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Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, June 12

Countdown: 18 Days Iran's deputy foreign ministers and nuclear negotiators Abbas Araqchi and Madjid Takht Ravanchi flew back to Vienna this week to meet with EU political director Helga Schmid. The Iranian team met with Schmid on June 10. Political directors from the P5+1 countries joined the talks today. A U.S. official told reporters on June 10 that the next few weeks of talks would be tough, but both sides remain focused on getting an agreement by June 30. The official also said that despite his broken leg, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would join the negotiations when necessary...

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, June 9

Slow But Steady Progress on Draft Deal Just three weeks remain before the June 30 deadline for Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Iran and the P5+1 met June 4 in Vienna at the political director level. Technical talks between the two sides on the annexes are ongoing. Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister and negotiator Abbas Araqchi told Iranian news outlets on June 6 that the main text will be about 20 pages with five technical annexes totaling 40-50 pages. Araqchi said that the task of completing...

P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, June 4

Another Round in Vienna Negotiators reconvened in Vienna today to continue work on the comprehensive nuclear agreement. The political directors from the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran met on June 4, following a June 3 coordination meeting of the P5+1. Meetings between the technical experts from Iran and the P5+1 are also ongoing. This week's talks followed a May 30 meeting in Switzerland between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minster Mohammad Javad Zarif. The meeting, which included U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest...

New Arms Control Today Articles Examine Key Issues



Iran, the IAEA, and the Verification Challenge; the Case for a Nuclear Material Security Convention; and India's Nonproliferation Record  

For Immediate Release: June 3, 2015 

Media Contacts: Tim Farnsworth, Communications Director, 202-463-8270 x110; Daryl G. Kimball, Publisher, Arms Control Today, 202-463-8270 x107. 

(Washington, D.C.)--As Iran and six world powers are racing complete negotiations on a long-term deal to verifiably limit Tehran's sensitive nuclear activities by June 30, the role and capacity of the International Atomic Energy Agency in monitoring Iran's compliance with that agreement is becoming the focus of increasing attention.  

In an in-depth article in the June issue of Arms Control Today by Thomas Shea, an independent consultant to who worked for 24 years at the IAEA's Dept. of Safeguards, explains and examines the verification tasks and challenges vis-a-vis Iran.  

In his article, "The Verification Challenge: Iran and the IAEA," he concludes:  "If the IAEA receives the support it needs, which is likely, it will be able to verify Iran's commitments [under the CJPoA] effectively. Even the skeptics should have confidence that if Iran changes course, IAEA verification will work effectively to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."  

Yesterday, the Senate cleared the way for U.S. ratification of key treaties designed to guard against the possibility of terrorist acquisition of nuclear weapons, a long-awaited U.S. contribution to the global nuclear material security architecture that has been discussed at a series of  nuclear security summits in Washington in 2010, Seoul in 2012, and The Hague last year. President Barack Obama will host what is widely expected to be the last nuclear security summit in the United States in 2016.   

In another article in the June issue, "A Convention on Nuclear Security: A Needed Step Against Nuclear Terrorism," Kenneth C. Brill, a former U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the founding director of the U.S. government's National Counterproliferation Center, and John H. Bernhard, a former Danish ambassador to the IAEA argue that "The summits and the work that precedes each of them have generated progress on a variety of issues related to diminishing the threat of nuclear terrorism." They write that the summits have, unfortunately, "not produced any 'durable institutions' to prevent nuclear terrorism or any clarity on how the nuclear security regime can be sustainably strengthened once the summits end." 

Brill and Bernhard make the case for a new international convention on nuclear security to close existing gaps in the global nuclear security regime to effectively prevent what Obama called in 2009, "the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.  

Ten years ago next month, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to seek changes to global nuclear nonproliferation rules to allow India to engage in civil nuclear trade with the other nations.  

In a third essay in the June Arms Control Today, John Carlson, the former director general of the Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office and chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation, assesses whether lifting of the barriers to international nuclear cooperation with India achieved one of its intended goals: bring New Delhi into the "nonproliferation mainstream." He explains in detail in, "Nonproliferation Benefits of India Deal Remain Elusive," that a decade later, that goal remains unfulfilled as India has shown limited interest in meeting international nuclear norms and has flouted some of them.  

Upon request, all three articles are available free to the media. 


 Arms Control Today  is the monthly journal published by the Arms Control Association, an independent nongovernmental organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.


In an in-depth article in the June issue of Arms Control Today by Thomas Shea, an independent consultant to who worked for 24 years at the IAEA’s Dept. of Safeguards, explains and examines the verification tasks and challenges vis-a-vis Iran.

Country Resources:

NPT Conference Fails to Reach Consensus

June 2015

By Daryl G. Kimball and Kingston Reif

Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations on April 27, the first day of the four-week-long event. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)The 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference ended on May 22 without agreement on a final document as key states-parties could not bridge differences over the process for convening a conference on ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and clashed over the pace of the nuclear-weapon states’ disarmament efforts.

After nearly four weeks of at times acrimonious negotiations on a text designed to review the 1968 treaty and set benchmarks for future progress, Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, the conference president, presented a consolidated draft final document for possible adoption by consensus on the final day of the meeting.

But the representatives of Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States announced late in the day on May 22 that the three countries could not support the formula presented in the document for pursuing a conference to discuss the Middle Eastern WMD-free zone.

“We were prepared to endorse consensus on all the other parts of the draft final document addressing the three pillars of the treaty—disarmament, nonproliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” said Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. But the language on the Middle Eastern zone was “incompatible with our long-standing policies,” she said (see, "Mideast Zone Plan Stymies NPT Meeting").

Disarmament Clash

Even if the issue of the conference on the WMD-free zone could have been resolved, differences on the disarmament issue may have led one or more states to block consensus.

Under Article VI of the treaty, the parties are to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” At the last review conference, in 2010, the parties agreed to a final document that contained an “action plan” on disarmament.

The draft 2015 final conference document was sharply criticized by many non-nuclear-weapon states for failing to include new commitments and time-specific benchmarks designed to accelerate progress on that plan.

In a closing statement delivered on behalf of 49 states, Alexander Kmentt, director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, said “there is a wide divide” on disarmament between the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states, “a reality gap, a credibility gap, a confidence gap, and a moral gap.”

As part of the 2010 plan, the five countries that the NPT recognizes as nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States—pledged “to accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament,” including reductions in “all types of nuclear weapons” and entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). (See ACT, June 2010.)

Since the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) entered into force in February 2011, however, further progress on disarmament has stalled in large part due to the severe downturn in U.S.-Russian relations. There has also been no visible action toward CTBT ratification by China, the United States, and other key countries.

The draft final document included noncommittal language regarding the pursuit of further nuclear weapons reductions between Russia and the United States beyond New START. The United States reiterated at the conference its willingness to negotiate further reductions in deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third below the New START level. But Russia argued that it has already reduced its arsenal to a minimum level and that U.S. policies, such as the development of a global missile defense system, are preventing further progress. (See ACT, May 2015.)

The draft document “encourage[d]” the two sides “to commence negotiations at an early date to achieve greater reductions in their stockpiles of nuclear weapons with a view to concluding such negotiations as soon as possible.”

Several non-nuclear-weapon states also pressed for action on the 2010 commitment to “promptly engage…to reduce the risk of accidental use of nuclear weapons,” including action to eliminate “prompt launch” nuclear postures. But the United States insisted that it had already taken all reasonable steps in this regard.

With the five nuclear-weapon states unwilling to make further disarmament commitments, frustration among many delegations grew as the conference wore on.

In a May 13 statement, Abdul Minty, deputy director-general of the South African Department of Foreign Affairs, asked, “When will we ever get disarmament?” South Africa, a key member of the Non-Aligned Movement, is the only NPT party to have given up its nuclear weapons.

In a May 18 statement, Kmentt expressed concern that successive drafts of the document were “getting weakened overall, in the face of an overwhelming majority calling for a strengthened document with clear obligations, concrete commitments, and timelines.”

Humanitarian Initiative Gains

In an effort to push the nuclear-armed states to accelerate the pace of progress on disarmament, a group of 159 countries endorsed a statement delivered by Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz on April 28 citing the findings of three international conferences held since March 2013 on the impact of nuclear weapons use, the most recent of which was in Vienna last December. (See ACT, January/February 2015.) “The catastrophic effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, whether by accident, miscalculation or design, cannot be adequately addressed,” said the statement.

France and some of the other nuclear-weapon states were unmoved. France’s representative to the conference, Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel, the French ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said on May 11 that the risks of the accidental use of nuclear weapons are overstated and that no new information on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use had been uncovered for decades.

In a May 26 e-mail, Kmentt said it was “quite shocking” that some of the nuclear-weapon states viewed the humanitarian initiative “as a [public relations] exercise.” The divide between the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states “has become significantly wider due to this response,” he said.

Nonetheless, the draft final document included more references to the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use than the 2010 document did.

In addition, as the conference drew to a close, a growing number of states endorsed a document known as the “Humanitarian Pledge,” which emerged from the Vienna conference in December. By the end of the review conference, 107 countries had joined the statement, which calls on states “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”

But the next steps for the humanitarian initiative are uncertain, as even supporters of the initiative differ on what constitutes urgent and effective actions to fulfill the NPT’s Article VI disarmament goals.

When asked about the future of the humanitarian impact initiative at a May 14 conference hosted by the Arms Control Association in Washington, Kmentt answered, “At the moment, it’s not very clear what this is going to be.” 

One new forum for discussions on disarmament could be an “open-ended working group”—a forum in which all UN members can participate—to be established by the UN General Assembly, which was a recommendation in the draft final NPT conference document. According to the document, the purpose of the working group would be “to identify effective measures for the full implementation of Article VI of the treaty.”

Parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty failed to agree on a final document at their review conference as key states differed strongly on the Middle East and nuclear disarmament.

Iran, P5+1 Make Progress on Nuclear Text

June 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at New York University on April 29. (Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images)Iran and six world powers have drafted a final text for a nuclear deal, but still need to come to terms over some passages, an Iranian negotiator said last month.

Speaking to reporters after a May 12 meeting with EU deputy negotiator Helga Schmid in Vienna, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said the two sides have reached agreement on significant portions of the final text, but differences remain in “certain paragraphs.”

In a May 22 e-mail, an EU official also said that the two sides had made progress on the final text.
Iran and the six-country group, known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), aim to complete a comprehensive nuclear deal by June 30. (See ACT, December 2014.) On April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland, the parties announced an agreement on the broad parameters of the pact. (See ACT, May 2015.)

Since the April breakthrough, Iran and the P5+1 have continued to work on the draft of the final text. The most recent meeting among all seven countries at the level of political directors took place May 15 in Vienna. Araqchi and Schmid also met May 20-22 in the Austrian capital.

Negotiators have been meeting at the technical level in New York and Vienna over the past month.
After the May 15 meeting, Araqchi told reporters he was hopeful the text could be finalized by June 30.

Renewed Sanctions

One of the areas of a deal that has generated significant discussion over the past several weeks is the reimposition of sanctions if Iran is found to be in violation of an agreement.
An Israeli official said in a May 20 interview that Israel has “serious concerns about the ability of the United States and others to reimpose sanctions in the event of a breach.”

He said it would be difficult to “put the genie back in the bottle” after companies began to establish economic ties with Iran and that renewed sanctions are ineffectual in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons if it abandons the deal.

Richard Nephew, former principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the U.S. State Department, said on May 14 that the renewal of sanctions is not intended to stop Iran from breaking out of the deal and openly pursuing nuclear weapons. In the event of an Iranian breakout, the United States will not respond with sanctions, but will be “in a place in which military force is going to have to be considered,” he said at the Arms Control Association annual meeting.

Nephew, now director of the Program on Economic Statecraft, Sanctions, and Energy Markets at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, said the “bigger issue is differentiating” between material breaches of the deal and technical violations.

A minimum of 12 months before Iran can break out of its commitments under the deal provides plenty of time “to go down the sanctions path and escalate pressure on the regime in a very serious way,” Nephew said, if Iran were taking actions in the “middle space” between technical violations, such as a valve in the wrong position, and breakout.

According to a White House summary of the April 2 parameters, when the deal is implemented, Iran will be at least 12 months away from producing enough nuclear material for one bomb for at least a decade.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on April 29 that procedures will also be in place and will be implemented if the United States does not live up to its commitments.

Zarif, speaking at a New America Foundation event in New York, said that due to a lack of trust between the sides, the deal will have a “reciprocal procedure” that will allow each side to “revert back” to certain activities if one party is “not living up to its commitments” and the issue cannot be resolved.

Iran, IAEA Meet

Between his meetings with Schmid, Araqchi met with officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is headquartered in Vienna.

The IAEA is conducting talks with Iran on implementation of the November 2013 framework agreement to allow agency inspectors to investigate unresolved IAEA concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, including alleged past activities related to nuclear weapons development. (See ACT, December 2013.)

After nine months of cooperation, the IAEA probe stalled last August when Iran failed to meet a deadline to provide information about two activities that could be related to nuclear weapons development. (See ACT, October 2014.) An IAEA team traveled to Tehran in April to continue talks on how to move forward with the investigation.

One of the controversies surrounding the IAEA inquiry has to do with access to military sites where the agency says that some of the alleged activities may have taken place and access to sites in the future if additional allegations emerge.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said as recently as May 20 that “no permission” will be given to inspect military facilities.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano told the Associated Press on May 12 that, under an additional protocol, the agency can request access to a military site when it has reason to do so.

An additional protocol gives inspectors expanded access to nuclear facilities and allows some access to sites if there is evidence that illicit nuclear activities have taken place. Iran voluntarily implemented its additional protocol between 2003 and 2006. Tehran has agreed to ratify its protocol as part of the final deal, which would make the commitment permanent.

The IAEA request for access to Iranian military sites is similar to requests the agency has made to “many other countries from time to time,” Amano said.

Colin Kahl, national security adviser to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, said at the Arms Control Association meeting that the U.S. understanding of Iran’s additional protocol is that it would allow IAEA access to military sites if the agency suspected “weaponization-related activities.”

Iran and six world powers have agreed on major portions of a final nuclear deal, an Iranian negotiator said last month.

Obama Bolsters Gulf Allies Wary of Iran

June 2015

By Jefferson Morley

Two interceptors from the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system are launched in a test on September 10, 2013. The United States has signed agreements to sell the system to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.  (U.S. Missile Defense Agency)President Barack Obama pledged on May 14 to expedite arms sales to Persian Gulf monarchies concerned about a possible international agreement to curb but not eliminate Iran’s nuclear program.

The United States seeks to “improve security cooperation, especially on fast-tracking arms transfers, as well as on counter-terrorism, maritime security, cybersecurity, and ballistic missile defense,” declared a joint statement issued after Obama and three U.S. cabinet secretaries met at the Camp David presidential retreat with top officials from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the six countries that comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

In return, GCC officials signed on to the statement endorsing Obama’s view that a “verifiable deal that fully addresses the regional and international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program is in the security interests of GCC member states as well as the United States and the international community.”

GCC leaders have publicly worried that a nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers will embolden Iran, the region’s most populous country and patron of Shiite minority communities in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. With GCC countries already fighting Iranian-backed forces in Yemen, the Gulf officials sought and received assurances that Washington will support them against Iran.

The May 14 statement declared that the United States and the GCC “will work together to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region” and called on Iran “to engage the region according to the principles of good neighborliness, strict non-interference in domestic affairs, and respect for territorial integrity.”

A second U.S.-GCC statement on May 14 spelled out the specific actions Washington will take. The Defense Department will establish a dedicated Foreign Military Sales procurement office with the goal of “streamlining third-party transfers, and exploring ways the United States could accelerate the acquisition and fielding of key capabilities,” the statement said. The United States also will send a military team to GCC capitals “to increase the frequency of Special Operations Forces counter-terrorism cooperation and training.”

President Barack Obama delivers remarks alongside Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah (left) and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani following the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council meeting on May 14 at Camp David in Maryland. (Kevin Dietsch - Pool/Getty Images)The Gulf monarchies, concerned about the spread of democratic uprisings in the Arab Spring in 2011 and the resurgence of jihadist forces in Iraq and Syria in 2014, have been bolstering their armed forces at a rapid rate. In the past five years, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have ranked among the top five countries in the world in arms imports, with a combined total of $14.5 billion in weapons purchases since 2009, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

“The speeding up of existing deals could have a major impact” on the region’s military balance, William Hartung, analyst for the Center for International Policy, said in a May 15 e-mail. “Most of the tens of billions of dollars in deals that are under Foreign Military Sales agreements are still in the pipeline, and for major systems like aircraft, delivery can take years under normal circumstances.” He cited agreements with Qatar and Saudi Arabia for Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles and with Qatar and the UAE for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

Anthony Cordesman, analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the White House statement would not dispel GCC concerns about the possibility of rapprochement between Tehran and Washington.

“Did the GCC get a reassuring and helpful statement from the U.S? Yes,” Cordesman said in a May 15 interview. “Did they get the kind of security guarantees about Iran that they wanted? No.”

After meeting with top officials from Persian Gulf countries, the White House announced steps to speed up arms transfers to nations concerned about a possible Iran nuclear deal.

The Verification Challenge: Iran and the IAEA

June 2015

By Thomas E. Shea

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and Iranian technicians disconnect the connections between cascades at the Iranian uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz on January, 20, 2014, a key step in the November 2013 interim deal between Iran and six world powers. (Kazem Ghane/AFP/Getty Images)On April 2, Iran and six world powers reached agreement on the parameters of a deal that would set limits on Tehran’s nuclear program and remove the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran because of that program.

The six-country group is known as the P5+1 because it comprises the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and Germany. The April 2 agreement, which was reached in the Swiss city of Lausanne, marks the first time that the five Security Council members have acted collectively to prevent a state from acquiring a nuclear arsenal. German participation makes the effort all the more significant because the negotiating group included as an equal partner a state that does not possess nuclear weapons.

The Lausanne accord is to serve as the basis for a comprehensive agreement, which is to be finalized by June 30. Once it is concluded, the comprehensive agreement would place the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at center stage with the task of verifying that Iran continues to honor its commitments.

During the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, a major question has been what the role of the IAEA will be in implementing the final agreement. Some observers have wondered whether the agency can be effective, given the turmoil in the Middle East, political strains affecting international support for IAEA safeguards, the limitations of verification technology, and the IAEA’s need for continuing financial and technical support. Independent of developments in the coming years affecting security in the Middle East, the IAEA must remain scientific in its approach and diplomatic in how it works. The future of the region, the international nonproliferation regime, and international security demands nothing less.

The Development of Safeguards

In verifying Iran’s compliance with its commitments, the IAEA must assume that Tehran might decide to act to acquire nuclear weapons. Imagining how Iran might evade agreements, the IAEA will organize its monitoring activities to take into account Iran’s past noncompliance and the issues remaining from the 2013 Joint Plan of Action, an interim agreement with specified verification measures to be undertaken by the IAEA.[1] Another key issue is the alleged past weapon activities—the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s past nuclear work, as the agency refers to them—based largely but not solely on national intelligence information provided by more than 10 IAEA member states.[2]

In a sense, the IAEA has been preparing for this role since it first opened for business in 1957. Today’s IAEA bears little resemblance to that initial version of the organization. In the intervening years, the IAEA had to overcome several major challenges.

First, it had to set up the world’s first international inspection system that required sovereign states to allow foreign inspectors into their nuclear establishments, question national practice, and make independent measurements and observations to verify that specific facilities, equipment, material, or even know-how was not being used to support a military activity. Then came expansions to place safeguards on complex nuclear facilities, including uranium-enrichment facilities, fuel manufacturing plants, and spent fuel reprocessing plants.

Until 1970, however, all safeguards applied by the IAEA were restricted to verifying that specified items defined in each safeguards agreement were not used to further any military purpose. In 1970 the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force. The treaty imposed additional requirements, including a formal commitment by each non-nuclear-weapon state not to seek nuclear weapons and a requirement for these states to submit all nuclear material and all nuclear facilities to IAEA safeguards. To verify the NPT, the IAEA now would have to consider each state as a possible adversary and conduct its inspections to provide assurance that each state continued to honor its nonproliferation commitments. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the IAEA applied safeguards under the NPT concentrating on declared facilities, attempting to provide a conclusion for the actions of each state on the basis of what it observed.

In the early 1990s, nuclear weapons programs were discovered in Iraq and North Korea in violation of their NPT commitments and their safeguards agreements with the IAEA. Those discoveries forced a fundamental reassessment of the IAEA safeguards system’s ability to cope with states that would violate their commitments and strive to acquire nuclear weapons. NPT states intent on acquiring nuclear weapons would take advantage of their ostensibly peaceful programs, seek foreign support through overt cooperation or false pretenses, make use of black markets, and attempt to obtain critical goods and services from individuals, commercial firms, and government officials by buying, stealing, or subterfuge.

The cases of Iraq and North Korea forced the international community to strengthen the IAEA safeguards system to meet credible threats, including Iran. The changes required IAEA member states to be more forthcoming with information on potential proliferation cases[3] and required the IAEA to take a broader, more forensic approach to verification. This forensic approach involved identifying various actions that a state could take to achieve each step in the process of acquiring nuclear weapons, seeking to identify existing capabilities and new efforts the state might pursue by relying on indigenous and external resources.

Although the IAEA had long-established procedures for protecting “safeguards confidential” information, more-stringent requirements were needed to enable the agency to receive, collate, analyze, and act on information that might reveal proliferation.

Through the past 20 years, the IAEA has continued to develop its capabilities for detecting clandestine programs, teaching inspectors new skills, making use of growing commercial satellite imagery services, and building its own forensic analysis capabilities. These include a new IAEA laboratory for environmental sample analysis, which is supported by a network of affiliated national laboratories available to augment and extend the agency’s in-house efforts.

Iran Task Force

The IAEA staff numbers about 2,500, of which about 800 are involved in the safeguards program. The Department of Safeguards includes three operations divisions, divided geographically; a division of information management responsible for analyzing all information available to the IAEA in support of the operations divisions; a division of technical support responsible for the development, procurement, supply, and maintenance of safeguards equipment used by inspectors in their activities; a division of concepts and planning to carry out threat assessments and devise approaches to counter potential and current threats; and an analytical laboratory to measure samples collected by inspectors from declared facilities and other locations.

The IAEA created the Iran Task Force within the Department of Safeguards, reporting directly to the deputy director-general for safeguards. The task force is responsible for all technical activities that now are carried out under the Joint Plan of Action and presumably will be carried out under the new agreement between Iran and the P5+1 when it enters into force. The task force, whose staff now numbers just under 50, has been authorized to choose the IAEA’s most capable inspectors and analysts.[4]

Legal Authority

To carry out its mission, the IAEA must have clear legal authority allowing it to send inspectors into Iran and enabling the inspectors to complete their assigned activities. Like all countries that have safeguards agreements with the agency, Iran provides diplomatic immunity for IAEA inspectors and must protect them against harm.

Legal authority for IAEA verification includes the existing safeguards agreement and new authority that will be forthcoming with the entry into force of the anticipated final agreement.[5]

Iran has in force a 1974 comprehensive safeguards agreement that is based on INFCIRC/153, the document adopted by the IAEA Board of Governors that provides the model safeguards agreement for all NPT non-nuclear-weapon states.[6] Under its IAEA safeguards agreement, Iran is required to “accept safeguards, in accordance with the terms of the agreement, on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities within its territory, under its jurisdiction or carried out under its control anywhere, for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” Further, IAEA NPT safeguards agreements provide “the Agency’s right and obligation to ensure that safeguards will be applied, in accordance with the terms of the Agreement, on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities within the territory of the State, under its jurisdiction or carried out under its control anywhere, for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”[7]

In the aftermath of discovering the nuclear weapons programs in Iraq and North Korea, the IAEA board determined that the safeguards system needed new capabilities to cope with future threats.  Some of the new capabilities were deemed to be within the legal authority of the existing safeguards agreements based on INFCIRC/153, and those were implemented immediately.  These included starting design-information verification before construction begins on new facilities, and continuing to verify design information over the life cycle of a facility.  Other new capabilities were deemed to require new authority going beyond the safeguards agreements based on INFCIRC/153. These new capabilities are now included in a protocol to the safeguards agreements, to be concluded by states based on the 1997 Model Additional Protocol.[8]  These new capabilities are aimed at enabling the IAEA to detect clandestine nuclear facilities and the misuse of declared facilities by providing easy access to any location within a state when the agency has questions regarding the nature of the activities thought to be under way.[9] Iran had previously allowed its additional protocol to be in force for a two-year voluntary trial period that ended in 2006. As part of the final agreement, Iran is to complete the steps necessary to bring its additional protocol into force.

In addition to these two mechanisms, the parties to a final agreement would arrange for the IAEA to be formally assigned its responsibilities under the agreement. The mechanism providing this formal assignment must extend the IAEA’s rights and responsibilities as necessary to ensure its success, going beyond the activities that are currently allowed under Iran’s safeguards agreement and the additional protocol, when it enters into force. This assignment will likely be in the form of a UN Security Council resolution. The IAEA board would have to endorse the Security Council resolution for it to take effect.

The comprehensive safeguards agreement and the additional protocol, together with new authority given to the IAEA in the final agreement, would provide the legal basis for all verification activities to be carried out while the final agreement remains in force. When the final agreement expires, the agency’s authority will revert to the comprehensive safeguards agreement and the additional protocol. Between now and then, safeguards practices will continue to evolve, and perhaps some of the provisions of the final agreement will be reflected in the manner in which safeguards are applied in all states where comprehensive safeguards agreements and additional protocols are in force.

As it plans for its verification activities in Iran, the IAEA will draw on a number of sources of information.[10] Key starting points will be declarations and information provided by Iran and information from the past implementation of safeguards in Iran, including the activities carried out under the Joint Plan of Action. Among the other critical sources are ongoing design-information verification,[11] safeguards inspections and complementary access visits[12] to declared nuclear installations, and ongoing complementary access and other official visits to other locations of interest identified by the IAEA. The Iran Task Force will define its verification activities and evaluate its findings by combining this information with information that the Department of Safeguards obtains from analyzing open-source information, informal reports to the IAEA from commercial suppliers of dual-use equipment and material, other IAEA programs, and information provided by IAEA member states, including intelligence information.

Weapons Acquisition Pathways

IAEA staffers analyze satellite imagery at the agency’s Vienna headquarters on March 19. (Dean Calma/IAEA)The IAEA understands the steps required to make nuclear weapons well enough to detect proliferation. A few staff members worked in nuclear weapons programs before joining the IAEA, and member states provide advice when requested, within the limits of Article I of the NPT and the national laws of the nuclear-weapon states involved. The IAEA is not a nuclear weapons laboratory, and it does not train its inspectors to be bomb makers, but it has the background to do the job. It understands how a state that is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons might acquire a workable warhead design; obtain sufficient amounts of fissile material and other specialized materials; design and produce high-explosive lenses, fuzing and arming systems, detonators, and the neutron initiator; master the manufacturing operations required; and assemble the warhead and mate it to a delivery system.

If Iran were to decide to attempt to acquire nuclear weapons once the new agreement has been concluded with the P5+1, Tehran would most likely begin with a clandestine program. If such a program were detected, Iran would most likely then stop all IAEA inspections and proceed as quickly as it could to acquire one or more nuclear weapons, making use of all existing materials and capabilities in a breakout scenario.

Iran’s past activities are reflected in the verification activities that would be implemented under the final agreement, especially alleged activities having possible military dimensions.[13] Were the alleged activities actually carried out? The extent or nature of past military dimensions of a nuclear weapons program in Iran may never be known. Even a full disclosure by Iran of weaponization activities within its nuclear program would not be accepted as full and complete by skeptics. Yet, measures that are to be put into place by the IAEA to detect possible future clandestine activities have been designed to take account a wide range of possible past activities.

The IAEA has to assume the worst, namely that alleged weaponization activities provided Iran with essentially all the information it needed to build nuclear weapons and that the IAEA should adjust its inspection approaches and planning so that it could detect indications of Iran’s possible nuclear weapons development efforts as early as possible. Such a scenario would require the IAEA to carry out some of its inspections very frequently—daily in some cases—and employ real-time remote monitoring of critical capabilities and nuclear material inventories that could be used in breakout scenarios.

Although the past activities alleged to be part of a weaponization effort will likely remain clouded in ambiguity, any weaponization activity shown to occur after the entry into force of the final agreement would be considered as evidence of an active nuclear weapons program. As a result, establishing a baseline of what took place where and when will be important for the IAEA’s ability to monitor Iran’s continuing commitments.

Taking all possibilities into consideration, the IAEA most likely will organize its verification activities along five lines.

Detecting clandestine nuclear weapons facilities in Iran. The IAEA must detect clandestine nuclear establishments as early as possible.

Iran has mastered centrifuge enrichment technology and has constructed undeclared—that is, clandestine—enrichment plants. It is possible that Iran has other facilities that have not been detected. These facilities could include centrifuge production plants; plants to convert concentrated uranium ore, known as yellowcake, into uranium hexafluoride, the chemical form required for enrichment; one or more enrichment plants; plants to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) metal; machine shops to produce warhead components; and plants required to produce all of the remaining warhead components. Because natural and depleted uranium are identical to HEU in chemical and metallurgical properties and are relatively easy to acquire, the steps required to produce nuclear warheads from HEU can be rehearsed well in advance so as to be ready when required.

Although the risks of being discovered by Iranian dissidents, national intelligence services, or the IAEA would be substantial, Iran could choose to construct new facilities after the new agreement enters into force, using its experience to conceal the construction and operation of such sites. The expertise developed at its declared enrichment plants and centrifuge manufacturing plants would give it an enormous head start.

Massimo Aparo, center, shown in this November 2013 photo, is the head of the IAEA’s Iran Task Force. (Dean Calma/IAEA)The IAEA has a satellite imagery analysis unit with extensive contracts for commercial imaging services, and further improvements of this capability, including enhanced optical resolution, infrared and radar imaging, automated change detection, and ultra-high definition video streaming, are being pursued through IAEA support programs. The ability of the IAEA, bolstered by national intelligence programs and possibly Iranian dissidents, would make constructing a new enrichment complex like Fordow unlikely.

Given Iran’s knowledge of satellite imagery capabilities, if Tehran were to create new clandestine facilities, it might try to hide them in cities, possibly under industrial facilities, hospitals, or shopping malls, or on military bases[14]9 rather than building them underground in remote parts of the country. National intelligence services employ methods, such as spying and intercepting communications, that are beyond IAEA capabilities. States share their findings with the IAEA in part to allow the agency to pursue inspections on the ground, using its legal authority under the watchful eye of the international community. Combining detection efforts in these ways would increase the chances that clandestine facilities would be detected if Iran were to choose to construct such facilities.

Monitoring declared nuclear installations to detect misuse. Three complementary methods are used by the IAEA to detect the misuse of a declared nuclear facility.

Inspectors verify the facility’s design information frequently to see if there have been any changes that have not been declared. Such changes might alter the capabilities of a facility, make it possible to conceal undeclared activities, or draw into question the validity of the safeguards approach adopted by the IAEA.
Inspectors also observe ongoing operational activities frequently and make use of monitoring systems to ensure that there are no undeclared activities. The monitoring systems might include video surveillance or measurement systems that track activities or plant performance.

In addition, the inspectors collect environmental samples that would show HEU particles within or around declared enrichment plants.

At the Natanz enrichment plant, the IAEA may continue daily inspections, which include environmental sampling. The agency will employ remote monitoring at other facilities to acquire essentially real-time information to determine whether the operations carried out there conform to official declarations.

Detecting diversion of declared nuclear materials from declared facilities. A key goal of IAEA inspections is to verify that no declared stocks of nuclear material are diverted, especially nuclear material that might be quickly converted to weapons-usable forms under a breakout scenario.

The IAEA typically is alerted to the diversion of declared nuclear material in a number of ways. It can detect the removal or alteration of objects containing nuclear materials that the IAEA has sealed or placed under video surveillance, or it can employ accountancy methods to detect shipper-receiver differences and material unaccounted for that exceed limits set by measurement uncertainties. These practices require that IAEA inspectors make independent measurements of the physical inventory at a facility, monitor and measure all shipments into and out of that facility, and close a material balance—that is, an apparent discrepancy with regard to the amount of material that entered the system, left the system, and remains—by another physical inventory at a later time.[15] The actual amounts of shipper-receiver differences and material unaccounted for are compared with the associated measurement uncertainties. When a shipper-receiver difference or material balance shows that some material actually is unaccounted for, a determination is made whether the amount is within the combined measurement uncertainties. If it is not, further investigation is required.

These procedures are well established and, given the current quantities of nuclear material in Iran, would detect diversion of a fraction of the amount necessary to manufacture even one nuclear warhead.

Monitoring potential supply arrangements through which Iran might secure external assistance. Iran might be able to secure assistance from other states or from commercial companies. Such assistance might be overt if the other state or states support Tehran. Iran also may use deception to acquire specialized material, equipment, or know-how. Iran may make use of black markets or front companies. It might offer substantial payments or threaten violence to achieve its aims. Some commercial suppliers of dual-use equipment, such as vacuum pumps used in enrichment plants currently notify the IAEA when they receive suspicious orders for their products.[16]

Monitoring agreed limitations on Iranian capabilities. Under the Lausanne accord, Iran has accepted limitations on existing nuclear capabilities and materials and monitoring of activities beyond those accepted by other states.

Under the existing safeguards agreement and the additional protocol that Tehran has agreed to bring into force, the IAEA will have the authority to verify most of the agreed provisions. Some of these activities can be considered as design information subject to examination and on-site verification. Others, such as monitoring the production of centrifuge machines, go beyond the current scope of IAEA safeguards. Tasking the IAEA with verifying the provisions of the final agreement will likely include a clear authority for these activities.


In the negotiations leading to the Lausanne accord, much of the focus was on preventing Iran from building a weapon within a minimum period if Iran were to break its obligations and proceed at full speed in that direction. The IAEA will likely anticipate that if Iran were to pursue nuclear weapons development, it would attempt to avoid or delay discovery and, if it is discovered or decides to announce its intentions, attempt to make as many weapons as quickly as possible using all means available to it. If Iran breaks out, the course it is likely to choose would be a combination of actions chosen to optimize its chances of getting to a position in which it could blunt diplomatic sanctions or military intervention aimed at forcing it to stop. It would most likely build in feints and fallback options, depending on how events would unfold.

Iran may attempt to delay detection, for example, by denying IAEA inspectors access to declared installations. It might claim that access is unsafe due to nuclear accidents, that terrorist activities make it essential to stop all foreign access, or that civil unrest leaves the government unable to guarantee the safety of the inspectors. Little imagination is required to come up with a plausible excuse. The IAEA will need to take steps that provide continuity for its monitoring tasks, relying on human surveillance and installed equipment.

Any breakout would quickly be detected. Therefore, if Iran decided on a breakout plan, it likely would marginalize the IAEA by withdrawing permission for the agency to enter the country. Iran almost certainly would pursue development of HEU weapons at first, at least until it had deployed a number adequate to protect it from military intervention.

Later, Iran might pursue plutonium weapons development, but it would likely not be able to do so for several years because it will take much longer to produce the required quantities of plutonium using the reactor at Arak with its modified design. Creating clandestine copies of that reactor and the associated reprocessing operations would carry a very high risk of detection.


Iran probably has learned everything it needs to know to build a nuclear weapon, and the IAEA should proceed on that assumption. In particular, the agency should assume that Tehran could have  developed and tested all the non-nuclear components needed for a nuclear weapon; mastered all the processes necessary to take highly enriched uranium hexafluoride, convert it to an appropriate metal alloy, and machine the shapes required to complete its weapons; and set aside missiles to await final warhead assembly and installation. In other words, the IAEA should assume that Iran needs only to obtain enough HEU to proceed. This perception will hopefully change for the better as the final agreement is implemented.

If Iran opts for nuclear weapons development, it would have to design a program that would avoid or delay discovery and then proceed at top speed if it is detected. It would have no other options.

If Iran and the P5+1 can resolve their remaining differences and reach a final agreement, that would be a very significant development for Iran and for the nonproliferation regime. Yet, it may not settle all the issues surrounding the country’s nuclear program. It will take many years to determine whether the agreement ultimately contributed to regional security or merely provided an interlude in which Iran covertly advanced its capabilities, biding its time.

Looking ahead, the following futures are possible:

  • Iran continues to meet its obligations and never pursues any activity related to acquiring nuclear weapons. This is the ideal situation and one that should be pursued by all states.
  • Iran considers breaching its obligations, but is deterred because the risk of being detected and the consequences to follow would be unacceptable.
  • Iran breaches its obligations, and its actions are detected, perhaps by the IAEA, in time to allow responses through collective political mechanisms or direct actions by states that would be threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran.
  • Iran violates its commitments and is not detected.
  • Iran waits for the limitations to expire and then continues to pursue a nuclear weapons capability, although that will take a long time and, during that time, detection capabilities may further improve and the political climate could change.

If the IAEA receives the support it needs, which is likely, it will be able to verify Iran’s commitments effectively. Even the skeptics should have confidence that if Iran changes course, IAEA verification will work in time for intervention to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Thomas E. Shea, currently an independent consultant, served for 24 years in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Department of Safeguards, where he was responsible for developing and applying safeguards in a wide variety of nuclear facilities. He later was sector head for defense nuclear nonproliferation programs at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. This article draws from work on a longer piece that was sponsored by Search for Common Ground and the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University.


1. See International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Communication Dated 28 November 2013 Received From the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Agency Concerning the Text of the Joint Plan of Action,” INFCIRC/856, November 29, 2013; Arms Control Association, “Implementation of the Joint Plan of Action at a Glance,” February 2015, http://www.armscontrol.org/Implementation-of-the-Joint-Plan-of-Action-At-A-Glance.

2. See IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2011/65, November 8, 2011 (hereinafter GOV/2011/65), annex (“Possible Military Dimensions to Iran’s Nuclear Programme”), para. B.13.

3. Article VIII.A of the Statute of the IAEA provides that “[e]ach member should make available such information as would, in the judgement of the member, be helpful to the Agency.” See IAEA, “The Statute of the IAEA,” November 17, 2014, https://www.iaea.org/about/statute.

4. IAEA inspectors are trained scientists and engineers, and many hold advanced degrees. It takes about two years of course work and on-the-job experience before an inspector is ready for field assignments.

5. Entry into force depends on the relevant practices of each state involved. Whether it involves a ratification process or an executive determination by the government, it is common that a state exchanges letters with the other parties to an agreement when the requirements of that state have been satisfied.

6. IAEA, “The Structure and Content of Agreements Between the Agency and States Required in Connection With the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” INFCIRC/153 (Corrected), June 1972 (hereinafter INFCIRC/153). For the text of the Iran safeguards agreement, see IAEA, “The Text of the Agreement Between Iran and the Agency for the Application of Safeguards in Connection With the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” INFCIRC/214, December 13, 1974.

7. INFCIRC/153, arts. 1, 2.

8. IAEA, “Model Additional Protocol to the Agreement(s) Between State(s) and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards,” INFCIRC/540, September 1997.

9. Safeguards agreements based on INFCIRC/153 include a provision for special inspections, which in principle can be implemented at any location within a state or under its jurisdiction. A requirement for consultations with the states makes this provision very cumbersome. A request for a special inspection in North Korea was refused, and the underlying questions that prompted the request remain unresolved to this day.

10. For example, see Matthew Ferguson and Claude Norman, “All-Source Information Acquisition and Analysis in the IAEA Department of Safeguards,” IAEA-CN-184/048, n.d., https://www.iaea.org/safeguards/symposium/2010/Documents/PapersRepository/048.pdf.

11. Safeguards agreements based on INFCIRC/153 require the state to declare every facility and provide information on its design and operation according to a specified design-information questionnaire. IAEA inspectors are allowed to visit the facility during construction and commissioning and throughout its operational lifetime to confirm that the information provided remains valid. When strengthening the safeguards system after detecting clandestine nuclear weapons activities in Iraq and North Korea, the importance of this measure was emphasized as a means to prevent the misuse of declared facilities.

12. “Complementary access” allows inspectors to carry out activities beyond those foreseen in the safeguards agreements based on INFCIRC/153. These visits are carried out frequently to continue to emphasize the transparency needed to provide assurance that no undeclared activities are under way within a state.

13. GOV/2011/65, annex.

14. As for all non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT, the additional protocol that Tehran is expected to bring into force in conjunction with the conclusion of a final agreement between Iran and the P5+1 allows for no exclusions for military bases. States may request that managed-access arrangements be employed as a means to prevent IAEA inspectors from gaining information regarding national security concerns. The IAEA has conducted complementary-access visits at military bases in several states pursuant to an additional protocol. See Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, “Foundations of International Safeguards: Safeguards in the Nuclear Age; 3.0 Legal Foundations of Safeguards,” June 2006, http://cgs.pnnl.gov/fois/videos/foundations.stm (interview with Laura Rockwood).

15. A material balance is akin to balancing a checkbook. The amount of money in the checking account should be the amount at the beginning plus any deposits and less any withdrawals. If the bank indicates a different amount, there is a problem. With nuclear material, the balance is complicated because every amount is based on a measurement, and all measurements are subject to random and systematic errors. In some cases, measurements are not possible or are not made, and estimates are used. In case of shipments and receipts, a shipper will measure one value, and the receiver, using different measurement equipment and perhaps procedures, will measure a different value, all subject to measurement errors.

16. Ralf Wirtz, “Role and Responsibility of the Civil Sector in Managing Trade in Specialized Materials,” in Cultivating Confidence: Verification, Monitoring and Enforcement for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons, ed. Corey Hinderstein (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2010). The Lausanne accord anticipates that a dedicated procurement channel will be created to oversee Iran’s trade in certain nuclear-related and dual-use materials and technologies. The final agreement will determine what role the IAEA will play in this effort.

If the International Atomic Energy Agency receives the support it needs, which is likely, it will be able to carry out effective verification of Iran’s commitments under a comprehensive nuclear deal.

Nonproliferation Benefits of India Deal Remain Elusive

June 2015

By John Carlson

In 2005 the Bush administration decided to normalize India’s participation in international nuclear cooperation. In a joint statement with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President George W. Bush announced that he would work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India.[1] Singh affirmed that India was “ready to assume the same responsibilities and practices and acquire the same benefits and advantages as other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology, such as the United States,” and announced a number of nonproliferation and disarmament commitments.

The International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors convenes in Vienna on August 1, 2008, for a meeting during which it approved a safeguards agreement with India. (Samuel Kubani/AFP/Getty Images)In 2007, India and the United States concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement. The following year, at U.S. instigation, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) decided to exempt India from the group’s requirement for comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards as a condition for nuclear supply. Ten countries have since signed nuclear cooperation agreements with India.[2]

As a result of the U.S. initiative, India is now receiving the benefits of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) without assuming any of the NPT’s obligations, a situation widely seen as damaging the NPT. Today, as India seeks to join the NSG, it is timely to reflect whether India can be seen as sufficiently “like-minded” for its bid to gain consensus support.

Commitments Undertaken

A key objective for the 2005 U.S. initiative was to encourage India to meet international nuclear norms. If India really did intend to assume “the same responsibilities and practices…as other leading countries…such as the United States,” what might it be expected to do?

India could reasonably have been expected to assume the same obligations and responsibilities as NPT nuclear-weapon states. There is no justification for India to expect to receive more-favorable treatment than these states if it does not accept obligations that are at least as rigorous.[3] Under the NPT, the nuclear-weapon states have pledged to refrain from transferring nuclear weapons to other states or assisting others to acquire nuclear weapons, to require safeguards on nuclear transfers to non-nuclear-weapon states, and to pursue negotiations on cessation of the nuclear arms race and on nuclear and general disarmament.

In addition to these explicit obligations, the NPT contains implicit principles. For example, in the terms of their voluntary-offer safeguards agreements,[4] the nuclear-weapon states implicitly agree to separate their military and civilian nuclear programs. Another implicit obligation, applicable to all NPT states, is effective control of uranium-enrichment, spent fuel reprocessing, and other sensitive nuclear technologies, a commitment that for nuclear-weapon states arises from the NPT Article I prohibition on assisting others to acquire nuclear weapons. This responsibility encompasses acts of omission, such as inadequate control enabling unauthorized transfer of sensitive technology. Similarly, there is an implicit obligation on all NPT parties to maintain effective security for nuclear materials.

The nuclear-weapon states have incurred further obligations and responsibilities by signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and allowing the installation of CTBT monitoring stations, supporting the negotiation and conclusion of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), and placing all imported nuclear material under IAEA safeguards.

In the 2005 joint statement, India undertook to identify and separate civilian and military nuclear facilities and programs “in a phased manner,” voluntarily place civilian facilities under IAEA safeguards, conclude an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement with respect to civilian facilities, continue its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, work with the United States for the conclusion of a multilateral FMCT, refrain from transferring enrichment and reprocessing technologies to new states and support international efforts to limit their spread, and secure nuclear materials and technology through comprehensive export control legislation and through harmonization of and adherence to Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and NSG guidelines.

The first three points were reiterated in the 2007 U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement.

Comparing Commitments

The commitments assumed by India are considerably less than those of the nuclear-weapon states. The analysis below compares the two sets of commitments point by point.

Not transferring nuclear weapons to other states or assisting others to acquire nuclear weapons. India’s commitments not to transfer enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that do not have them, to establish comprehensive export control legislation, and to adhere to the NSG guidelines and MTCR regime are welcome, but only partially correspond to the obligations impose by NPT Article I. The effectiveness of India’s export control arrangements is not clear at this stage.

Pursuing negotiations on disarmament. India has given no commitment comparable to the one in NPT Article VI. In contrast to the nuclear-weapon states, India has avoided any legal obligation to engage in nuclear disarmament efforts. There is a limit to how far nuclear disarmament can proceed without India. India actually is working in the opposite direction, increasing its nuclear arsenal.

Separating military and civilian programs and accepting IAEA safeguards. India released its separation plan, as the document is known, in 2006.[5] Fourteen of the 22 power reactors that were in operation or under construction at that time have been or will be designated for IAEA safeguards, together with some associated facilities.[6] For the future, India reserves the right to decide which additional facilities, if any, it will place under safeguards.

In the case of foreign-supplied facilities, India is obliged by the suppliers to place these under safeguards. For indigenous facilities, which include enrichment facilities, fast breeder reactors, and other power reactors, the separation plan says India will take into account “the nature of the facility concerned, the activities undertaken in it, the national security significance of materials and the location of the facilities.”

Major parts of India’s civilian program remain outside IAEA safeguards and evidently will remain so in the future. The relationship among civilian safeguarded facilities,[7] civilian unsafeguarded facilities, and military facilities is opaque, especially in view of the provisions of the Indian-IAEA safeguards agreement. This agreement allows safeguarded material to be used in normally unsafeguarded facilities and in specified circumstances to produce unsafeguarded plutonium and allows unsafeguarded material to be used in safeguarded facilities. Such flexibility is particularly problematic given that, unlike the nuclear-weapon states, India continues to produce fissile material for weapons.

The scope of the nuclear-weapon states’ voluntary-offer safeguards agreements varies. The Chinese and Russian agreements designate certain facilities as eligible for safeguards, while the United Kingdom and the United States make all civilian facilities eligible for safeguards. France is in between; all facilities with material under bilateral safeguards obligations are designated for IAEA safeguards. In spite of their variations, however, these agreements are consistent in not allowing the use of safeguarded material in unsafeguarded facilities, or vice versa. Facilities either are designated for safeguards, or they are not.

As for India’s additional protocol, New Delhi has reneged on its commitment, made in the 2005 joint statement and the 2007 cooperation agreement, to apply this to its civilian facilities. India’s additional protocol is the most limited of all. The Chinese and Russian additional protocols apply at least to facilities involved in collaborative programs with non-nuclear-weapon states, while the UK and U.S. protocols apply to all the civilian facilities in those countries. India’s additional protocol, however, does not apply to any facilities. This blatant dishonoring of a specific commitment raises questions about India’s attitude toward commitments.

Safeguards in India have some positive aspects. For example, designation of a facility for safeguards is irreversible. In addition, India has placed a larger proportion of facilities under safeguards than China and Russia have, although nowhere near the examples of the UK and the United States, and the IAEA undertakes inspections at all safeguarded facilities. Nevertheless, the separation between military and civilian programs in India has a long way to go compared with the nuclear-weapon states.

Signing the CTBT and hosting CTBT monitoring stations. Signing the CTBT would be a major step in support of nuclear disarmament. The CTBT requires ratification by 44 specified countries before it can enter into force. Eight of those countries have not ratified the treaty: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the United States, which have signed but not ratified the treaty, and India, North Korea, and Pakistan, which have not signed it.

U.S. ratification depends on gaining the necessary number of votes in the Senate, which the Obama administration is pursuing. The general expectation is that when the United States is able to ratify the treaty, China and most of the others will quickly follow. If India does not ratify the CTBT, however, China could use that as a reason not to do so. India’s position therefore is critical because signing the CTBT will build confidence in its intentions among the other holdouts.

A further negative factor is that late in the CTBT negotiations, India withdrew approval for the four monitoring stations planned for its territory.[8] The absence of these stations detracts from the ability of the CTBT monitoring system to provide effective coverage of a key part of the world—South Asia, China, Central Asia, and the Middle East. India has said it will maintain its unilateral test moratorium, but New Delhi’s refusal to allow these stations can be seen as casting doubt on its commitment to its test moratorium. India should show good faith by allowing the four monitoring stations to proceed and signing the CTBT.

Supporting an FMCT. The effort to achieve a global cutoff of fissile material production for nuclear weapons is another important area in which India could demonstrate its good intentions. Along with North Korea and Pakistan, India is one of only three countries still producing fissile material for nuclear weapons. It is not asking too much for India to seriously consider ceasing production of fissile material now as the nuclear-weapon states did many years ago.[9] Serious moves in this direction would have an immediate effect in reducing tensions with Pakistan. Indeed, India could show leadership by initiating negotiations with Pakistan on a bilateral fissile material cutoff agreement.

Placing all imported nuclear material under IAEA safeguards. Under its agreement with the IAEA, India accepts safeguards on imported nuclear material only if this is required by an arrangement to which India is a party, such as a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement. Today, all established uranium suppliers are NPT parties obliged to require safeguards on all nuclear transfers to a nonparty. It is not known whether all countries supplying uranium to India are insisting on safeguards; if not, they are in violation of their NPT obligations. It would be regrettable if India were taking advantage of this. It would be a welcome gesture of good faith for India to place all imported nuclear material under IAEA safeguards.

Bilateral Agreements

A number of major suppliers—Australia, Canada, Japan, the United States, and the European Union—apply similar conditions for the supply of nuclear material and other goods. They require the recipient country to accept conditions covering areas such as peaceful assurances, application of IAEA safeguards, and consent rights for reprocessing, enrichment to levels above 20 percent uranium-235, and retransfers. The agreements include accounting and tracking requirements so that material and items subject to the agreements can be identified.

India has refused to allow suppliers to track nuclear material, maintaining that IAEA safeguards are sufficient. The IAEA, however, does not distinguish between materials of different origins. Without tracking, material covered by particular agreements cannot be readily identified, making it impossible to know if bilateral conditions are being met.

Because of India’s refusal to accept tracking, the administrative arrangement required for the 2007 U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement to go into effect still has not been concluded.[10] Following President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January, it seems that officials have finally found a practical solution. It appears that the United States would supply nuclear material only in the form of fuel assemblies for U.S.-supplied reactors. This material would stay in a self-contained U.S. bubble within the Indian fuel cycle. India would provide detailed reactor operational information to enable the United States to calculate plutonium production.

It is difficult to understand why India has been so obstinate on this issue. Once India adopts modern nuclear accounting, a step the IAEA is working to help it achieve, New Delhi could easily generate the information required under bilateral agreements in the same way as every other country with such agreements.


On the basis of the terms set by the 2005 joint statement—that India is ready to assume the same responsibilities and practices as other leading countries, such as the United States—lifting the barriers to nuclear cooperation with India cannot be considered a success. The disparity between the commitments assumed by the NPT nuclear-weapon states and those of India clearly shows the opportunity lost in failing to require more of India. As a result of that failure, India has achieved a privileged position, gaining the benefits of the NPT without any of the obligations.

This situation has been exacerbated by the willingness of some governments to compromise nuclear cooperation standards for short-term political gain. Far from assisting India’s integration into the global nuclear community, such compromises will make integration longer and more fraught. Lifting the restrictions on India was intended to bring India into the nonproliferation mainstream. Yet, India has shown limited interest in meeting international nuclear norms and is instead determined to go its own way. This will not be lost on governments considering whether India is sufficiently like-minded to join the NSG.

At a time when Russia and the United States have made very substantial cuts to their nuclear arsenals and the international community is calling for the other nuclear-armed countries to join in arms reductions, India is working in the opposite direction. Indians see access to imported nuclear material as freeing up indigenous material for their weapons program.[11] With its civilian and military programs closely linked, New Delhi is operating on a fuel cycle model that the nuclear-weapon states abandoned decades ago. Moreover, India is increasing production of fissile material, adding to regional tensions.

It is alarming that New Delhi has not articulated the limits of its nuclear ambitions. Indian leaders believe that their country’s principal adversary is not Pakistan, with which it has broad nuclear parity, but China. This suggests India could be considering increasing its nuclear arsenal by a factor of two or three or perhaps more.
It can be hoped that India’s role in international nuclear affairs will be more positive, but a transition from nuclear outlier to leader will require a major change in India’s attitude toward disarmament and regional security.

John Carlson is a counselor to the Nuclear Threat Initiative and nonresident fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. He was director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office and chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation. The views in this article are his own.


1. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Joint Statement Between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” July 18, 2005.

2. In addition to the United States, the countries that have signed and brought into force an agreement with India are Argentina, Canada, France, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Namibia, Russia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Australia has signed an agreement.

3. For more, see John Carlson, “Challenges and Opportunities for Extending NPT-Related Commitments to Non-NPT States,” Policy Brief, No. 15 (September 2014), http://www.a-pln.org/content/policy-brief-no-15-challenges-and-opportunities-extending-npt-related-commitments-non-npt.

4. Under their voluntary-offer safeguards agreements, nuclear-weapon states under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty can designate facilities that are eligible for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The IAEA can select from these eligible facilities for conducting safeguards activities. In practice, for reasons of resource limitations, the IAEA conducts safeguards at only a limited number of facilities in nuclear-weapon states.

5. IAEA, “Communication Dated 25 July 2008 Received From the Permanent Mission of India Concerning a Document Entitled ‘Implementation of the India-United States Joint Statement of July 18, 2005: India’s Separation Plan,’” INFCIRC/731, July 25, 2008.

6. Of the 14 reactors designated for safeguards, six already were subject to safeguards because they were supplied by a foreign country. Thus, the net increase for safeguards is eight indigenous reactors.

7. In this context, the term “civilian safeguarded facilities” means the facilities that are listed in the annex to India’s IAEA safeguards agreement.

8. Ramesh Thakur and John Carlson, “How India Can Support the CTBT Before Signing,” Japan Times, April 8, 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2015/04/08/commentary/world-commentary/india-can-support-ctbt-signing.

9. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have formally declared that they are not producing fissile material for nuclear weapons. China has not made such a declaration, but is believed to be following suit.

10. A further issue, outside the scope of this paper, is India’s nuclear liability laws.

11. See Akhilesh Pillalamarri, “India’s Nuclear-Weapons Program: 5 Things You Need to Know,” The National Interest, April 22, 2015, http://www.nationalinterest.org/feature/indias-nuclear-weapons-program-5-things-you-need-know-12697?page=show.

The lifting of the barriers to international nuclear cooperation with India was intended to bring New Delhi into the nonproliferation mainstream.

The Disarmament Deficit

Over the past 45 years, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has put in place an indispensable yet imperfect set of rules for creating a safer world. But to ensure the treaty remains relevant and effective, all states-parties must provide leadership and take action to fulfill the treaty’s lofty goals and aspirations.

The imperfections of the NPT and the divisions among key parties were exposed at the treaty’s most recent review conference in New York, which ended on May 22. In the final hours, states-parties failed to reach consensus on a final conference document due to differences between Egypt and Israel on the process for convening a long-sought conference on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. 

More significantly, however, states-parties failed to produce an updated, meaningful action plan on disarmament that builds on the commitments they made at the 2010 review conference. These include steps to “to accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament,” including “all types of nuclear weapons,” and action toward entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Since the negotiation of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which modestly reduces U.S. and Russian forces, progress on disarmament has been stalled. Neither Washington nor China, two key treaty holdouts, is any closer to ratifying the treaty. As New Zealand’s delegation noted, progress in other areas has been underwhelming at best.

In response, three-quarters of all states at the 2015 conference argued that the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use underscore the need to act with greater urgency to eliminate nuclear weapons dangers. The NPT’s five nuclear-weapon states insisted that the pursuit of disarmament must be step by step, which requires time and the right security conditions. For now, they argued, their security requires nuclear weapons.

Surely, the recent downturn in U.S.-Russian relations and growing U.S.-Chinese tensions make progress difficult, but it does not excuse the nuclear-armed states from their NPT Article VI disarmament commitments. Unfortunately, the nuclear-weapon states came to the NPT conference without new ideas or proposals for overcoming obstacles to further disarmament. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated a June 2013 U.S. proposal for talks with Russia on a further one-third reduction of their strategic nuclear arsenals. But Russia’s delegation argued that it had reduced to its “minimum level” and that, “[in] fact, it is the U.S. policy” and the “build-up of the global missile defense system” that prevent further progress.

Complicating matters, U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are pursuing very expensive strategic nuclear modernization programs designed to maintain force levels in excess of plausible deterrence requirements for decades to come. 

For example, the U.S. Air Force wants 1,000-1,100 new, nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles, which are a nuclear warfighter’s dream and an arms controller’s nightmare because New START does not cap the number of bombs or cruise missiles that can be carried on treaty-limited strategic bombers. Meanwhile, China is continuing to gradually expand its arsenal and has begun to deploy multiple warheads on its intercontinental ballistic missiles. 

The nuclear-weapon states successfully brushed aside calls for new benchmarks and timelines. The draft final document only would have “encouraged” Russia and the United States to hold talks on further nuclear cuts and the nuclear-weapon states to “engage…with a view to achieving rapid reductions in the global stockpile of nuclear weapons.”

In response, 107 governments joined an Austrian-led initiative known as the Humanitarian Pledge, which calls on states “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.” 

It is in the interest of all states to pursue new and more-effective measures to address the disarmament deficit. The NPT draft conference document suggests a potentially useful path—an “open-ended working group” established by the UN General Assembly to “elaborate effective measures for the full implementation of Article VI of the treaty.”

Some states and civil society campaigners want to begin negotiations on a treaty to ban the possession and use of nuclear weapons. A ban is a necessary step toward a world without nuclear weapons, but will not by itself change dangerous nuclear doctrines or eliminate nuclear arsenals. Nevertheless, pressure for a ban treaty will grow unless the nuclear-armed states accelerate action on disarmament.

Moscow and Washington could announce they will implement New START cuts early and immediately begin talks on a follow-on treaty that would take into account other types of strategic weapons. China could freeze the overall size of its nuclear arsenal as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce theirs. This would help establish the conditions for a series of high-level summits on multilateral, verifiable nuclear disarmament involving the world’s seven acknowledged nuclear-armed states and leading non-nuclear-weapon states.

Without fresh thinking and renewed action on the 70-year-old problem of nuclear weapons, the future of the NPT will be at risk and the possibility of nuclear weapons use will grow. 

Over the past 45 years, the NPT has put in place an indispensable yet imperfect set of rules for creating a safer world. But to ensure the treaty remains relevant and effective...


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