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Putting nuclear disarmament to the test

The team of experts during the disarmament exercise, pictured here with the German and French Permanent Representative to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament.

The team of experts during the disarmament exercise, pictured here with the German and French Permanent Representative to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament., © AA

26.09.2019 - Article

Germany and France are conducting a joint disarmament exercise. Verifiable disarmament is an important step on the path to a world free of nuclear weapons.

From delivery systems to warheads – new paths to nuclear disarmament

Verification – the question of to what extent contracting parties have actually adhered to their disarmament obligations – is a crucial aspect of nuclear disarmament. Although countries with nuclear weapons have pledged in the Non-Proliferation Treaty to destroy all nuclear weapons and the United States’ and Russia’s nuclear arsenals have decreased significantly since the end of the Cold War, there is a lack of verification measures.  In particular, no nuclear weapon has ever been destroyed in a process monitored by international experts.  To date, countries have tended to destroy certain delivery systems, such as rockets, instead of the weapons themselves.

There are significant technical obstacles to verifying the destruction of a nuclear warhead. The verifying side must ensure that a nuclear warhead has actually been destroyed or rendered unusable. At the same time, the disarming country does not wish to provide access to militarily sensitive areas. If countries without nuclear weapons are involved in verification, it could even be a breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty if they obtain access to information on building a nuclear warhead.

Experts are entering uncharted territory

In order to address this technical challenge, the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV) was set up in 2014 at the initiative of the United States. Experts from over 25 countries with and without nuclear weapons develop concepts and procedures in the IPNDV to verify the disarmament of nuclear warheads. The initiative includes three experts from Germany who work on both practical and conceptual issues.

Germany and France are trying out new methods

Germany and France are paving the way with a practical exercise. A Franco-German team of researchers and government officials has been working on the Nuclear Disarmament Verification (NuDiVe) Exercise for over two years. The exercise is currently taking place. From 23 to 27 September 2019, IPNDV experts from eleven countries will verify the dismantling of a nuclear warhead simulated by a real radiation source at Research Centre Jülich and test new measurement techniques and procedures. The fact that a country with and a country without nuclear weapons (France and Germany respectively) are involved makes the exercise more credible. Disarmament should not only be a matter for countries with nuclear weapons.

After the exercise, Germany and France will evaluate whether full verification of the dismantling was achieved and met the requirements of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. For example, sensitive information on building a nuclear weapon or military secrets must not be made available to countries without nuclear weapons.

The Franco-German exercise is thus an important concrete contribution by the two countries on the long and difficult path to a world without nuclear weapons. The exercise shows that countries with and without nuclear weapons can in fact make progress on complex technical verification issues by working together. Procedures that create trust internationally remain a prerequisite for nuclear disarmament.

Nuclear disarmament – a cornerstone of German foreign policy

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his Algerian counterpart are co-chairing the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in New York this week. They urge countries to accede to the Treaty so that it can enter into force. 


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