"I learned so much about arms control and disarmament at ACA! I learned more about arms control here in four months than I had in all three years at my college."

– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
Intern, Fall 2016
December 16, 2016
Kelsey Davenport

U.S. Sets Global Partnership Priorities

July/August 2020
By Kelsey Davenport and Julia Masterson

The United States is prioritizing the security of chemicals to help restore the norm against chemical weapons use during its chair of the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction for 2020, a State Department official told Arms Control Today.

A scientist works at a laboratory of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in Rijswijk, the Netherlands. The OPCW has received support from the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction to help nations prevent their chemical industries and materials from being misused. (Photo: OPCW)Increasing biological security will also be a key area of focus for the Global Partnership, as the coronavirus pandemic has renewed attention on the “catastrophic impact” that a biological weapon could have, the official said in a June 17 interview.

The Global Partnership is a multilateral initiative founded in 2002 to prevent the use and proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons.

Initially focused on disposing of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related facilities in former Soviet countries, the Global Partnership expanded its geographic scope in 2008. The initiative now implements projects worldwide to secure and destroy WMD-related materials and support partnering countries’ efforts to adhere to international nonproliferation instruments. Its work is guided by six core principles, which include managing and destroying WMD materials, implementing effective border and export controls, protecting facilities that house dual-use materials, and implementing international treaties aimed at preventing WMD proliferation.

The Global Partnership is now comprised of 30 member states plus the European Union. The chair of the initiative rotates on the same schedule as the Group of Seven. The United States last chaired the Global Partnership in 2012. (See ACT, January/February 2013.)

Currently, the partnership has four working groups: nuclear and radiological security, biological security, chemical security, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) security. The initiative implemented more than 180 projects valued at more than $534 million in dozens of countries in 2019.

Although there is continuity in the scope of the working groups, the chair of the initiative can determine priorities for each over the course of a year.

The State Department official said the United States is focused on building capacity through donations during its chairmanship and on strengthening dialogue between partnership states to take into account their threat assessments and programming priorities. The official said the United States also wants to emphasize the importance of donor involvement and challenge all partners in the initiative to make substantial contributions. This includes focusing on the Global Partnership’s matchmaking process for implementing projects across the range of WMD threats. Such matchmaking pairs countries in need of assistance with state donor funding and expertise. As chair, the United States will seek to “tap into an evolving set of requirements on one side, and the priority of funding on the other, and try to match the two,” the State Department official explained.

The official said the United States takes seriously the full range of WMD threats, but the repeated use of chemical weapons over the past several years makes restoring the norm against chemical weapons usage a key priority for the initiative, which the United States will continue to emphasize in 2020.

The partnership’s significant efforts to strengthen chemicals security over the past few years has strengthened the regime and contributed to the capacity of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The United States plans to build on this work, and efforts to restore the norm against chemical weapons use will be a “centerpiece” of the Global Partnership’s work in 2020, the official said. The official noted that the working group plans to further develop best practices for chemicals security infrastructure and continue to build a network of experts on which the international community can draw.

The Global Partnership has a number of ongoing projects that support these goals. The United States announced $7 million in funding for the OPCW’s center for chemistry and technology and has funded a project since 2011 to assist states in securing chemicals and assessing the evolving threat of chemical weapons use. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria, and Pakistan are some of the states that have benefited. Germany, in connection with the OPCW, funded workshops on chemicals security from 2009 to 2020 for professionals working in chemicals industries in Africa, Asia, and South America.

In the biological security working group, the official said the United States is concerned that nefarious actors are “paying attention to the consequences of the current pandemic” and may too become interested in biological weapons. The officials said that the pandemic has highlighted gaps in biosecurity and noted that some states have already requested help through the initiative to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Requests for assistance have included training for using personal protective equipment correctly.

The United States is also looking to prioritize building biological incident response capabilities and developing sustainable practices to minimize the risk of a future, intentional biological incident, the official said. The official also noted important progress on linking global health and security efforts in 2019 and said the United States will continue that work.

Past projects funded by the partnership have focused on capacity building to respond to biological threats. Germany funded a project in the Sahel region of Africa from 2016 to 2018 that established a regional response network, and Japan funded work during 2017–2019 to build capacity to diagnose infectious tropical diseases in Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In the nuclear and radiological security working group, the United States is focusing on a range of issues, including enhancing operational resilience; supporting implementation of the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, the parties to which will hold a conference in 2021; and priorities identified in the action plan released during the 2016 nuclear security summit.

The Global Partnership was one of five organizations tasked with continuing the work of the nuclear security summits, which aimed to secure and minimize weapons-usable nuclear materials in civil programs and raise awareness of the threat of nuclear terrorism.

The partnership’s action plan includes supporting efforts to increase cybersecurity and insider threat mitigation and working with the IAEA on nuclear security priorities.

The working group is scheduled to meet in July to discuss how the partnership can build on the IAEA’s February 2020 nuclear security conference.

The partnership has also contributed to continuing efforts to secure nuclear and radiological materials. The United States, for instance, is funding a 10-year effort through 2024 to secure high-threat radioactive sources in Kazakhstan, and Canada is working with nine Latin American countries from 2018 to 2022 to set up nuclear detection architecture to detect material outside of regulatory control.

The CBRN working group is taking a different approach to its mandate in 2020, the official said, noting that efforts will focus on implementing export controls and creating consensus recommendations on areas including addressing sanctions evasion and countering proliferation financing. The official said the working group will continue to advance implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires states to prevent WMD proliferation to nonstate actors and work more closely with the World Customs Organization on its capacity-building programs. The United States also hopes to revitalize matchmaking on CBRN projects and make strategic trade controls a permanent focus of the working group.

The United States is currently engaged in a multiyear program with a number of states in the Asia Pacific and East African regions to devise strategic trade controls and better enforce UN Security Council sanctions targeting North Korean proliferation.

The Global Partnership’s 31 members are primarily located in North America and Europe, but the United States has no plans to expand the initiative’s membership at this time. The State Department official said Washington hopes to strengthen existing members’ participation and to implement new project proposals through the matchmaking process.

The State Department official said that the pandemic has created new challenges for the initiative, but noted that the Global Partnership is taking an innovative approach to virtual meetings that allow the initiative’s threat reduction work to continue. Partners now facilitate virtual engagements, remote training, and distance learning in place of their regular activities.

Holding the rotating chair of the 30-nation group, the United States plans to focus on chemical weapons.

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IAEA Nuclear Oversight Grew in 2019

June 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitored a growing amount of nuclear material in 2019, but persistent security and political challenges prevented the agency from understanding the full scope of nuclear activities in some nations. The agency circulated its annual report of its safeguards activity in April, disclosing that its personnel conducted 2,179 inspections in 183 states in 2019. It now oversees over 8 percent more nuclear material than the previous year. Overall, the material would be enough for more than 216,400 nuclear weapons, which the agency calls “significant quantities.”

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi (left) tours the agency's Nuclear Material Laboratory in January. The lab is one of the tools the agency uses to monitor nuclear activities around the world. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)The annual safeguards implementation report reflects the global scale of the IAEA’s role in ensuring that nuclear materials in peaceful facilities are not diverted to military uses. It summarizes the agency’s activities to implement safeguards across member states and its conclusion about the status of nuclear materials in states where safeguards are conducted. The agency has given the report only to its member states. A copy of the document was provided to

The report also highlights difficulties in meeting those safeguards goals. In the case of Libya, for example, the IAEA was no longer able to confirm that there was “no indication of undeclared nuclear material or activities” or any diversion of nuclear material. According to the report, the IAEA cannot verify “the actual status of nuclear material previously declared by Libya” at a particular location. It is likely that the country’s unstable security situation has made it difficult for IAEA inspectors to conduct their routine work.

The report also highlighted difficulties in understanding all nuclear activities in North Korea and Syria. The agency has not conducted any on-site inspections in North Korea since April 2009, when IAEA inspectors were asked to leave. But the agency intensified its efforts in 2019 to enhance agency readiness “to play its essential role in verifying” the country’s nuclear program once a political agreement is reached, according to the report.

The report concluded that there were “no indications of the operation” in 2019 of North Korea’s five-megawatts electric reactor, which produces plutonium for nuclear weapons, or at a facility that separates plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel. But there have been “indications consistent with the use of the reported centrifuge enrichment facility.”

In Syria, IAEA inspectors visited the nation’s Miniature Neutron Source Reactor, which contains less than one kilogram of weapons-grade uranium, and another site in Damascus in 2019, but the agency continues to press Syria to cooperate with the agency’s investigation into a building destroyed in 2008 that “was very likely” a nuclear reactor that Syria failed to declare to the IAEA.

The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) requires its states-parties to implement a safeguards agreement with the IAEA to ensure that nuclear activities are peaceful. The safeguards agreements are to be negotiated within 180 days of ratifying the treaty, but the 2019 report noted that 10 states have not yet completed safeguards agreements with the IAEA.

Since 1997, IAEA member states have had the option to implement a more intrusive additional protocol to their safeguards agreement, which gives inspectors more information about a country’s nuclear program, expands access to sites, and allows for shorter-notice inspections. Of the 183 NPT states with safeguards agreements, 131 also implemented an additional protocol in 2019, an increase from the 129 states with additional protocols in 2018.

The IAEA concluded that, in 69 of the 131 states, “all nuclear material remained in peaceful activities” and that there was “no indication of undeclared nuclear material or activities” or any diversion of nuclear material. Libya was the only country that was included in that list for 2018, but not 2019.

For 62 of those states that implement a safeguards agreement and an additional protocol, the IAEA determined that “declared nuclear material remained in peaceful purposes” in 2019 but that “evaluations regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities” remain ongoing. Iran is one of the 62 countries.

The IAEA noted that some states that have negotiated additional protocols have yet to provide the agency with all of the required information under the agreement and that some states restricted access to inspectors, but that progress is being made in providing more timely information.

The safeguards report also said that three states did not allow inspectors to access certain areas within declared facilities, only one of those cases was resolved in 2019, and five states did not provide “timely access” for inspectors. The report did not specify the states.

Forty-four states are implementing safeguards but not additional protocols. The IAEA noted that, for these states, “declared nuclear material remained in peaceful activities” and conducted 146 inspections at sites in these countries.

States that are not party to the NPT can also conclude safeguards agreements with the IAEA. India, Israel, and Pakistan have all negotiated safeguards agreements for specific locations.

The IAEA conducted 93 inspections at locations under safeguards in those three countries in 2019, a slight increase from the 78 inspections the prior year. The agency also recorded an increase in the nuclear materials under safeguards in those countries, from 3,938 kilograms in 2018 to 4,260 kilograms in 2019.

The IAEA also conducts safeguards inspections in the five nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), which are not required to implement safeguards under the NPT. All five, however, have negotiated what are called “voluntary offer” safeguards and additional protocols with the IAEA, which covers more than 35,000 significant quantities of nonmilitary nuclear materials and facilities. The agency conducted 79 inspections at sites in the five nuclear-weapon states in 2019.

In addition, the report contains information about IAEA efforts to address new technical challenges. According to the report, the IAEA continued to work on safeguards applications for new types of facilities, including small modular reactors and geological repositories for spent fuel. One of the new technologies successfully tested in 2019 is an unattended monitoring system for cylinders of uranium gas at enrichment facilities.

The report also documents IAEA sampling and deployment of technologies used for conducting safeguards inspections. According to the report, the IAEA collected 442 uranium samples, 40 plutonium samples, and 405 environmental samples in 2019. The report noted that the total installation of surveillance cameras was 1,425 by the end of 2019, including new underwater cameras for spent fuel ponds, and that inspectors tested new software for reviewing data collected by IAEA surveillance systems.


IAEA Iran Inspections Increased in 2019

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducted more inspections in Iran in 2019 than the prior year, according to an annual report on the agency’s application of safeguards.

The IAEA’s annual safeguards implementation report noted that Iran received 432 inspections during 2019, an increase from 385 the previous year. The IAEA also conducted 33 complementary access visits in Iran in 2019, according to the report, which accounted for about 20 percent of 149 total complementary access inspections conducted in 183 states throughout the year.

Complementary access provisions allow inspectors to visit sites on short notice and are included in an additional protocol to a state’s safeguards agreement that many have adopted. In addition to allowing complementary access inspections, the additional protocol provides the agency with expanded access to sites and information about a country’s nuclear program.

Iran is provisionally implementing the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement as part of the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The IAEA concluded that Iran, along with 61 other states implementing safeguards agreements and additional protocols, had not diverted any nuclear materials from peaceful activities during 2019, but stated that “evaluations regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities” remain ongoing.

The IAEA has used similar language to describe Iran’s nuclear program in its quarterly reports on the country’s implementation of the JCPOA.

Kazzem Gharibabdi, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, said on May 6 that the report highlights Tehran’s cooperation with the agency. But he warned that cooperation is “not the only option” available to Iran, and the country may revise its safeguards commitments in light of Iran not receiving sanctions relief envisioned by the JCPOA after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions.

Iran has not complied with all agency requests to visit undeclared facilities, according to a February report on Iran by the IAEA. The safeguards implementation report did not provide any details on the agency’s outstanding access requests.

The report also noted that the IAEA Iran team comprised of 269 inspectors in 2019, down slightly from 276 the previous year, and spent 20.4 million euros implementing Iran’s safeguards and JCPOA-related monitoring provisions.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

The International Atomic Energy Agency issued its annual safeguards report.


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