Witness for the Prosecution: International Organizations and Arms Control Verification

By Ifft, Edward | Arms Control Today, November 2005 | Go to article overview

Witness for the Prosecution: International Organizations and Arms Control Verification


Ifft, Edward, Arms Control Today


The late Charles Floweree, who worked on arms control issues for many years at the Department of State, once observed that "compliance is like a poorly crafted Act 3 that plays to a distracted and drowsy audience."

If we continue his analogy, we might observe that Act 1 of the typical arms control drama would be the decision to seek a particular arms control agreement and the intense and careful interagency preparation that precedes the negotiation phase. Act 2 would be the actual negotiation, carefully monitored in Washington and carried out by a dedicated team of experienced professionals from several agencies.

Once the agreement is completed and enters into force, sometimes following long, painful debates in the Senate, it enters Act 3. Implementation may involve very professional, on-site inspection activities by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the smooth handling of notification requirements by the State Department's Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, and diligent work by intelligence analysts in following relevant developments worldwide. Nonetheless, it would be fair to say that the attention of the policy community, as well as the nongovernmental arms control community, tends to turn quickly elsewhere. There is the general hope that nothing will go wrong with the agreement, and if something does go wrong, someone else will take care of it. If this has usually been the trend for the United States, it is even more so for most other countries.

Yet, the need for greater attention to plugging unintended loopholes in treaties, detecting and identifying violations, and assuring appropriate consequences for clear and deliberate violations has become painfully obvious. One need only look at the challenges the international community faces in proving and dealing with Iran's failure to comply with its safeguards requirements under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) or with North Korea's announced decision to withdraw from the same accord.

What exactly the role of international organizations should be in this process and what responsibilities should fall to a state-party's verification and compliance capabilities has been the subject of some controversy. In some cases, it appears that even the states-parties themselves do not agree on the capabilities and appropriate role for the implementation bodies to which they belong.

Some countries, such as the United States, have broad strategic interests, powerful technical capabilities, and vast analytical organizations to monitor agreements to which they are parties. Many countries have neither these responsibilities nor these resources. Instead, many countries must rely on the implementation organizations charged with carrying out most major arms control agreements, which vary greatly in abilities and scope (see table 1). Finding an appropriate balance between states-parties and international organizations in carrying out verification and compliance responsibilities and bolstering the capabilities and responsibilities of international organizations should be high on the global arms control agenda.

In the arms control lexicon, "monitoring" is the gathering of data relevant to an obligation in an agreement. "Verification'' involves a judgment, made at the political level, as to whether a party is complying with this obligation. In popular usage, however, "verification" is often used to indicate both functions. A monitoring and verification regime is intended both to deter violations from being committed and to detect violations that do occur. Such a regime should include mechanisms for consultation and clarification and for improving the viability and effectiveness of the agreement, as well as for the resolution of disputes. Enforcement mechanisms can provide incentives for compliance and sanctions for noncompliance. Most of the major modern arms control agreements have implementation, verification, and compliance organizations. It is important that there be a consistent view of the role of these organizations and that better use be made of their capabilities. …

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