IAEA & NPT - The Verification Challenge

Challenging Nuclear Issues Point the Way Forward

by Jan Lodding & Tariq Rauf

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Five years ago, member States of the global Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) agreed on a number of forward-looking elements for non-proliferation and disarmament and for the peaceful uses of nuclear technology. This was widely hailed as a major accomplishment for the global nuclear non-proliferation regime and for multilateral cooperation in this context. The NPT regime - a brainchild of the Cold War era - seemed strengthened and better adapted to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

The elements were contained in the Final Document adopted by consensus of the 187 States parties at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the sixth such Conference since the NPT's entry into force in 1970. Among 62 references to IAEA safeguards in the Final Document, the Agency's verification system was acknowledged as a fundamental pillar of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, one that plays an indispensable role in the Treaty's implementation and helps to create an environment conducive to nuclear disarmament and to cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The NPT States recognized that IAEA safeguards provide assurance of compliance and assist States in demonstrating compliance with their relevant undertakings. They recognized the IAEA as the competent authority responsible for verifying and assuring compliance with safeguards agreements, and expressed its conviction that nothing should be done to undermine its authority in this regard. Member States having concerns regarding non-compliance with safeguards agreements were called upon to direct such concerns, along with supporting evidence to the Agency for its consideration. The Final Document also supported steps for strengthening the IAEA's safeguards system and for the possible application of IAEA verification in the context of (future) nuclear disarmament.

This article deals with (new) developments over the past five years related to these verification challenges, from the IAEA's policy perspective.

Growing Responsibilities

Following the discovery of a clandestine nuclear-weapon programme in Iraq in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, the IAEA refocused its work. The Iraq case showed that the Agency needed to verify both the correctness and completeness of States' declarations. States looked to the IAEA to provide credible assurance regarding not only the non-diversion of declared nuclear material, but also the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in States with comprehensive safeguards agreements (CSAs, the type concluded by non-nuclear-weapon States pursuant to the NPT) in force.

To accomplish this goal, it was determined that the IAEA required the legal authority to apply a number of safeguards strengthening measures. This authority was provided in part through the IAEA Board of Governors' reinterpretation of provisions of the standard NPT safeguards agreement (INFCIRC/153 (Corr.)), but mainly through the approval of the application of verification measures under a new legal instrument adopted in 1997, the Model Additional Protocol (INFCIRC/540 (Corr.)). Since the 2000 Conference, the number of States for which the Agency implements additional protocols has grown from 9 to 64 at the end of 2004.

These developments - along with an unprecedented intensity of new verification challenges in some States - led to a considerable increase in the IAEA's safeguards responsibilities. In recognition of this, IAEA Member States addressed a long-standing shortfall in the Agency's regular safeguards budget. It reached a new budget agreement in 2004 which will lead to an increase in the annual safeguards budget from approximately US $89 million in 2003 to US $108.7 million by 2007 in nominal terms. Some IAEA Member States have proposed that the IAEA Board of Governors consider setting up a special committee on safeguards and verification to consider ways of further improving the Agency's capability to monitor compliance with nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

Verification Challenges

In the past few years, some widely publicized nuclear issues have highlighted the IAEA's vital verification work in the context of the NPT.

Democratic People's Republic of Korea (the DPRK).

Following allegations by the United States in October 2002 that the DPRK had an undeclared uranium enrichment programme, the DPRK announced the termination of the 1994 "Agreed Framework" between the US and DPRK, expelled Agency inspectors in December 2002, and in January 2003 announced its intention to withdraw from the NPT effective the next day. The IAEA tried to convince the DPRK to reverse its course and, when this did not occur, it reported the DPRK's further non-compliance with its NPT safeguards agreement to the UN Security Council, on 12 February 2003. The Council has taken no action on the matter thus far.

The status of the DPRK's NPT membership - and hence its NPT safeguards agreement - remains unclear, as it has still not been clarified to the IAEA by either NPT States, the NPT depositary States or the Security Council. The IAEA has welcomed the "six-party talks" that commenced in August 2003 and voiced its view that any solution to the DPRK nuclear issue should ensure that the Agency is provided the authority to provide credible assurance with regard to the correctness and completeness of the DPRK's nuclear material declarations and the dismantlement of any nuclear-weapon programme.

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