The Universe of On-Site Inspections
As on-site inspection (OSI) has gradually gained acceptance around the world, thousands of inspections have been successfully implemented in a wide variety of circumstances and under many different arms control regimes. Nonetheless, certain practices have emerged.
Formal OSI regimes generally contain important provisions on the status of inspectors, which generally draw upon the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. They also specify a host of details, such as certification of inspectors, entry and exit points, equipment to be allowed and procedures for its use, timelines, procedures for escort by nationals of the host country, communications, provisions for lodging and meals, financial matters, and resolution of disputes.
Formal regimes also generally establish bodies to deal with implementation issues related to OSI or other matters. For example, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) includes the Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission, which normally meets in Geneva twice a year. Other agreements led to the formation of similar bodies, which help remove pressure from inspectors in the field to settle all controversial issues on the spot.
National governments also generally institute or designate an agency responsible for conducting inspections and providing escorts for inspections on its own territory. In the United States, the On-Site Inspection Agency was created in 1988 to implement the OSI portions of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and gradually was assigned similar responsibilities for later agreements. It was incorporated into the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) in 1998, and today, the On-Site Inspection Directorate of DTRA has more than 600 employees. Other countries have similar organizations, but none approach the size of the DTRA effort.
Inspections can either be routine (conducted according to an agreed schedule or quota) or challenge (conducted to clarify some suspicious or ambiguous situation). Some inspections such as those that monitor conversion or elimination activities, are scheduled well in advance. Others are conducted on short notice, to minimize the possibility of hiding illegal activities.
If an inspection regime is to preserve and enhance confidence, it must be designed in such a way that it protects the legitimate rights of the inspecting and inspected parties. Specifically, the inspecting party needs to have sufficient access to provide confidence that the agreed obligations are being fulfilled. At the same time, the inspected party should be protected from unwarranted intelligence activities or unreasonable interference with its normal activities. Arms control regimes are generally successful when they find this balance.
Although inspections are now commonplace in the countries of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact, other parts of the world remain skeptical of the benefits. For example, some countries argue that they have “few secrets” and therefore must guard them vigorously and cannot become more transparent or allow intrusive inspections. Treaty compliance, however, can be demonstrated without leaving oneself “as naked as Adam,” to use Nikita Khrushchev’s colorful phrase.
Much of our current expertise about inspections derives from the arms control treaties painstakingly crafted by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The 1987 INF Treaty, with its meticulous set of rules and procedures for OSI, became the model for later agreements, both bilateral and multilateral. That pact required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers. It called for five types of intrusive inspections and permitted perimeter and portal continuous monitoring (PPCM) at one site in each country. At Russia’s Votkinsk site, U.S. inspectors routinely took X-ray images of missile canisters containing Russian ICBMs. The images allowed U.S. officials to determine if permitted missiles, rather than banned SS-20s, were leaving the factory. Russian officials were able to monitor a similar U.S. plant near Salt Lake City that had been involved in producing the banned Pershing II missile.
Although all the INF systems were dismantled or converted by 1991 in accordance with the terms of the treaty, inspections continued until 2001 in what was probably a case of verification overkill. During the 13 years of INF inspections, a total of 851 inspections were carried out. Roughly 60 percent of these were carried out by U.S. inspectors at 130 sites in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Roughly 40 percent were carried out by the other parties at 31 sites in the United States and the five western European basing countries (the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy).
The 1994 START I, in addition to reducing deployed strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and heavy bombers), also succeeded in reducing the warheads on these delivery vehicles. Thus “accountable warheads” (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles, single re-entry vehicles, heavy bomber armament) for the United States and four former Soviet republics (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan) were reduced by more than 40 percent, to 6,000 for each side. Ballistic missile throw-weight (lifting power), in which the Soviet Union had a 3-to-1 advantage, also was reduced to 3,600 metric tons for each side.
START provides for 12 types of OSI, and its inspection protocol runs well over 100 pages. There is also a massive data exchange to aid both inspectors and national technical means. This Memorandum of Understanding on data is updated every six months. It is supplemented by a significant number of notifications regarding numbers, locations, movements, and other aspects of the sides’ strategic forces, which are exchanged on a day-to-day basis among the Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers of the parties. Inspections are continuing successfully under START at the rate of about two per month. These consist primarily of data update inspections at declared facilities to monitor the status of treaty-limited items and re-entry vehicle inspections to verify that the number of re-entry vehicles on deployed ballistic missiles does not exceed the number allowed for that type of missile, plus occasional inspections of other types.
Inspections under the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty have verified the successful elimination of more than 70,000 pieces of military equipment. An interesting feature of its inspection process has been the gradual evolution of procedures that allow an inspector from one country to head a team including inspectors from other countries. For example, all inspections led by the United States have the participation of inspectors from other NATO allies and even non-NATO countries. Under the CFE Treaty, DTRA had conducted 264 inspections and 168 reduction inspections and escorted 130 inspections of U.S. facilities as of January 2004.
The pioneering multilateral arms control inspection regime was established by the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), under which the five nuclear-weapon states commit to pursue general and complete disarmament, while the non-nuclear-weapon states agree to forgo developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. The NPT incorporated, under Article III, a system of safeguards applied by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to prevent diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons. The IAEA continues to play a crucial role in this field, although until recently it has been handicapped by the fact that its monitoring activities were only applied to declared facilities.
The 1997 Model Additional Protocol, once it is widely accepted, should help to close this unfortunate loophole, which has been exploited by certain countries and thus weakened the nuclear nonproliferation regime in dangerous ways. This addition to a country’s safeguard agreement gives inspectors access to all parts of a state’s nuclear fuel cycle, as well as any other location where nuclear material may be present. It also allows access to all buildings on a nuclear site, as well as collection of environmental samples at locations beyond declared locations.
The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention established the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which plays a key role in assuring that existing chemical weapons are being destroyed according to agreed procedures and that new chemical weapons are not being created. The OPCW has conducted more than 1,300 inspections in more than 50 countries. Like the IAEA, the OPCW has a professional staff of inspectors who are responsible to the organization and not their own governments. In both organizations, raw data obtained on inspections is carefully guarded to give confidence to the parties that sensitive national security and proprietary information will be protected. Still, the OPCW has undergone some controversy and turmoil in the past, including a budget crisis in 2001, and has not yet been tested by any requests for challenge inspections to clarify ambiguous situations.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), while not yet in force, establishes a unique worldwide verification system of 337 facilities, many of which are already operating. (See ACT, October 2004.) Less well known is the fact that the CTBT also provides for an ambitious challenge inspection system. This is being worked out by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) in Vienna. The work is proceeding slowly in some cases because of the uncertainty regarding the CTBT’s entry into force, the caution of countries with little experience with OSI, and the fact that the United States no longer provides support for the organization’s OSI work.
Still, if the CTBT comes into force, inspectors would employ a variety of sophisticated types of equipment to detect the seismic, radiological, and other indications of a nuclear explosion. The CTBTO is procuring equipment, preparing operational manuals, and training prospective inspectors from many countries, although the treaty’s entry into force is uncertain. One complication is that, because all inspections will essentially be of the challenge variety, it is difficult to predict how frequent they would be and thus how many trained inspectors and how much equipment will be needed.
As the acceptance of OSI has increased, there has been a proliferation of relatively short-notice, ad hoc inspections to deal with specific situations. These generally do not have the benefit of detailed legal arrangements, but many have been quite useful in providing information to clarify ambiguous events or to diffuse tense situations. The United Nations has organized a number of these, for example, in Asia to investigate “yellow rain,” in Iran to investigate the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq War, and in the Caucasus to investigate charges of the use of chemical weapons in Nagorno-Karabakh. In the late 1980s, the United States and the Soviet Union successfully used ad hoc OSI visits to clarify ambiguous situations that had arisen in connection with arms control agreements in force or under negotiation. Each side visited certain radar installations of the other side, and a U.S. team visited suspected “submarine tunnels” in the USSR. In 1992 the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia agreed to use OSI to resolve some uncertainties regarding compliance by Russia with the Biological Weapons Convention. U.S. teams have also gone to North Korea to see underground facilities that were suspected of being associated with illegal nuclear activities.
The war on terrorism has recently led the United States to create what might be termed a specialized inspection regime: the Container Security Initiative, a series of measures designed to move the screening of shipping containers further back in the supply chain than traditional customs inspections. With more than 90 percent of the world’s international cargo transported in these ubiquitous containers, the danger that terrorists might use them to infiltrate nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons into the United States have become obvious. The new initiative has rapidly resulted in agreements with some 20 of the world’s largest ports and is leading to a layered defense of better documentation; passive detectors; active detectors; and, when necessary, the opening of the containers themselves.
The line between OSI and peacekeeping can be rather blurred. When peacekeepers get involved in activities such as inspecting military activities, searching for and destroying weapons, and so on, what they are doing could fairly be described as OSI. One long-running operation that makes an interesting case study is the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), which was created to help implement the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. The MFO is a unique model for peacekeeping completely outside the UN system, reporting directly to the treaty parties and including the participation of 11 countries as varied as the United States, Colombia, and Fiji. Its tasks are to operate checkpoints, observation posts, and reconnaissance patrols in the Sinai peninsula; carry out periodic verification of the agreement, with additional verification within 48 hours after a request from either party; and to assure freedom of navigation through the Strait of Tiran. Although much of the Middle East has been in turmoil, the Sinai has remained peaceful.
1. Edward Ifft, “Verifying Nuclear Arms Control and Disarmament,” in Verification Yearbook 2001, eds. Trevor Findlay and Oliver Meier (London: Corporate & Commercial Printing, Ltd., 2001), pp. 26-27.
2. Joseph P. Harahan, “On-Site Inspections Under the INF Treaty,” OSIA Treaty History Series, 1993.
3. David B. Thomson, A Guide to the Nuclear Arms Control Treaties (Los Alamos, NM: Los Alamos Historical Society, 2001), chap. 7.
4. Joseph P. Harahan and John C. Kuhn III, “On-Site Inspections Under the CFE Treaty,” OSIA Treaty History Series, 1996.
5. Edward Ifft, “The Use of On-Site Inspection in the Avoidance and Settlement of Arms Control Disputes,” in Avoidance and Settlement of Arms Control Disputes: Vol. II, Arms Control and Disarmament Law, ed. Julie Dahlitz (New York: United Nations, 1994), pp. 16-19. See George L. Rueckert, On-Site Inspection in Theory and Practice (Westport, CN: Praeger, 1998).
6. For a discussion of the Container Security Initiative and the concerns which led to it, see Stephen Flynn, America the Vulnerable (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), chap. 5.
7. The Multinational Force and Observers, Rome, 1999; “Annual Report of the Director General, Multinational Force and Observers,” January 2002, found at http://www.mfo.org/files/Annual%20Report%202002%20-%20web.pdf.