Reintegrating Arms Control Into a Comprehensive Approach

Posted by Andreea Paulopol
October 1, 2011
Disarmament Fellows at IAEA

Weeks ago in Geneva, I began touring the world for a deeper understanding of the multilateral field of arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation. I have now arrived in Vienna, Austria, the home to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and to the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

With an intensive set of activities scheduled over the course of a week at the IAEA and CTBTO, here in a city well known for its great classical music composers and delicious schnitzel, I am starting to understand that it is not enough to preserve the existing arms control and disarmament systems as they are; rather, it is essential to adapt new thinking to reflect current international security perspectives in order to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation and verification regime. To be effective, this requires integrating new measures and improved verification and compliance capabilities.

The IAEA, an independent United Nations body, seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and technologies, and to prevent its use for nuclear weapons. The IAEA has received a lot of attention in the public due to a number of global challenges and events, such as responding to the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis caused by the recent earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Another example is Chernobyl, which one senior IAEA official called "a moment of truth for nuclear safety." I came to learn that these tragic events prompted, among many other things, the establishment of the IAEA's first environmental program to assess impacts and remediation options, and the development of a roadmap to address such future accidents.

The events of September 11 exacerbated greater concern over the risks of nuclear terrorism, dirty bombs, failed states and non-state actors. This resulted in the IAEA's enhanced role in critical elements of the nuclear security regime such as physical protection of nuclear materials and facilities, illicit trafficking in nuclear and radioactive materials, and international instruments to improve nuclear security.

During my time in Austria, my colleagues participating in the UN Disarmament Fellowship and I reviewed policy efforts and discussed ways to fully integrate and implement nuclear safety and security measures. I also had an opportunity this week to visit the IAEA's newly expanded Safeguards Clean Laboratory located in Seibersdorf, Austria. The Fellows were the first group to visit this impressive, state-of-the-art facility that was just inaugurated a few days prior by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. As a scientist experienced in performing similar environmental analysis before joining the Department, I was especially pleased to be able to mingle with the staff who have a similar background to my own and who appreciate the IAEA's critical analytical safeguards operations. Walking the hallways and talking to the IAEA scientists has also helped demystify the work of the Agency's Laboratory. I now have a better understanding of the process and analytical methodologies being applied by these scientists, which are similar to any other forensic laboratory, with the exception that, here, they focus on analysis of uranium and plutonium. As we contemplate perspectives on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, I found this laboratory visit extremely useful because it blended diplomacy and science, a prerequisite for effective arms control policy and verification regimes.

The Vienna study segment highlighted for me that nuclear disarmament must also remain a priority long-term goal. It should not be separated from non-proliferation activities, confidence-building, and progress towards verification and compliance, all of which are important elements when thinking about the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). The CTBT will be a legally binding global ban on nuclear explosive testing, whose entry into force will benefit U.S. and international security. As the IAEA focuses on peaceful uses of nuclear energy and preventing nuclear proliferation, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is building a global monitoring network to make sure that no nuclear test will go undetected. A great deal of progress has been made in the last decade toward establishing the Treaty's verification regime. The International Monitoring System (IMS) integrates four complementary verification methods that utilize available modern technologies: seismic, hydro-acoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide. In essence, the IMS is a global alarm system set up to detect nuclear explosions anywhere on the planet.

There are a few remaining concerns about the verifiability of the CTBT, but with increased partnership and exchange between the policy-making world and the scientific community, those concerns can be allayed and we can move towards entry into force of the Treaty.

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