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Verifying States’ non-proliferation obligations — past, present and into the future

Massimo Aparo

Massimo Aparo is Deputy Director General and Head of the IAEA Department of Safeguards. Mr Aparo has worked at the IAEA since 1997, serving as Acting Director of the Office for Verification in Iran, Section Head in the Division of Technical and Scientific Services, and as Head of the Tokyo Regional Office in the Division of Operations A. Before the IAEA, he worked for an Italian company in the area of radiation detection and monitoring, in the European Space Agency and at Italy’s former National Committee for Nuclear Energy.


Both 2020 and 2022 are important milestones for the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. In 2020, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) turned 50, after decades of helping to stop nuclear proliferation. In 1963, US President Kennedy cautioned the possibility in the 1970s of a world in which up to 25 nations could have nuclear weapons. Thanks to the NPT, this never came to be.

For the IAEA, 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the first safeguards agreements in connection with the NPT. These agreements entrusted the IAEA with unique rights of access to States to verify their exclusively peaceful use of nuclear material and technology. The IAEA provides reassurance — at country, regional and global levels — that States are in compliance with their safeguards obligations. 2022 also marks the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Model Additional Protocol, on which additional protocols (APs) are based. APs are vital instruments that provide the IAEA with more access to locations and information, enabling us to better detect undeclared nuclear material and activities.

These anniversaries offer a unique moment to celebrate achievements and reflect on experience gained and, perhaps most importantly, prepare for what lies ahead. The past five decades have witnessed developments with significant impacts on the nuclear non-proliferation regime and on IAEA safeguards. Adaptation has been key to success.

Nuclear verification has always evolved according to the changing operating environment, lessons learned and States’ expectations. Often, changes in safeguards have come in response to — rather than anticipation of — developments, such as the discovery of undeclared nuclear material and activities, which led to the adoption of the Model Additional Protocol.

While the Model Additional Protocol’s importance is often recalled in the historical context of lessons learned in the early 1990s, its strategic importance should be better understood in the current and future contexts of providing necessary transparency about nuclear-related activities. By adopting APs, States build confidence and lay a strong foundation for nuclear cooperation, which is anticipated to expand in response to climate concerns. Already in 2000, the NPT Review Conference recognized AP measures as an integral part of the IAEA’s safeguards system. More than two decades later, it is now time to make that a reality for all.

More than 15 years ago, the IAEA approved the revised small quantities protocol (SQP) to address a weakness in the safeguards system. Without States’ nuclear material declarations and the possibility of in-field verification activities, the IAEA’s ability to draw soundly based safeguards conclusions is increasingly challenging. The old SPQs are simply no longer adequate.

Tomorrow’s dynamic environment calls for the strongest possible safeguards. Everyone has a role to play, from States with a limited amount of nuclear material to those with advanced nuclear fuel cycles. Although the IAEA is often portrayed as the ‘nuclear watchdog’, safeguards implementation in reality is a cooperative effort. To prepare for new challenges and bridge the gap between a growing workload and limited resources, the IAEA actively monitors emerging technologies and explores innovations to stay ahead of the game.

For continued success, the IAEA needs States’ political, technical and financial support. In rendering that support, States should not only consider the past and present, but also the future.


December, 2021
Vol. 62-4

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