On-Site Inspections: A Good Assurance of Compliance with International Arms Control and Disarmament Agreements

The recent historic agreement between Russia and the United States over the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons has once more illustrated the critical importance of on-site inspections to ensure compliance with disarmament obligations. The teams of inspectors deployed by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) could, despite the time constraints and the conflict environment, verify and certify the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons production capabilities, a priority task. This remarkable achievement was made possible by the extensive experience gained by the OPCW in conducting some 5,300 on-site inspections on the territories of 86 of its now 190 member states since 1997. The 2013 Nobel Peace Prize has not be awarded to the OPCW in vain.

In fact, many international treaties dealing with arms control, non-proliferation or disarmament, or multilateral, have, over the years, included provisions on verification through on-site inspections, either “routine” or “challenge” ones, or even continuous monitoring in order to assure states parties that all obligations are complied with. Apart from the Chemical Weapons Convention, this list of accords includes bilateral treaties between the USA and the Soviet Union and then Russia (such as the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the START and New START Treaties) or between Brazil and Argentine (Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials); regional treaties such as the Euratom Treaty or the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE); and multilateral frameworks like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards Agreements and Additional Protocol; the Ottawa Treaty on Antipersonnel Landmines; the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty; etc.

A study written by the International Group on Global Security (IGGS) and published by the Geneva Centre on Security Policy (GCSP) in 2012[1] examined these various on-site inspection regimes and identified lessons learned, good practices and useful recommendations for policy makers and practitioners, including negotiators of future arms control and disarmament agreements. It remains more topical than ever.

by Marc Finaud (Senior Advisor, Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) and Senior Resident Fellow, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR)


[1] Edward Ifft, Bernard Sitt et al., On-Site Inspections, A Major Arms Control Verification Tool, GCSP Report, May 2012

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