nuclear disarmament—for example, within the framework of the Trilateral Initiative’.

The Egyptians continued to explain that ‘the proposal had been opposed in the working group by a few Member State representatives who clearly feared that discussing nuclear verification would mean dealing with country-specific issues’. No state raised an objection to this characterization. Egypt clarified that ‘it would be possible…to discuss nuclear verification at a thematic…level and so cover the entire range of activities which the Agency was carrying out, had carried out and might be invited to carry out in the near future’.

The fact that the language had not been inserted did not significantly alter the 2010 vote on the resolution. Myanmar changed its 2009 yes vote to an abstention. Iraq recorded an abstention as well, but then it had not voted in the previous year. It would have abstained no matter what. The rest of the floor voted in a rather predictable way.

In 2011, Brazil wanted to insert language that ‘notes that, in furthering the establishment of safeguarded worldwide disarmament, non-proliferation and disarmament efforts, including nuclear verification, are mutually reinforcing’. This suggestion got public support by an interesting range of countries: Cuba, Algeria, Venezuela, Ireland, Iran, New Zealand, South Africa, Egypt, Germany, Syria, Singapore, Sweden and Australia. The interesting thing with this line-up is that it includes governments aligned with the Western group, not just the usual suspects.

The nuclear-weapon states did not take a stand on the subject matter as such, instead reverting to procedural arguments. Russia and the United States were in agreement that the conference was ‘running behind schedule’ and that there ‘was no time for debate’ on the amendment. France simply said that the original draft was ‘excellent’ and that it therefore should ‘not be opened up to amendment proposals’. The Russians added that had the ‘wording been available for consideration three months earlier, it could have been considered, but there was now no time for the necessary negotiations’. The United Kingdom said that it ‘would have been willing to consider in isolation’ the Brazilian proposal, but that there was many other concerns – not relating to disarmament – that had been raised. This is a key point. Even if agreement could have been reached on the disarmament language in 2011, its not clear that consensus could have been reached.

This point is emphasized by the outcome this year. Again, disarmament language was introduced. It went to a vote, which has been reported in the media, but the outcome of that vote was never in doubt. Many delegations took the floor expressing the view that they were still firmly supportive of the disarmament agenda, but that the other parts of the resolution were important too. In other words, many would have welcomed the inclusion of disarmament language, but not in this resolution, and not at this time. To say that the vast majority of member states feel as though the Agency should have no part in disarmament verification is therefore either uninformed or, frankly, disingenuous. Especially so as the resolution, as a careful observer will see, actually supports an Agency role in disarmament verification already. The only change on the floor itself was that Cuba, Iran and Venezuela changed their yes votes to abstentions, possibly out of disappointment that the addition did not carry.

Other changes in the voting pattern were more interesting. India changed its long-running abstention into a yes vote. So did Jordan and Kuwait (and even Myanmar bounced back into the yes camp). On the whole, the resolution enjoyed the greatest level of support since 2008, with yes votes outnumbering abstainers by almost five to one.

So what has changed?
This is a difficult question to answer, particularly as the resolution seems to water down important language on safeguards. In particular, references to the IAEA’s state level concept (a technique which, in a nutshell, evaluates the material balance declarations of a state as a whole) had been battered or deleted.

For instance, in 2010 the General Conference welcomed ‘the important work being undertaken by the Agency in the conceptualization and and development of state-level safeguards approaches to safeguards implementation’ and also ‘in the implementation of state-level integrated safeguards approaches which support more effective and efficient safeguards’. This language was weakened this year, with the conference simply ‘taking note’ of this work, with the reference to ‘state-level integrated safeguards approaches’ deleted.

In 2010, the General Conference also urged the Secretariat of the Agency to ensure that the transition to integrated safeguards are given high priority. This reference is gone and so, presumably, the will of the conference to emphasise the need for safeguards reform. A new operative paragraph, later in the resolution, simply ‘encourages the Agency to continue to pursue the implementation of integrated safeguards in those states where both a comprehensive safeguards agreement and additional protocol are in force’.

Before the General Conference, there was talk that Russia had queried the state-level concept both privately and in the Board of Governors. The conference now requests ‘the Secretariat to report to the Board of Governors on the conceptualization and development of the State-level concept for safeguards’. This is significant, as it will force the Secretariat to clearly communicate what the state-level concept means, and how it will impact on safeguards implementation. Some are worried that the concept introduces a level of discrimination in the system. The state-level concept has always been designed with non-discrimination in mind, however, and the Secretariat now has the opportunity to explain this in more detail.

Other changes are more surprising. No longer is the General Conference urging the expansion of analytical capabilities in other countries, a main feature in the 2010 safeguards resolution. Rather, it is content with welcoming Agency efforts to strengthen the capabilities of its Seibersdorf laboratory as well as the Network of Analytical Laboratories. The Agency is encouraged to ‘enhance its technical capabilities and keep abreast of scientific and technological innovations that hold promising potential for safeguards purposes, and to continue building effective partnerships with Member States in this regard’. This language, which replaces older language on cooperation, ought to open up exciting new opportunities for collaboration with the IAEA in developing future generations of safeguards technologies.

Rather interestingly, the General Conference no longer acknowledges the the importance of giving members the opportunity to comment on the Safeguards Implementation Report.

There have also been a few additions. In the preamble, rather weak language has been added to note the conference’s recognition that ‘safeguards must be effective and implemented in an efficient manner, in accordance with relevant safeguards agreements,’ as well as a recognition that ‘the Agency’s safeguards implementation is continually reviewed and evaluated by the Agency’. This language will hardly change the way the Agency is implementing safeguards.

More importantly, the resolution now emphasises ‘the obligation of states to cooperate with the Agency in order to facilitate the implementation of safeguards agreements’. The conference also ‘calls on the Agency to continue to exercise fully its authority in accordance with the Statute in the implementation of safeguards agreements’.

What’s in store for 2013?
Last year I argued that ‘it would be wise for those who care deeply about the Agency to use the coming year to rework the resolution into a text that is cleaner and more reflective of state views’. I also said that ‘it would also be sensible by those same delegates to think of ways in which the debate on the Agency’s role in broader verification is allowed to flow freely throughout the corridors of its General Conference’. (Hit the guest thread and you’ll find that post under this one. One post per year. A lot can be said about that).

The resolution still has 30 operative paragraphs and a lot of preambular language. By way of comparison, the first ever safeguards resolution had three preambular and four operative paragraphs. The 2012 text is hardly cleaner, but given increasing support for it, perhaps more reflective of member state views.

Sadly, though, member states did not grasp the opportunity to allow the disarmament verification debate to enter into the conference. It is clear that the safeguards resolution is not the right place for this. It does have a place, however, given that many nuclear-weapon states seemed interested in at least debating the issue in 2011. The coming year should be spent thinking about how, not if, this debate should take place.

 
 

It’s been a long time since I last guest blogged on ACW, and it feels good to be back. I’m glad to see that my avatar still looks stern and angry.

As some may have noticed, last week’s IAEA General Conference ended without member states being able to agree on a safeguards resolution. Reuters put the blame on some member states, quoting two Western envoys. This story was picked up by Global Security Newswire on 27 September. While there is some truth to the story, it doesn’t pick up on all the complexities of the debate.

I followed the safeguards discussion for at least three years, during a time when there was no problem for non-governmental delegates to attend. In fact, I remember being pulled into the room by a colleague from an important Western state who said, “all the action is in this room, and the rest of the conference is boring”.

It was a quiet time, not many non-governmental organizations were roaming the hallways, and the only non-IAEA colleague I can remember was Mark Hibbs, who then worked at Platts Nuclear Fuels. For the last two years, however, I have been too busy with bilateral meetings and those other matters that take up a director’s time. Since then, I have lost touch with the people in that room (for they were always the same crowd) and their mission to come up with the perfect formula.

Now, I understand the Secretariat, pushed by a few member states, has become much stricter in controlling access to this room. This is unfortunate, since it allows for subjectively biased information to appear unchallenged in the open domain. In addition, some of our younger colleagues have also been ejected rudely from the rooms in a way that, if these young friends have recollected correctly, has reflected badly on the Secretariat. Indeed, less discontent – not more – is needed in the hallways of the M-building. And while I hope that this is not a continuing trend, my intuition tells me attitudes will become worse before they become better.

But let’s go back to the safeguards resolution. Over the years, the main struggle has principally been between states who wish to reflect and promote the development of a stronger safeguards standard, and those who want to block collective support of this. Indeed, earlier in the week, there was even a tendency by a minority to resist the idea of “information driven safeguards”. There is also resistance against any language that hints that the Additional Protocol may become the new safeguards standard. That intrusiveness is not welcomed, nor thought needed, by all states. This division was reflected in the safeguards resolution.

Indeed, the debate may be at its fiercest in this little room at the General Conference, but the shockwaves can be felt beyond its walls, for instance throughout the NPT Review Conference cycle. Anyone examining the final document of last year’s conference will find scars of this disagreement running throughout. The discussions in Austria are not new, and the outcome, frankly, not that surprising.

So, disarmament language may have been one source of discontent this year, but it is not the main battle ground, and I dare say that it will not be for the foreseeable future. Indeed, the objection to including disarmament language, and I remember such language being suggested more than two years ago, is mostly procedural. The safeguards resolution ought to deal with safeguards matters, the argument goes. Other roles of the IAEA should be dealt with through other means. True, there is a minority of nuclear weapon states that may resist the inclusion on substantial grounds (and I think we know who they are), but their views have never been fully articulated. There are also those that believe that nuclear disarmament indeed falls under the Agency’s safeguards mandate. After all, the IAEA Statute refers to “safeguarded worldwide disarmament”. Also, the mandate in Article III.A.5 does not exclude an Agency role in safeguarding weapons usable material. On the contrary, it seem to foresee it.

Personally, though, I agree with the first view. Over the years, the word safeguards have come to mean instruments deployed mostly in non-nuclear weapon states. Its usage has been strongly associated with non-proliferation. Altering the meaning now is bound to lead to resistance, and perhaps confusion.

In addition, the safeguards resolution is already too clumsy, too long, too vague, and too meaningless to matter that much. After a long preamble, one would expect to find some exciting operative language. Alas, the resolution simply continues with more preamble language, making the entire document one long tiring list of ideals, soft welcoming statements, with one or two twists embedded for show. As the years have passed, revisions have been added to revisions, suggestions interbred with suggestions, and confusion squared with confusion. I stopped reading it some time ago and I’m not surprised that some Agency officials just shrugged at its absence this year.

Some will see this is a great setback. Others, to paraphrase a close colleague in Vienna, will simply see this as an accurate reflection of the state of affairs and the divergence of views in the house. I see this is a great opportunity.

It would be wise for those who care deeply about the Agency to use the coming year to rework the resolution into a text that is cleaner and more reflective of state views. Most delegates in the safeguards resolution working group are passionate supporters of the Agency, and its role. It would also be sensible by those same delegates to think of ways in which the debate on the Agency’s role in broader verification is allowed to flow freely throughout the corridors of its General Conference.

This is a crosspost from my own blog, and from the VERTIC blog. Apologies if you’re receiving multiple notifications.

 
 

Many years ago, I managed to convince VERTIC’s then Executive Director, Michael Crowley, to send me on a two day trip to Vienna just to meet with our friends at the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization. During those days, the treaty’s verification regime was still half built, and the building was buzzing with activity. The Public Information Section of the organization’s Legal and External Relations Division, then headed by Ambassador Daniela Rozgonova, invited me on a grand tour of the building.

One meeting in particular stand out from those days. I met with a member of the International Monitoring System Division, who took me through how the system works. He started off with this brilliant presentation – a slideshow that I really think should be placed on the CTBTO website – which made everything perfectly clear. I realized that for all its complexity, the verification regime is actually based on simple assumptions. There was a clean beauty hidden in its simplicity. There was also something remarkably touching to see ancient earth science techniques mated with the latest in 21st century processing, analysis and communication.

Now anyone can get that experience. The CTBTO has recently started a new course on the treaty and its verification regime. It covers the verification system, of course, but also offers more, much more. It may be too late to apply to the present round, but those interested in a similar experience may want to contact the Secretariat to inquire about the next round.

And don’t despair if you cannot get there in person. It’s all going to be streamed. Live.

 
 

The long-running dispute over IAEA inspector designations stands out in the latest report on Iran. Iran rejects inspectors. The IAEA is not happy with it. But who is right and who is wrong? As so often, there are no easy answers.

Paragraphs 9 and 85 of the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (INFCIRC/153) details how inspectors are selected. In practice, the Agency suggests a roster of inspectors to the state. The inspected state does have the right to object to any of the suggested names. If it does so, the IAEA has to propose an alternative name. This procedure aims to minimize the risk that intelligence officers, or perhaps corporate spies, infiltrate the inspectorate with a view to gathering classified or sensitive data.

However, the state’s right to refuse inspectors is not unrestricted. If a state refuses designations repeatedly, and that refusal should “impede the inspections” carried out by the Agency, the Director-General has the choice to refer the matter to the Board for consideration and action. The text doesn’t spell out who should decide that a repeated refusal impedes inspections. An ordinary reading strongly suggests that it is the Secretariat itself that makes that determination. It cannot be the state, because that would make the entire paragraph meaningless (it would never admit that its behavior impedes inspections). It also cannot be the Board of Governors, since that would make the language on referral irrelevant.

The paragraph is likely to target behavior when the state is trying to obstruct the inspection process. It does not have a problem with the names on the list. Rather, it has a problem with the inspections themselves. In the present case, Iran is trying to use the mechanism to put pressure on the Secretariat to curb leaks of the Director-General’s reports to the media. While Iran’s irritation is understandable, its objections, as reported, have little to do with the inspectors themselves. After all, we’ve not seen a repeat of the Chris Charlier story.

The Director-General’s impatience is also clear. The latest report reveals that the IAEA met with Iran’s Ambassador to the Agency on 20 July 2010 to discuss this particular matter. According to the report, the IAEA held that Iran’s “repeated objection … hampers the inspection process and thereby detracts from the Agency’s capability to implement effective and efficient safeguards in Iran.” This language, forcefully put, closely resembles the wording of the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement. The Director-General does not clearly ask the Board to consider the matter at its meeting next week. So the report’s language is probably meant to be a shot across the bow.

However, even if the Board were to discuss the matter, there’s not much it can do. It could call on Iran, under paragraph 18 of the Agreement, to accept the Secretariat’s inspector designations “without delay.” Whether Iran, in such a case, complies with the Board’s request is another matter entirely.

I wouldn’t make a spot bet on it.

 
 

Some readers noted errors in my previously posted calculations (Enriching Salehi’s Statement, 25 June 2010). My assumptions were quite wrong. I’ve now, finally, found some time to sit down and revisit my numbers. And as it happens, on the same day as Mr. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the AEOI, have announced that his outfit has now produced about 20 kilograms of ‘higher enriched uranium’.

Again, according to the latest IAEA report on Iran:

  • One cascade is presently enriching uranium to ‘higher grade’. This cascade comprises 164 IR-1 machines.
  • Between 9 February 2010 and 21 May 2010 (that is, for 101 days), a total of approximately 172 kg of low enriched UF6 was fed into the first cascade. This gives as approximate feed rate of 1.703 kg/day.
  • On 7 April 2010 (after 57 days), Iran withdrew 5.7 kilograms hexafluoride gas enriched to 19.7 per cent U-235 (the Agency assay indicates an enrichment level of 19.3 per cent). This gives us an approximate product rate of 100 grams per day.
  • The tails are set to 2.0 wt% U-235 (and not 0.2 wt% as assumed in the previous post). Iran intends, by connecting the second cascade, to bring the tails down to 0.7 wt% (that is natural uranium).

Under these parameters, a feed of 172 kilograms of 3.5 per cent enriched hexafluoride gas should equal about 14.54 kilograms of 19.7 per cent enriched material. As noted above, Iran withdrew much less than half of this on 7 April 2010. In order to make approximate sense of that numbers, the tails setting must be close to 2.5 wt% (this assuming that material were fed at a constant rate from 9 February to 7 April). Also, under that assumption, the machines operated at about 0.63 SWU/machine and year, not by any means an impressive figure.

However, the numbers make more sense in the aggregate. I ran the known average feed and product per day through statistical software, and came up with some interesting numbers, but only after making two assumptions. First, in order to produce 20 kilograms of enriched gas, the total feed for the period would need to be 236.7 kilograms. Second, I had to assume that the additional material has been fed into the cascades after 20 May 2010. This actually leads to a drop in the feed rate (down to 1.2207 kilograms per day). I’ve put it all in a graph.

Running all 156 data points leads to some interesting conclusions. The mean feed flow rate, under all these assumptions, becomes about 1.536 kilograms per day (with a sigma of about 230 grams and a deviation of 218 grams). The mean product flow rate becomes about 129 grams, with a sigma of about 22 grams and a deviation of about 21 grams).

Extrapolating the mean value over a year gives a feed of 560.64 kg yield a product of about 47.09 kg. All things being equal, this would require a tails setting of 2 wt%, which is precisely what Iran has declared. The total separative investment would be 154.4 SWU/year. This would mean that the machines are running at 0.94 SWU/machine/year.

The cascade solution would look something like this:

So, to sum up, I can draw three conclusions:

First, I was definitely wrong in accusing Mr. Salehi of misleading us;

Second, in fact, his figures may well be right; and

Third, playing around with these figures are inherently dangerous, since there are many assumptions that have to be made, especially regarding tails enrichment.

 
 

Iran’s enrichment effort continues to move forward as their scientists and technicians continue their relentless pursuit of ever higher enrichment levels, and ever more effective centrifuges. At least that’s the official story, eagerly broadcast by Iranian officials.

Few have probably missed the 23 June claim by Mr. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, that Iran has produced 17 kilograms of 19.75 per cent enriched uranium hexafluoride gas. He also said that his outfit can produce as much as five kilograms a month. ISIS has pointed out that Mr. Salehi’s statement does not square neatly with the IAEA’s latest report on Iran.

The report suggests that the product flow rate between 9 February and 7 April has been precisely 100 grams a day (according to the IAEA logs, the Iranians withdrew 5.7 kilograms after 57 days). If Mr. Salehi’s production claim is true, the flow rate for the period 9 February to 23 June has in fact been about 127 grams a day.

If you think that most of the 11.3 remaining kilograms of uranium hexafluoride gas was produced after 7 April, the product flow rate of the facility jumped from 100 to about 147 g/day. That is [still] a remarkable increase in productivity.

Mr. Salehi does say the cascade can produce that much. He’s claiming that Natanz can gear up to around 164.5 grams a day. This, to me, sounds optimistic.

If the P-1 machines were running at their theoretical limits, one 164 machine cascade should not be able to achieve a higher product flow rate than about 112 g/day. This is assuming 2.2 SWU/machine, an average feed enrichment of 3.5 wt %, and a tails enrichment of 0.2 wt %. Increasing the tails to, say, 0.5 wt % could pump up the flow rate to about 155 g/day, which still falls short of Mr. Salehi’s statement, and well short of 200 grams a day.

Indeed, on a single cascade, the tails would need to be set to 0.6 wt %, all other variables being equal, to achieve the stated capacity. In other words, the cascade would have close to natural uranium in its tails, flowing out at 934 g/day. I leave to others to judge whether this is an economical way to run an enrichment plant.

This leaves the alternative that Iran has put both cascades into action. Having two cascades of P-1 centrifuges, again at peak performance, will increase the flow rate to 224 g/day, assuming a 0.2 wt % tails setting. Mr. Salehi’s estimate of 164.5 g/day makes sense in that context. However, the latest Agency report reveal that as of 24 May, the second cascade was not put into operation. Even if it were put on-stream the following day, it is unlikely that the two interconnected cascades can have brought the balance up to 17 kilograms.

It should be said in closing that diversion risks are tiny when material balances are this small, provided the IAEA is allowed to apply safeguards as it considers right. Rumblings from senior Iranian officials that Iran may in fact reduce its cooperation with the IAEA are therefore unfortunate. How Iran intends to draw down on cooperation is also fundamentally unclear, since they presently seem to cooperating at the bare minimum.

Update: A friend of the wonk has pointed out that increasing the feed rate would result in reduced enrichment. So if Iran would have bumped up the feed rate, it would in fact dilute the product quite a bit. That’s something to ponder indeed.

Update 2: Thank you Ataune for spotting a calculation error. 11.3 kg / 77 days is 146.8 grams per day. The post has been revised accordingly.

Update 3: Thanks for all comments, both on and off-line. The general thrust is that although SWU calculations – on which this post is based – can be useful, a cascade calculation will yield better results. In fact, the tails are most likely LEU and not DU as posted here. When I get back from Wilton Park, I’ll revise the post to in light of all comments. This is a truly remarkable readership – none mentioned none forgotten.

 
 

These days, the dignified art of arms control verification is both lauded and lambasted in the conference rooms of UN Headquarters. Having spent a week in New York, I feel fairly ready to tell a tale of mild schizophrenia in States’ attitudes towards confidence-building through transparency and verification.

The CTBT and its verification regime has received much well deserved attention. The UK-Norway Initiative is frequently discussed in very favorable terms. The US decision to reveal its stockpile numbers was welcomed. However, the IAEA safeguards system seems to be treated quite roughly.

Some have insisted on increased transparency in the nuclear weapon states while at the same time resisted attempts to strengthen verification standards for the non-nuclear weapon states.

At stake is, of course, an attempt to make the additional protocol the contemporary safeguards standard. The chances of achieving this is slim. The half-dozen or so most important holdouts are hard cases from the global south, and include states such as Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Iran and Syria (see the IAEA’s stylish map here).

Since 2005, 35 more nations have subscribed to the protocol. While progress has been made, it remains important for the conference still to view the protocol as the safeguards standard, and the ultimate goal should be to make it a prerequisite for the supply of nuclear fuel. Some want to go further. As my new staffer David Cliff wrote in Trust & Verify 128 back in March:

One argument is that Additional Protocols should not be voluntary anyway. The text of [the Additional Protocol] is silent on this, but as John Carlson—director of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office—has pointed out, non-nuclear-weapon states have agreed to accept the agency’s ‘safeguards system’, not specifically the measures set out in [a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement] (which had not even been negotiated when the NPT came into force). As the contemporary safeguards standard, a joint [CSA] – [Additional Protocol] arrangement can thus be plausibly argued to represent the current embodiment of the ‘safeguards system’ referred to in the treaty.

It’s a subtle argument and, as such, it doesn’t get around the positions of many states in Middle East and South Asia that stubbornly refuses to grant the IAEA further inspection authority. One Middle Eastern diplomat I listened to explained that the protocol is a bargaining tool. Western powers could not expect his country to “strip naked and sit in Central Park begging richly dressed nuclear powers for political favors”. Other states in the region clearly just want to avoid close scrutiny of their nuclear affairs, most likely because they have something to hide.

It all leaves the nuclear nonproliferation regime in a rather unpalatable condition.

Perhaps this was on the mind of a western academic I talked to in New York. He held that the bargain of “semi-nuclear disarmament vis-a-vis semi-nuclear nonproliferation” cannot be upheld much longer. Timelines for disarmament should be discussed, no doubt, but only if similar timelines can be set for bringing the safeguards standard up to contemporary requirements. Similar ideas were also briefly raised by some senior Western officials I talked to.

We will know the outcome of the conference in two weeks. It’s making good progress, and the prospects for consensus is good. Whether the Additional Protocol forms part of that consensus, however, remains to be seen.

 
 

When talking to Jeffrey earlier today, I said that I was planning to write a post or two from the Review Conference. However, as Rebecca Johnson and Carol Naughton are already covering the meeting excellently at their Acronym Institute Blog, I thought it’s probably better to direct traffic their way instead of my repeating the same story.

What I’ll do instead is to write up some seventh-inning thoughts on what I think this conference will mean for us verification wonks. I’ll do that on Saturday, after I’ve had the time to talk to some of the intergovernmental folks I’ve seen wandering around in the hallways.

Meanwhile, I’ll take this opportunity to do some shameless self-promotion. I’m holding an event together with the Norwegians and the “Blue and Yellow Brits” on Thursday. All are invited to hear us out.

The United Kingdom and Norway Initiative (UKNI): Research into the Verification of Nuclear Warhead Dismantlement

On Thursday May 13, Norway and the UK are presenting work on their joint initiative to the 2010 NPT Review Conference. The non-governmental organisation VERTIC is providing independent observations.

The UKNI is a unique collaboration between a Nuclear Weapon State (UK) and a Non-Nuclear Weapon State (Norway). It is the first joint work of this nature in this field of research. Confidence building and transparency measures, including verification, will be critical to moving towards a world free from nuclear weapons. This poses significant technical, financial and policy challenges. The project was designed to develop new technologies, methods and procedures for the verification of future dismantlement.

What: Presentation of the NPT Working Paper ‘The United Kingdom-Norway Initiative: Research into the Verification of Nuclear Warhead Dismantlement’

When: Thursday May 13 at 13:15-14:45

Where: Conference Room 2 (TNLB), United Nations headquarters, New York

With introductory remarks from Ambassador Steffen Kongstad, Director-General of the Department for Security Policy at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Norwegian NPT delegation and Ambassador John Duncan, Permanent Representative to the Conference of Disarmament in Geneva and Head of the UK NPT delegation.

VERTIC will also deliver a presentation with an initial analysis of the project from an independent perspective.

Media Contact: Emma Kwesiga Lydersen, Press Counsellor at Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN in New York, ekly [at] mfa.no / +1 646 642 9910 (cell) / +1 212 310 1527 (landline)

Emma is really cool. Give her a call if you require more information. I’ll return on Friday with some musings on the IAEA and the CTBTO.

Update 07:10 EST

You can also download the factsheet here and the UK-Norway Working Paper here

 
 

Trevor Findlay’s Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance has just released a report on Nuclear Futures which makes for excellent reading. In the report, there is a brief paragraph on information driven safeguards.

The Agency claims it is pursuing what it describes as “information driven” (IAEA, 2007b: 16) safeguards, supported by a modern “knowledge management system” (including a database that records the experiences of all safeguards inspectors). However, there remain concerns that the IAEA inspectorate’s “culture” has still not entirely changed from one of examining a narrow range of information to one that considers each individual state’s activities holistically. Further concerns have been expressed about the lack of transparency and openness within the Agency that permits vital information about state compliance to be too tightly held within certain offices, thereby defeating the purpose of the holistic approach (ICNND, 2009: 91-92)

Beyond doubt, the last few decades have seen a transformation of the safeguards business. Until about 20 years ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency only corroborated states’ nuclear material on declared nuclear sites. They did this through measurements and observations. They quantified the nuclear material, they counted fuel rods, and inspectors even watched how materials flowed through the plants themselves.

The inspectors of the 1970s and 1980s realized the limits of the system they enforced. It doesn’t take much to figure out that the easiest way to defeat safeguards is to bypass them. All proliferative states have had to figure out how to deal with one form or another of safeguards on their territories.

Most states seeking to develop nuclear weapons have found that it is best to conduct forbidden activities well away from the prying eyes of the international inspectorate. Iraq’s strategists, for instance, only felt that they could divert its HEU at Tuwaitha after IAEA inspectors had been expelled. And Sweden’s cold warriors felt that they could only convert the R-3/Adam reactor to military use once it had been purged of safeguarded heavy water. Even the most primitive IAEA safeguards works as an ‘area denial’ tool and this is a benefit not to frown on.

In the last two decades, the IAEA has faced ever increasing expectations on what it is able to deliver. Many expect the organization to become nuclear detectives where it has once been nuclear accountants. This is by no means a bad idea, as some have suggested.

The IAEA has moved rapidly towards a system of state-level evaluations. This regime itself is indistinct, and descriptions of it are coached in management language such as “information driven” and “knowledge management system”.

In a nutshell, the IAEA has started to use the large information flow given to it by the Additional Protocol and other knowledge sources to its advantage by feeding it into analytical tools such as the physical model (see one description here). The IAEA has also, over the years, started to realize the power of open source information and satellite imagery analysis. One plan is to feed all this information into a central repository which, well, looks a bit like an internal Wikipedia. I have seen the demo, and it is impressive.

All of this may give the folks in Vienna the potential to describe and understand the entirety of the country’s fuel cycle. Once they are allowed to do that, it will become increasingly difficult to hide away a parallel fuel cycle. But reform does need a change in attitude within the IAEA. Some serving or former safeguards inspectors still like to point out how slowly the organization has changed, and how much work remains to be done.

Be that as it may, the most important thing is that work has started.