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Development of Verification Technologies for Future Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreements

  • Room 24-213 77 Massachusetts Ave Cambridge, MA (map)

Mareena Robinson

MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering

According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, there are currently 17, 325 nuclear weapons worldwide. The stockpiles found in the United States and the Russian Federation constitute the largest amounts, with the remaining members of the Big Nuclear Five trailing significantly. Although the international stockpile is large, the growth trend is decreasing through arms reduction measures. The current nuclear arms control regime is a result of decades of international negotiations about non-armament agreements, confidence building agreements, and arms reduction agreements. The success of these agreements is closely correlated to the ability of verification techniques to accurately measure compliance. The verification regimes developed to assess compliance are treaty-specific, however history shows verification regimes inherit many characteristics from their predecessor agreements and traditionally become increasingly intrusive and streamlined with each iteration.

Most recently, under the New START, both the US and Russia have agreed to reduce the number of their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 by 2018. The verification regime developed for this agreement assesses the number of nuclear warheads deployed on strategic missiles through visual inspection and radiation detection equipment. Assuming interest in formal nuclear arms reduction agreements is maintained, subsequent treaties will be negotiated that reduce deployed warhead numbers further and expand the regime to tactical and reserve nuclear arms.

These future treaties will be accompanied by new, more intrusive verification regimes that reflect the increased value of accurate warhead counts. The threshold for acceptable intrusion is not set in the technical realm; it is based on diplomatic and political interpretations. This talk will explore the history of arms reduction agreements, focusing specifically on the development of radiation detection based verification technology. Looking through the lens of the INF Treaty and START of 1994, this talk will identify the factors that made certain verification technologies more viable than others. This talk will also address the role of the research community in establishing a body of knowledge on verification techniques, which will be used as the technical basis for future negotiations.