The Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons | Le Réseau canadien pour l’abolition des armes nucléaires


Presentation by Robin Collins (World Federalist Movement-Canada) to the WMD/Nuclear Issues Consultations, February 2004

How far away are we from a comprehensive regime that integrates verification and compliance measures with criteria for enforcement that are better tuned than in the past?

• Canada has done more than many in contributing to the development of international enforcement mechanisms and structures, such as the International Criminal Court structure, and in pursuing the Responsibility to Protect option. Efforts such as these bolster the development of any new process that also upholds the WMD verification and compliance regime(s).

• However, when we look to an assessment of the verification and compliance processes associated with each WMD subgroup (nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, etc.), there are some non-trivial differences we have to recognize, and they are not entirely technical. For one thing the chemical weapons verification regime is considered one of the best in the business. But the biological and toxin weapons verification regime doesn’t yet exist because of a lack of agreement on implementing a protocol for verification, let alone enforcement.

Chemical Weapons: Problem of ease of access to weapon materials

• The ease by which CW components can be made accessible for purposes of weaponization is a significant worry. Where there is ease of manufacture, there will likely be complexity in verification. Many of the components found in chemical weapons are available and used for industrial processes. Thiodiglycol, for instance, a precursor for mustard gas, is also used to make the ink found in some ballpoint pens. But while chemical weapons are relatively easy to obtain and use, they are not as easily kept safely in stable condition. Nonetheless as with biological weapons, CW have been found by the US Army to be easily disseminated from ships near seaports, or subways and with crop duster aircraft – an indication that their use and dispersal is possible with relatively low tech capability. Generally speaking, the threat of CW these days is thought to be primarily from terrorist groups; therefore, if the products are readily available, while the groups are unpredictable, irrational, and often indigenous, then no response is likely to be quick enough in many cases.

• Large-scale production, on the other hand, was suspected, proved and halted in Iraq; this was possible because of the effectiveness of an international inspection regime, albeit, imposed in a coercive environment. We might argue about the nature of the coercion, but the capability for detection seems to have been credible and convincing.

Biological [and Toxin] Weapons (BTW): Difficult access, high risk, low frequency of use

• In the very contemporary timeframe (not counting the recent ricin poison scare in the US Senate earlier this month), there are only three instances of terrorist bioweapon/toxin attacks or attempted attacks that are well documented. In 1984 a religious cult contaminated salad bars in their county in rural Oregon. 751 people became ill from food poisoning, 45 of whom required hospitalization, although nobody died. It was a year before authorities determined the source of the outbreak.

• In 1995, the religious sect Aum Shinrikyo, released sarin gas (a chemical agent) in the Toyko subway system. 12 people died and thousands became ill. While the cult also attempted to use biological weapons (spraying botulinum toxin and anthrax in downtown Tokyo over a two year period, 1993-1995, as many as ten times, there was no apparent known effect.) Some have suggested that the switch to sarin gas from bio-agents is indicative of the relative ease by which CW can be administered, as compared to BW.

• In the autumn of 2001, following the terror attacks in New York and Washington, at least three letters contaminated with anthrax were circulated in the US. 18 people were infected with anthrax as a result, and five people died. The impact of the letters was wider however than those numbers would suggest.

• Regardless of the frequency of contemporary attacks, the potential for risk by biological agent dispersal should not be ignored. It is calculated that 100 kilograms of anthrax spores could be dispersed, in ideal conditions, killing between 130,000 and 3 million people over a large US city – a lethality “matching or exceeding that of a hydrogen bomb” (see: Richard F. Pilch in the references, below).

• The greatest present danger of BW risk is probably the brain drain of Russian ex bio-weapon scientists. Stemming that flow is therefore the most likely useful focus of our attention.

Nuclear Weapons: Verification and compliance proposals in the context of deep reductions

•What are some proposed approaches to verifying “deep reductions in nuclear forces” as would be necessary in the early phases of a process towards abolition? Some, such as Bruce Blair, Frank von Hippel, Steve Fetter et al. have noted (see references, below) the high degree of cooperation that will be necessary among the current nuclear weapon states before verification of compliance measures can be put into place — something that is not currently looking that promising. But, when the ducks do get lined up, a comprehensive system would include three key components:

1. measures to monitor restrictions on “allowed” nuclear weapons [en route to abolition];
2. measures to monitor delivery vehicles and launchers; and
3. measures to monitor restrictions on the deployment and alert status of nuclear forces.

We should note the importance of irreversibility in any of these deep cuts strategies. Some of this could be carried out by the IAEA, other aspects by a new verification authority that would need to be set up. Standard measures would include the listing of suspect processes, declarations, tagging schemes, challenge inspection protocols, records verification, production facilities shutdown monitoring procedures, and so on, that in the present international climate may seem to put the cart before the horse. However, if we are to be prepared to enter a period of deep reductions when the opportunity arises, and because the process of inventorying will be long and complex anyway, there’s no time like the present to start the inventory.

•A precise inventory of known warhead and fissile materials stockpiles could be at the top of the list. For the very reason that concealed weapons and fissile materials will be almost impossible to detect without information indicating where to start looking, it is important that the process begin, and obviously starting with those currently willing to cooperate.

•As the Nuclear Turning Point authors suggest, citizen reporting should be both encouraged now and become an activity protected in law.

The costs of verification are not prohibitive, even ignoring their efficacy

In 1995, the IAEA estimated that a comprehensive nuclear weapons verification effort would involve 25,000 person days of inspection effort/year, and cost $150 million to monitor 995 facilities in both the declared and undeclared nuclear weapon states. For comparison, it cost $62.5 million in 1993 to do the job, involving 8,200 person days. Ron Cleminson, who has spoken to this gathering in the past, estimated perhaps somewhat optimistically about eight years ago that a cool half billion dollars per year would cover verification costs for the whole range of weapons of mass destruction. In other words, this is a drop in the bucket, even in today’s dollars.

•The problem, however, is not cost, nor is it likely technological, even though there is real complexity in tracking inventories of broadly used industrial products that might be diverted into chemical weapons production; or sources of anthrax and other bio-agents, or nuclear reactor waste products diversion.

Iraq Case Study: What lessons?

•We know that absolute certainty of compliance is impossible, so there needs to be agreement on what level of satisfaction is acceptable, realizing that the greater the assurance, the greater will be the coercion potential in any unfriendly environment. That level of assurance is certainly also technologically limited, but case studies such as that of UNSCOM/UNMOVIC in Iraq suggest that the process is on the most part effective. Here I’d like to throw into the pot for discussion a few questions for us to consider:

•I think the evidence shows that the UNSCOM/UNMOVIC inspection experience is proof we are facing a political question, not a verification problem. In fact there is a good deal of likelihood that once the deep cuts in nuclear weapons process is begun in earnest, once the momentum shifts away from the 9/11 obsession, the rest may not be “simple”, but the verification process will be shown to be well developed, even based on current experience and technology.

All of which leads us to asking ourselves: Were the measures taken by inspectors in Iraq to verify compliance with Security Council resolutions robust enough? Knowing that the process can never be 100% assured, were the criteria selected sufficient? Let’s assume that they were good enough. The weight of evidence suggests that Iraq either had no Weapons of Mass Destruction of any significance in hand; or they may have moved them out of the country (a piece of anonymous speculation that recently made the rounds); or the Iraqis may have destroyed them.

•In any case, there was no evidence of an imminent threat. That was more or less the Canadian government position (see references, below), and the position of most states, including the majority among the 15 members of the Security Council. Arguably there was conflicting intelligence. But if a regime as comprehensive as the inspection regime placed in Iraq was not sufficient, then what would sufficient look like, and what does that tell us about the future of the verification and compliance process?

•There are other test cases waiting in line on the so-called rogue lists: Iran, North Korea and Libya. What confidence do we have, then, that a positive inspection report will be taken at face value, and not that these assessments will be taken instead as excuses for intervention, regardless of any inspection/verification/compliance process outcome? In other words, is there a basic political problem that needs to be addressed, before we can get back to looking to verifying compliance in another corner of the globe?

Background items inserted into the consultation package:

1. A list of BW and CW sources:;
2. CW types:;
3. NW arsenals of NW states:;
4. Steve Fetter paper on verification of NW, for background reference:;
5. US State Department most recent listing of terror incidents:

From the last item, I draw your attention to the downward trend of terrorist incidents (as collected by the US state department), but remember also that numbers of incidents tell us little about the impact of any particular incident (9/11 for instance).


Canada’s assessment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction:

Richard A. Falkenrath, Problems of Preparedness: U.S. Readiness for a Domestic Terrorist Attack, available on the world wide web at:

Richard A. Falkenrath, Robert D. Newman and Bradley A. Thayer, America’s Achilles’ Heel: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Terrorism and Covert Attack, 1998, MIT Press, may be available as an e-book through university libraries.

Harold A. Feiveson, ed. The Nuclear Turning Point: A Blueprint for Deep Cuts and De-Alerting of Nuclear Weapons. Washington, DC.: Brookings Institute, 1999.

Russell Howard and Reid Sawyer, eds. Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Understanding the New Security Environment. Guilford, Ct: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 2004. See in particular:

•Jessica Stern, from “Getting and Using the Weapons,” The Ultimate Terrorists (Harvard University Press, 1999)
•Christopher F. Chyba, from “Toward Biological Security,” Foreign Affairs (May/June 2002)
•Richard F. Pilch, from “The Bioterrorism Threat in the United States,” Monterey Institute of International Studies Report, prepared for the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (2003)

Walter Laquer, “Post Modern Terrorism.” In Foreign Affairs, Vol. 75, no. 5, 1996.

NOVA backgrounder on Biological Weapons. Available on the world wide web at:

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on the world wide web at:
See also their Fact Sheets, including #5 Three Types of Inspection, and #2 Synopsis of the CW convention text.

Do you want more information on verification?

Do you want more information?
Here are some good sources of information:

Merav Datan and Jurgen Scheffran, “Principles and Means for Verification of a Nuclear weapons Convention”, INESAP Information Bulletin No. 14, Nov. 1997, p. 21.

Steve Fetter, “Future Directions in Nuclear Arms Control and Verification”, INESAP Information Bulletin No. 15, at p. 50.

Steve Fetter, “Verifying Nuclear Disarmament”, Henry L. Stimson Center Occasional Paper No. 29, October 1996.

Steve Fetter, “A Comprehensive Transparency Regime for Warheads and Fissile Materials”, Arms Control Today, January/February 1999.

David Fischer, “Safeguards for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons”, INESAP Information Bulletin No. 14, Nov. 1997, p. 30.

Patricia M. Lewis, “Laying the Foundations for Getting to Zero: Verifying the Transition to Low Levels of Nuclear Weapons”, VERTIC Research Report No.1 September 1998, published by the Verification Information Technology Centre, London.

Bhaskar Menon, Disarmament: A Basic Guide published by the UN , NY, 2001. Available at:

Ministry of Defence (UK), “A Summary Report by the Ministry of Defence on the Study conducted by the Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston into the United Kingdom’s Capabilities to Verify the Reduction and Elimination of Nuclear Weapons”, published in 2000, found on the Federation of American Scientists website.

Annette Schaper, “A Treaty on the Cutoff of Fissile Materials for Nuclear Weapons – What to cover? How to verify?, Summary”, PRIF Report 48/1997

Annette Schaper, “The Cutoff of Fissile Material for Nuclear Weapons: Scope and Verification”, INESAP Information Bulletin No. 14, Nov. 1997, p.36.

Annette Schaper and Katja Frank, “A Nuclear Weapon Free World – Can it be Verified?” Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, PRIF Report No. 53.

Theodore B. Taylor, “Global Abolition of Nuclear Weapons – Verification of Compliance and Deterrents to Violation” Draft of Contributed Paper for 40th Pugwash Conference, 15 – 20 September 1990, Egham United Kingdom.

“Verification and Enforcement”, published by Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), in Energy & Security No. 12, Nuclear Weapons and the Rule of Law, Science for Democratic Action.

No cheating?

How can we be sure that nuclear explosive materials aren’t secretly being produced or delivery systems being readied for use? We need a combination of technological devices and monitoring (and whistleblowing where necessary) by citizens.

The bulk of the technology is known. The US and Russia already have abided by agreements requiring declarations, safe storage, monitoring, and dismantling of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. To see the technology used, check the website for the Center for Cooperative Monitoring:

What do we need for further progress?

No backtracking! We need legally binding promises for reductions from all nuclear weapons states and the reductions must not be reversible. 187 states agreed in May 2000 that the “‘Principle of Irreversibility’ should apply to nuclear disarmament, …arms control and reduction measures”.

Transparency is key – what reductions are made must be seen to be made by other states. All global citizens have their security at risk due to their weapons….

Verification is a mechanism or procedure that seeks to determine whether a party is abiding by or fulfilling its obligations under a given agreement, and verification measures are designed to detect those who violate their obligations. The essential basis of verification is a formal commitment by parties to engage, or not to engage, in certain activities.

Here are some of the terms used to describe the technical steps used by states to verify:

    1. Surveillance techniques for items subject to verification can include use of fixed and mobile monitors including:
      • radiation sensors
      • CCTV (closed circuit TV)
      • time lapse photography movement sensors
      • tamper-indicating devices and seals.
        Source: Ministry of Defence (UK) Summary of AWE Study.
    2. Perimeter-portal monitoring at dismantling facilities refers to the capability of verifying that weapons enter an area for dismantling and do not leave except as tagged components.
      Source: Steve Fetter, “Future Directions in Nuclear Arms Control and Verification”, INESAP Information Bulletin No. 15, at p. 50, at p. 52.
      See further discussion in Steve Fetter, “Verifying Nuclear Disarmament”, Henry L. Stimson Center Occasional Paper No. 29, October 1996, p. 11 – 13.
    3. National Technical Means (NTS) – carried out without the active cooperation of the state under inspection and may include satellites, seismic sensors, radar systems, intelligence service activities and collection and processing of information via government departments.
    4. Onsite Inspections – usually by international inspectors of two types:
      • Routine inspections – onsite inspections assume a willingness to coperate and intervene more fundamentally in the sovereignty of states. Routine inspections allow inspectors to carry out controls at predefined times and at previously agreed locations on a state territory.
      • Challenge inspections- used to look into specific indications for non-compliance. They would be more intrusive than routine controls since the state under inspection would have problems adapting to them, if it really did want to hide something.
    5. Technical data analysis/ data processing
    6. Whistleblowing – a person passes on information regarding banned activities to the appropriate recipient.
      Source: Annette Schaper and Katja Frank, A Nuclear Weapon Free World – Can it be Verified?
      Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, PRIF Report No. 53, at p.
    7. Environmental monitoring technologies refers to:
      • continuous monitoring around sites
      • monitoring during on site inspections
      • locating covert plants involved in the nuclear weapons cycle
      • provide data as part of dismantlement verification process.

      Source: Ministry of Defence (UK) Summary of AWE Study (pdf file). (AWE)

    8. Non-destructive assessment techniques to verify dismantlement process include;
      • gamma-ray spectrometry
      • neutron measurements.
        They are used to verify the existence and number of warheads, provide vital information much more quickly, cheaply and safely than through other methods. They maintain the secrecy of design information.Source: Ministry of Defence (UK) Summary of Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston (AWE) Study.

If a nuclear weapon is tested, will we know?

If a nuclear weapon is tested, will we know?

Yes, the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization has the technical capability of distinguishing a nuclear explosion from, for example, an earthquake. This agency has established a series of monitoring sites for seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide monitoring. All data is both analyzed in the International Data Centre in Vienna and shared rapidly with member states. Their excellent website with a clear explanation of the verification regime now in place can be found at:

Go here for videos on the different types of verification methods that are used to ensure we know with certainty when a nuclear explosion has occurred.