The Future of Safeguards: Adapting to change
Deputy Director General and Head of Department of Safeguards, IAEA
Since its creation in 1957, the Agency has been tasked with verifying that States are in compliance with their commitments to use nuclear material, equipment and technology for peaceful, non-explosive purposes.
The yardstick by which we judge the effectiveness of our safeguards system is very simple: Are we able to detect early the diversion of nuclear material from peaceful nuclear activities – and thereby to deter any State that might be contemplating such an act? And are we able to provide credible assurances that States do not possess undeclared nuclear material or are not conducting undeclared nuclear activities – and thereby to allay the fears of other States about potential proliferation?
In attempting to answer those questions, my basic thesis is that the present safeguards system is not as effective as it could be, and that we are not applying our resources in the most efficient manner. Of course, there are reasons for the way in which we implement safeguards today: the concept and approaches underlying safeguards – largely the result of political and technical compromises – were valid when they were established. But are they still valid now?
Today I want to set out why – if we are to continue to fulfil our mandate effectively – the Agency needs to modernise its safeguards system and needs to implement safeguards in a more focussed way.
1. So, what is wrong with the present system?
After the weakness of the traditional safeguards system was glaringly exposed in the early 1990s with the discovery of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme, it was recognised that a system almost exclusively focused on the verification of declared nuclear material was totally inadequate.
The message was clearly understood – the Agency began a programme for strengthened safeguards which involved the addition of new tools and legal authorities to our verification toolbox, including the introduction of the additional protocol. This effort was directed at improving the effectiveness of the safeguards’ system. In addition, it became clear that the implementation and evaulation of safeguards would have to look at the State as a whole, and not just at the sum of its individual facilities. Hence, the Agency developed the ‘State-level concept’ and introduced State-level integrated safeguards approaches in those countries that had an additional protocol and had obtained the broader conclusion. The main focus of this effort was to improve efficiency without undermining effectiveness.
These initiatives are commendable: however, their inherent strengths have not been fully exploited. For example, while the State-level concept is being applied to the evaluation process it has not resulted in significant change to safeguards implementation in the field. The determination of this effort continues to be based very much upon the traditional ‘safeguards criteria’ which, in turn, is focused on the nature and quantity of nuclear material and the types of nuclear facilities within a State. Even under State-level integrated safeguards approaches, the level of implementation was largely determined by criteria-relevant considerations, such as adjustment to timeliness and quantity goals. The system remained largely prescriptive, driven by pre-determined criteria and almost exclusively focused at the facility level. “Satisfying the criteria” was in danger of becoming an end in itself rather than addressing the underlying objective of the work – that is, whether there were any genuine proliferation concerns.
The Libya case was a stark demonstration that nuclear technology had become available on the black market: that there were covert nuclear supply networks that could supply the most sensitive nuclear technology – including designs for a weapon itself.
What the Libya case also highlighted was the emergence of a new ‘non-State’ threat, about which the Agency needed to become much more aware.
Then there was the case of the undeclared laser enrichment experiments in the Republic of Korea, which also reflected important gaps in the overall system. Here, the Republic of Korea’s own State System for Accountancy and Control (SSAC) was unaware that such activities had been taking place at the national nuclear research institute.
108 of our Member States have now put in place an additional protocol. We welcome this development. The additional protocol provides us with the ways and means to verify the completeness of a State’s declarations through access to a wider range of information and to more locations within the State. This is a positive development. However, of those States yet to conclude an additional protocol, seven have significant nuclear activities. In particular, the absence of an additional protocol in Iran and Syria, is severely restricting our ability to look beyond declared facilities and activities. In all States without an additional protocol the Agency is not in a position to fully implement its mandate and fulfil its obligation to confirm that there are no undeclared nuclear material and activities in these countries.
Even without the additional protocol, a comprehensive safeguards agreement contains provisions relevant to the detection of possible undeclared activities. The problem is that, over the years, some of these provisions have been interpreted in a rather restrictive manner, and neglected. An obvious example is the special inspection, which the Agency can conduct, inter alia, if information gained from routine inspections and explanations from the State are inadequate.
2. How we need to change
If we want the safeguards system to become more effective, to better address our basic obligations of deterrence and early detection and to respond to the changing landscape, we need to significantly change the way we undertake our work. It is important to note that the changes that I will be referring to do not require any change to our existing legal authoritity.
Clearly, the quantity of nuclear material in a State, or even the size of its fuel cycle, constitute poor indicators of the proliferation risk posed by that country. They should not, therefore, be the only parameters that determine the level of effort the Agency expends on a particular country. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, previous cases of violations or clandestine nuclear weapons development occurred in countries with a limited nuclear fuel cycle, and involved previously exempted or undeclared nuclear material.
It is also clear that the best time to act against the diversion of nuclear energy to non-peaceful purposes is before the activity commences: deterrence is much more effective than detection.
Therefore, the time has come to fully and properly implement a safeguards system that truly considers the State as a whole; that is less predictable and therefore has a higher deterrence value; that is more focussed on areas of concern; and that is flexible so it can easily adapt to a changing situation. When determining the level of verification activities in the field we should consider other factors that go beyond traditional considerations of the type and quantity of nuclear material.
Looking at the State as a whole, we need to be in position to clearly understand its overall nuclear profile in order to confirm the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. In using all of the information available to us, we want to be able to develop a customised approach – one that takes into account all of the State-specific factors. The Agency’s safeguards system needs to be flexible, driven by outcomes, supported by transparent and consistently applied processes, and judged against our overall aim to deter proliferation.
This has attractions for both the State and the Agency. The Agency can focus its verification where it really matters, while still retaining the option of shifting that focus or conducting verification activities elsewhere if circumstances demand it. The State, on the other hand, when it is cooperating well and is providing correct and timely information isn’t overburdened by unnecessary inspection activities. Precious resources can be conserved without the quality of verification being compromised. On the contrary, the overall effectiveness of the system will be enhanced.
But changing the approach to implementing the safeguards system in this direction will involve a number of challenges that need to be addressed.
First, we need to be very clear to our Member States that we are not proposing to implement different safeguards; rather, we want to implement safeguards differently. Nor do we intend to discriminate against certain States or categories of State. All States will remain subject to the same rules and overall objectives as before and to the agreements they have signed with the Agency.
If the Agency’s implementation of safeguards for any given State is uniquely customised – driven by all available safeguards-relevant information, we will need to be clear and transparent about how our analysis of this information led us to take certain safeguards actions in that State as a result. The Agency will need to be able to justify those actions: a process that will be more complex than when we were acting in accordance with fixed, pre-determined criteria.
We will need to be able to persuade Member States that what we are proposing is not only non-discriminatory, but also that it is the right thing to do – that it will improve, not undermine, the quality of our safeguards findings and conclusions. We will have to demonstrate that while the new system will focus more on those trying to break the rules or avoid their responsibilities, the overall inspection burden on everyone else will be reduced.
The skill sets within the Department of Safeguards and of the inspectors themselves need to be broadened. Instead of just being accountants, our safeguards practitioners also need to be investigators and analysts.
We will also use this opportunity to look again at our legal basis, to review whether we cannot make better use of the tools at our disposal – contained within the safeguards agreement – to have better access to information, locations and people, specifically in countries that are not implementing an additional protocol.
The ultimate challenge will be to demonstrate that these changes will bring about a system that delivers strong conclusions and provides credible non-proliferation assurances to the world.
4. Implementing Change
In some ways, what I am proposing is not new. It is a natural continuation of a process that began in the early 1990s when strengthening measures were agreed through the Programme 93+2 and the subsequent introduction of the additional protocol.
For the growing number of States under integrated safeguards, the State-level approach has already been developed and applied. It includes, in theory at least, all the elements described previously. However, while the theory is in place, in practice the concept has not yet been fully implemented, and our activities remain largely criteria driven and prescriptive. State-level evaluation activities are not fully integrated with the processes to determine verification effort. It is now time to put that right.
Because verification of a State’s declaration is essential, nuclear material accountancy will remain an integral part of the safeguards system and the backbone of our activities.
Nevertheless, we do need to look at whether the level of verification we currently have in place is really needed in all cases. We believe that the systematic use of the State evaluation process and its resulting State-level approach, in which all relevant State-specific factors are taken into account, can better qualify the non-proliferation credentials of a State and accordingly generate verification levels that are more commensurate with the risks.
The State-level approach should be applied to all States with a safeguards agreement in force and be based on a comprehensive evaluation of all available safeguards-relevant information. Through a collaborative process, this information then needs to be analysed in order to build a comprehensive picture of a State’s nuclear activities. It is upon an evaluation of all this information – the State evaluation process – that we plan and implement our verification activities and ultimately draw our safeguards conclusions for each State.
This State evaluation process is a dynamic, robust and iterative process, the outcome of which is used as the basis for planning subsequent safeguards activities. The results of those activities, in turn, are themselves assessed and any follow-up actions identified – for example, whether additional information is required or further verification activities need to be conducted. So, if the information and evaluation change, so does our safeguards’ approach in that particular State. Thus, safeguards implementation at the State level is fully “information driven”.
Director-General Amano has fully endorsed our change programme which is already underway. We have set ourselves an ambitious schedule – we want all of these changes to have been implemented by the end of 2012. For this to happen we will need the support of all our stakeholders.
5. What does it mean to stakeholders?
Nuclear non-proliferation is a collective global effort, which is more likely to succeed when all members of the international community work together. Likewise, the IAEA is more likely to be successful when it works in partnership with States. Hence, we will reach out to States to increase the voluntary sharing of safeguards-relevant information: this will particularly help to strengthen our ability to detect undeclared activities.
We also rely on States’ support in other areas, particularly in the day-to-day implementation of safeguards. We will work to help ensure that States have competent safeguards authorities and we will support States in enhancing the effectiveness of their State systems of accounting for and control of nuclear material (SSACs). Where possible, we will then make greater use of them – thereby also gaining greater efficiencies in the use of our resources. This is of particular interest to us here in Europe, where the Agency has enjoyed lengthy and active cooperation with the regional Euratom safeguards system. The change that we are proposing is an opportunity to review the partnership we have with Euratom and to investigate how we can establish synergies and enhance the cooperation between the two organisations.
The safeguards system needs to be transparent and understandable – internally to those who are implementing it, as well as externally to Member States and the general public. Therefore, we will seek to improve the openness and quality of the Agency’s reporting on safeguards and verification matters; to build States’ knowledge of the processes for drawing safeguards conclusions and thereby enhance their confidence in the Agency’s assurances.
So, the challenges are numerous and not insignificant. But by being responsive to change and flexible in application, and by focusing on areas of real proliferation concern, we can ensure the more efficient implementation of more effective safeguards. Only by adapting the safeguards system and by applying safeguards more intelligently, will we be able to continue to provide the international community with credible assurances that States are in compliance with their safeguards commitments.
I invite you to join us as we embark – not on a revolution – but on a process of ‘accelerated evolution’ towards smarter safeguards.