Research project

Verifying the Absence of Nuclear Weapons

It is universally accepted that robust verification arrangements are essential to the success of nuclear disarmament.  UNIDIR’s project on ‘Verifying the Absence of Nuclear Weapons’ seeks to develop a model arrangement that enables reliable verification of one of the key elements of disarmament—removal of nuclear weapons from a state, territory, or facility—done as part of the weapons consolidation and subsequent elimination process. This work draws upon activities undertaken in the field of verification, as well as recent advances in the development of verification technologies.

This project is expected to:

- Identify and analyze the political and technical issues pertinent to the development of a disarmament verification mechanism;

- Develop a model for a disarmament verification arrangement as a means for non-nuclear weapon states to verify the absence of weapons in their territory;

- Provide to policy practitioners at the multilateral level a tangible reference point that can be drawn upon to strengthen the verification provisions in existing multilateral instruments; and

- Contribute to building a mechanism for verifying comprehensive nuclear disarmament.

In December 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 71/67, entitled “Nuclear disarmament verification.” Among other actions, it called for States “to identify and develop practical and effective disarmament verification measures facilitating the objective of achieving and maintaining a world without nuclear weapons”. It also asked the United Nations Secretary-General to “establish a group of government experts to consider the role of verification in advancing nuclear disarmament.”

In developing disarmament verification procedures, the international community can rely on the experience past arrangements offer. For instance, the United States and Russia have developed elaborate procedures for verified dismantlement of nuclear-capable delivery systems, 

and have eliminated large amounts of weapon-origin fissile materials. The International Atomic Energy Agency has successfully safeguarded fissile materials in non-nuclear weapon states for decades. A number of projects, from the UK-Norway Initiative to the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification have also explored various aspects of verified dismantlement of nuclear warheads.

One part of the nuclear disarmament process, however, has not yet been fully covered by these efforts—verifying the absence of nuclear weapons. The need for this arises in a number of contexts. For example, nuclear disarmament may include removal of weapons from certain countries or territories, withdrawal of nuclear weapons from active service, and consolidation of weapons at a small number of storage sites. In all these cases, verifying the absence of nuclear weapons may be an essential element of the nuclear disarmament process.

Researcher(s): Pavel Podvig, Wilfred Wan

Support from UNIDIR's core funders provides the foundation for all of the Institute's activities. In addition, dedicated project funding was received from Estonia and Finland.