Points of Nuclear Ban Inspection


Nuclear Abolition NewsEssay
By Frederick N. Mattis*

ANNAPOLIS, USA - To comply with a nuclear abolition treaty’s declarations and verification (inspection) requirements, the nuclear weapon states in particular would need to alter or repeal various of their laws on nuclear and state security. The benefit of the enacted treaty, though, would be worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons, so they will no longer threaten humanity—at any place on Earth. Under a worldwide nuclear ban, people and states would no longer be under our current dangers of nuclear war or attack, “false-alarm” nuclear missile launch, and terrorist acquisition of a weapon from a state’s nuclear arsenal.


On the question of confidentiality of nuclear ban verification information: it would be unwise for the treaty to promise or even imply a likelihood of confidentially with respect to information, including pre-eminently nuclear declarations by states and ongoing reports and data and other findings of the nuclear ban inspectorate (“Technical Secretariat”). Nuclear weapons are just too “extreme” for all states to consent to nuclear abolition—unless the states individually have access to treaty-required reports, etc., by states on their nuclear programs and materials, plus specific results of regular and any special inspections. Advisedly, though, under treaty terms this worldwide “exposure of information” by states would not be required until the following is accomplished: the nuclear abolition treaty (often called a Nuclear Weapons Convention) achieves unanimous accession by states (as declared by the U.N. Secretary-General), and then 60 days pass without a state formally objecting to entry into force; then 120 days later entry into force occurs; and then states all enact treaty-consonant, adequate national implementing legislation for the nuclear ban which is satisfactory to all other states. (For details of recommended nuclear ban entry-into-force provision, see chapter 3 in “Banning Weapons of Mass Destruction” by this writer.)

Subsequent to the above steps, and as additional inducement for today’s nuclear weapons states in particular to initially join the treaty, it is recommended that actual commencement of weapons elimination under the enacted treaty not begin until the Technical Secretariat has verified nuclear declarations (to feasible extent) and reported on its findings and extent of cooperation by states—and then no state formally objects to start of weapons elimination. (With the geopolitical and other force of a unanimously joined treaty, states would foresee that a factitious, or plainly insignificant or irrelevant “objection,” would bring wide and withering criticism, foresight of which would in all likelihood deter such an occurrence.)

Major Verification Elements

Particulars of nuclear ban verification under an enacted, worldwide nuclear ban are likely to include the following.

1. “Safeguards” (surveillance/accountancy) on fissionable material (plutonium, enriched uranium) would be extended to all states. A worldwide nuclear weapons ban will surely have to treat all states equally—unlike today’s nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with its five NPT “nuclear weapon states.” Given the premise of equal treatment, a country such as the USA could not be exempt from inspection processes applied to North Korea, Iran, and every other state with nuclear materials or facilities. Safeguards would be based largely on the current, enhanced (1997) International Atomic Energy Agency “Additional Protocol.”

2. Challenge inspections by individual states would be part of the inspection regime—as with the ground-breaking Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force in 1997. However, to prevent abuse and mirroring the CWC, a challenge inspection request could be turned down by 3/4 vote of states-parties. It bears adding that a flood of criticism would be directed at a state that, without significant presented evidentiary basis, called for a challenge inspection. Such a state would even be accused of attempting to undermine the nuclear ban, a serious burden and liability in prospect and therefore a deterrent to abuse of challenge inspection in a world that has banned nuclear weapons. (But, the ultimate tool of challenge inspection by individual states would in all likelihood be necessary for today’s nuclear weapon states to join the nuclear ban.)

The USA, a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, since 1998 has asserted a prerogative to claim “national security exception” to CWC-authorized inspection—although this has never been invoked by the USA (and may well never be). If accession by all states to a prospective nuclear weapons ban is to be achieved, the USA will undoubtedly have to rescind its CWC stance on this issue and assure the world that the USA will not proclaim by legislation or other means a “national security exception” to nuclear ban treaty-authorized inspection.

3. “Full access” to sites by international inspectors would be required. This, though, as with all nuclear ban provisions, would apply to all states. Also, the inspectors would surely require significant evidence before extending their reach beyond known/declared sites of (peaceful) nuclear activity or material. (And, as noted earlier, the treaty process would not even begin its most important stage—actual weapons elimination over a likely few years’ time—until all states agree that all other states have satisfactorily, i.e., with due diligence and in good faith, submitted their treaty-required nuclear declarations and cooperated with inspectors on their feasible baseline verification.)

4. “Exclusion zones,” barring vehicular entrance/exit, could be proclaimed by inspectors for a highly suspect site, to allow inspectors time to arrive. This, being very temporary but certainly serious, would only by prompted by some conceivable extreme exigency.

5. To prescribe states’ level of protection (as against sabotage or theft) for their nuclear material such as nuclear power plant fuel, the nuclear ban treaty would require compliance with prescriptions of International Atomic Energy Agency INFCIRC/225/Rev. 4 (or any pre-treaty sequel).

6. Fissionable material in transit would be guarded (as against terrorist assault) by a treaty-created, international “Nuclear Protective Force.”

7. Finally, the pre-treaty nuclear weapon states would be entitled by treaty to maintain observation/video surveillance of states’ sites holding fissionable material stocks. (For details of these and subsidiary verification provisions, see chapter 5 of “Banning Weapons of Mass Destruction.”)

It is well-known that states’ initial nuclear ban declarations of fissionable material such as plutonium will lack true precision, thus limiting exactitude of initial and thereby also subsequent “verification.” (This is primarily is due to waste-stream losses of material during decades of warhead production; also contributing have been losses during reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium for new nuclear reactor fuel use.) However, achievable baseline nuclear ban verification and establishment of safeguards on nuclear material is essentially a major deterrent to treaty violation (because of risk of exposure of attempted violation such as diversion), not an absolute barrier—but this deterrent would further strengthen a treaty that already carries the unprecedented geopolitical, legal, psychological, and moral force for compliance of unanimous accession by states before the treaty takes effect. Other potent deterrents to attempted cheating on the worldwide treaty include its equal (fair) treatment of states, plus its benefit to all states and people (removal of the nuclear weapons threat, including possible terrorist acquisition from a state’s arsenal), and the foreseeable certainty of outrage against a state if it perniciously violated or attempted to violate the worldwide nuclear weapons ban.

Contents: “Banning Weapons of Mass Destruction,” by Frederick N. Mattis (ABC-Clio/Praeger Security International; ISBN: 978-0-313-36538-6)

Ch. 1. The Landscape of Nuclear Weapons

Ch. 2. Partial Measures—De-Alerting and No First Use

Ch. 3. Nuclear Ban Entry into Force

Ch. 4. Should Withdrawal Be Permitted?

Ch. 5. Verification, Disposition of HEU, and Reprocessing

Ch. 6. Problematic States [North Korea, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, Russia]

Ch. 7. Weapons Elimination

Ch. 8. Superseding Today’s Non-Proliferation Treaty

Ch. 9. Prior Prohibition of Chemical and Biological Weapons

Ch. 10. “Reservations”

Ch. 11. Countering Near-Earth Objects

Ch. 12. Societal Verification

Ch. 13. Other Matters

Ch. 14. Summary

Appendix A: Analysis of the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention

Appendix B-C-D: NPT, BWC, U.S.-North Korea “Joint Statement of Principles”

Appendix E: Response to U.S. Rationale for Nuclear Weapons


“Banning Weapons of Mass Destruction” deserves a wide audience. It goes much further than anything I have seen in working through how a ban would be implemented, and I especially liked the integration of the BWC and CWC into the argument and the process.” - Robert S. Norris, author, “Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project’s Indispensable Man.”

“Frederick N. Mattis’s book deals with a complex and deadly subject. It does so with clarity, great intelligence, and the appropriate sense of urgency. I hope it is widely read.” - Ambassador Richard Butler, former Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector in Iraq [Nuclear Abolition | November 15, 2011]