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Commentary | 28 June 2024

10 at 10: 10 lessons learned as the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification turns 10

The International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV) – a partnership of 30  countries plus the European Union, working to identify and develop practical solutions to the technical and procedural challenges associated with effectively verifying nuclear disarmament – is celebrating its tenth anniversary in Geneva this week. This milestone comes with some notable outcomes and achievements, which were highlighted in a dedicated IPNDV report. Looking back on past IPNDV activities and looking ahead to its future ones, here are ten findings or lessons learned over the years:

  1. Continuous dialogue on nuclear disarmament verification is key: When the IPNDV was launched in December 2014 by the US Department of State and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), the geopolitical world looked very different from today. Given the increasing geopolitical challenges in recent years, with clear impact on the international non-proliferation regime and nuclear disarmament discussions, it is important that this Partnership continues its efforts to identify and develop practical solutions to the technical and procedural challenges of effective nuclear disarmament verification.
  2. All States can contribute to aspects of nuclear disarmament verification: No other initiative has gathered more technical experts and government representatives from both Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS) to jointly address the process and technical challenges of nuclear disarmament verification. The Partnership comprises 30 countries from all continents, plus the European Union. Efforts to include more countries with and without nuclear weapons are ongoing.
  3. Multilateral nuclear disarmament verification is possible: Already at the end of Phase I (2015-2017), the Partnership affirmed as a key judgement that multilaterally monitored nuclear warhead dismantlement should be possible while successfully managing safety, security, non-proliferation, and classification concerns. This key judgement was reinforced at the end of Phase II (2018-2019) and again during Phase III (2020-2025), noting that “the Partnership’s results should provide a path forward to multilaterally verified nuclear disarmament”.
  4. Work on conceptual aspects of nuclear disarmament verification can guide the development of robust verification regimes in future negotiations of nuclear disarmament agreements: Since Phase I, IPNDV has focused on “creating a conceptual roadmap” and, until now, developed a comprehensive framework for nuclear disarmament verification, including overarching verification goals, verification principles, verification objectives, and scenario-specific concepts and models.
  5. Developing and testing monitoring and inspection processes, procedures, techniques, and technologies (PPTT) can provide a toolkit of options for future nuclear disarmament verification: Over the past ten years, IPNDV has developed a comprehensive verification toolkit that offers options for declarations and notifications, on-site inspections (including managed access provisions), and verification technologies (including information barriers). Since Phase II, by moving “from paper to practice”, several exercises and technology demonstrations have tested and assessed different PPTT, including the Franko-German Nuclear Disarmament Verification (NuDiVe) exercises in 2019 and 2022 at Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany, and the measurement campaigns at the Belgian Nuclear Research Center, BeCamp in 2019 and BeCamp2 in 2023. In Phase III, aimed at “addressing complexities and building confidence”, the toolkit has been applied in two different scenarios. Based on the hypothetical Nuclear Weapon State of Ipinodvia, its disarmament obligations under the limitation of its nuclear arsenal at 500 nuclear warheads and the reductions of its nuclear arsenal from 500 to zero nuclear warheads have been addressed. In addition, the Partnership has increased its efforts in strategic considerations of nuclear disarmament verification, including a systems approach.
  6. Nuclear disarmament verification is a confidence-building process: IPNDV has identified the different practical, technical and legal factors affecting the level of confidence in nuclear disarmament verification. While absolute verification confidence cannot be achieved in this context, the Partnership concluded that verification confidence should be considered as the cumulative result of the different monitoring and inspection activities taking place over an extended period of time.
  7. Capacity building is essential for developing and implementing nuclear disarmament verification: The Partnership has significantly contributed to capacity building in nuclear disarmament verification by engaging a diverse group of countries and experts in working groups, exercises and technology demonstrations. In addition, IPNDV’s activities have also informed other efforts in providing solutions for nuclear disarmament verification, such as the Menzingen Verification Experiment in 2023 and the discussions of the “Group of Governmental Experts to further consider nuclear disarmament verification issues” (GGE-NDV) (2021-2023), established by the United Nations General Assembly (UN GA). Capacity building also takes place though the IPNDV website, which provides access to numerous papers and reports on a wide range of aspects of nuclear disarmament verification.
  8. More conceptual and technical work needs to be done: The Partnership has outlined an agenda for continuing its work in refining verification concepts, addressing in more detail, inter alia, the verification of absence, the verification of disposition, and the systems approach. The Partnership also proposes to continue the assessment of technologies and to pay more attention to verification options without radiation measurements and information barriers. Exercises and technical demonstrations will also remain valuable for testing and evaluating both concepts and technologies.
  9. More outreach in nuclear disarmament verification is important: While IPNDV has reinforced outreach activities to other nuclear disarmament verification stakeholders after the COVID-19 pandemic, these efforts could be further intensified, including engaging with States and NGOs in the NPT review process. While UNGA might consider follow-up discussions after the successful conclusion of the last GGE-NDV, IPNDV could continue to offer assistance and expertise to any efforts on nuclear disarmament verification within the UN framework.
  10. Progress in nuclear disarmament verification contributes to the strengthening of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT): As Article 6 of the NPT obliges all States Parties to endeavour to achieve general and complete nuclear disarmament, any advancements in the effective verification of nuclear disarmament, alongside political will, can lead to a world without nuclear weapons.

Progress in nuclear disarmament verification contributes to the strengthening of the NPT. Irmgard Niemeyer

Nuclear disarmament is a challenge that will remain on our agenda for a long time to come, as will nuclear disarmament verification. Therefore, related scientific-technical developments, knowledge management, and capacity building for countries that want to participate more actively in this field and the next generation of experts must continue. Together with other initiatives, IPNDV has laid the foundation for future work on nuclear disarmament verification.

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.

Image: Flickr, United States Mission Geneva