What Nuclear Weapons-Related Activities Are Covered by the Environmental Remediation obligation of the Nuclear Ban Treaty? Part 2: Policy Considerations and Ways ForwardPosted: June 25, 2022
By: Dr. Christopher Evans
In the first part of this post, I discussed the lack of clarity concerning the scope of activities captured by the environmental remediation provision of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) contained in Article 6(2) based on an examination of this provision from a treaty interpretation perspective applying Articles 31 and 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Having illustrated how continuing ambiguity exists, Part 2 of this post identifies certain policy/practical questions that states parties may wish to consider before deciding whether to endorse a broad or narrow interpretation of Article 6(2), and looks at some ‘ways forward’ whereby TPNW parties themselves could provide further clarification on this issue within the institutional settings of the first meeting of States parties (1MSP) of the TPNW.
Reinforce the humanitarian objectives of the TPNW?
To begin with, it could be argued that a broader interpretation of nuclear weapons-related activities covered under Article 6(2) would support the underlying humanitarian objectives of the treaty. Indeed, environmental remediation involves ‘measures that may be carried out to reduce the radiation exposure from existing contamination of land areas through actions applied to the contamination itself (the source) or to the exposure pathways to humans’ (here, page 28). As such, stepping beyond only the testing and use to address environmental harms caused by other nuclear weapons-related activities could positively impact human health and well-being by reducing sources of exposure. This would align with the TPNW’s overarching purpose as a ‘Humanitarian Disarmament’ treaty, which ‘focuses on preventing and remediating human suffering and environmental harm’ caused by problematic weapons, while equally remediating the environment as a specific objective.
At the same time, it may perhaps be worth recalling how environmental concerns have been framed previously in connection with nuclear weapons during the TPNW’s development process. For example, throughout the ‘Humanitarian Conferences on the Impact of Nuclear Weapons’ held in Oslo, Nayarit, and Vienna between March 2013–December 2014, most presentations stressed the devastating effects of past nuclear weapon testing and use for the environment, alongside the predicted environmental and climatic impact of any future use of nuclear weapons (see here, here, and here). Accordingly, a narrow interpretation of Article 6(2) would align with how environmental damage has previously been contextualised throughout the TPNW negotiation process, primarily in relation to the testing and use of nuclear weapons rather than additional activities.
Overburdening ‘Affected States parties’ under a broad interpretation?
A second issue is the need to display caution about creating overly arduous commitments under Article 6(2) upon TPNW parties. Indeed, as primary responsibility to implement Article 6 rests on ‘affected’ states parties rather than user/testing states (see here, pages 71-80 and here, pages 346-347), there remains a risk that affected states could be overburdened by the obligations under Article 6(2) if the phrase ‘activities relating to testing or use of nuclear weapons’ is interpreted broadly. To take one example, a state such as Kazakhstan, already heavily affected by former Soviet nuclear testing during the Cold War, would be required to extend its remediation efforts to cover its extensive uranium mining activities, not to mention other sources of contamination from the storage of nuclear weapons on Kazakh territory by the former Soviet Union. In essence, Kazakhstan would be ‘doubly’ affected by a broader interpretation of Article 6(2).
On the other hand, many others have only previously experienced a single, specific type of harm. For example, amongst current TPNW parties where uranium mining occurs including Namibia, and signatories like Niger, Malawi, no other significant ‘activities relating to the use or testing of nuclear weapons’ have previously taken place. Similarly, states that have been subjected to nuclear weapons testing, such as the Marshall Islands, Algeria, and Kiribati, do not also have a history of uranium mining or fissile material production. While this does not seek to downplay the challenges posed by remediating contaminated sites within these ‘singly’ affected states, it does indicate that resources will not always be overly stretched in every case if a broad interpretation of activities is endorsed by TPNW parties.
Finally, while Kazakhstan would be ‘doubly’ affected by a broader interpretation of Article 6(2), it nonetheless remained one of the few states that called for a broader range of activities to be addressed through environmental remediation at the 2017 negotiation conference (see here at 16:30-16:48). This may indicate that Kazakhstan is less concerned with the possibility or implications of becoming overburdened if Article 6(2) is extended broadly in the manner described.
Operational Challenges and Questions
RelatedLY, if a broad interpretation is endorsed, this could give rise to complex operational questions and challenges when implementing Article 6(2), particularly in terms of prioritising remediation efforts. For example, should affected parties address environmental damage from the testing and use of nuclear weapons and other related activities simultaneously, and thus divide their (often limited) resources? Alternatively, should environmental harms from a broader range of nuclear weapons-related activities could be addressed based in order of severity as opposed to the source of the harm? Or could a ‘stepped’ approach be adopted whereby contamination from past testing and use of nuclear weapons is addressed first, before attention turns to other sources of environmental damage? While a ‘stepped’ approach may prove a pragmatic solution, this prioritisation process could unintentionally create an implied ‘hierarchy’ of environmental harms, whereby the contamination from nuclear weapon testing and use are afforded priority over other, often equally devastating, forms of environmental damage (though equally, an implied hierarchy could arise under a narrow interpretation of activities captured by Article 6(2) by States parties, as this would reflect a conscious decision to address environmental harms solely from the use or testing of nuclear weapons above other sources).
Admittedly, these practical questions and concerns arising from how environmental harms under a broader interpretation of Article 6(2) would only arise in the case of States that are ‘doubly’ affected by various sources of nuclear weapons-related contamination that, as noted, may be the expectation rather than the norm. Moreover, it is worth noting that standards of best practice to assist with the remediation of contaminated areas following uranium mining, nuclear accidents, and other nuclear weapons-related forms of environmental harms have been developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and jointly by the Nuclear Energy Agency and the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. Although these represent non-binding guidelines, this illustrates that affected states parties could use existing frameworks, guidance, and practices to address a wider range of nuclear weapons-related environmental harms if additional activities are caught by a broader interpretation of Article 6(2). Accordingly, while questions may arise in terms of prioritising sources of contamination to be addressed under a broader interpretation, existing standards of practice could help facilitate implementation of Article 6(2) on the ground.
Given the inconclusiveness of the scope of activities captured by Article 6(2) after applying the rules of treaty interpretation, coupled with the above policy/practical questions identified, it is apparent that determining the precise scope of activities captured by Article 6(2) represents an important, though complex issue that requires further deliberation by TPNW parties. Because the operationalisation of Article 6 will likely constitute a high priority aspect of the TPNW for states parties (see generally the ‘Special Section’ of Volume 12(1) of Global Policy and here), it is recommended that this issue concerning the scope of nuclear weapons-related activities caught under Article 6(2) should form the basis of an agenda item to be considered further during (1MSP) established pursuant to Articles 8(1) and (2) scheduled to be held in Vienna between 21-23 June 2022.
In addition, it is suggested that 1MSP should establish an inter-sessional working group on this topic to provide TPNW parties and appropriate civil society and non-governmental organisations with an opportunity to advance positions on, and consider the implications of this issue more comprehensively. There have already been calls to create an inter-sessional working group in relation to the positive obligations under Article 6 generally, and this issue concerning the scope of activities caught by Article 6(2) could be situated within this, or its own, group.
In terms of composition, the inter-sessional working group should encourage participation from both ‘affected’ states and other TPNW parties that have prior experience in dealing with contamination from past nuclear weapons testing and use, nuclear-related accidents, or sources contamination caused by nuclear energy. Civil society, international organisations, engaged non-governmental organisations, and the academic and scientific community should also be permitted to participate in the discussions in order to provide valuable technical, scientific experience, and expertise on the wider challenges associated with environmental remediation (similar to the three Humanitarian Conferences and civil society input during the 2017 negotiation conference, see here page 108-109).
Finally, in terms of substantive outcomes of the inter-sessional working group, participating actors in the group could develop a draft discussion/issue paper to be shared at the next MSP. This may even advance some tentative recommendations as to how this ambiguity with Article 6(2) and the policy questions identified above could be addressed in due course. Such a broad composition, coupled with substantive outcomes, would allow participants in the inter-sessional working group to contribute substantively to discussions in order to resolve the ambiguity surrounding the phrase ‘activities related to the testing and use of nuclear weapons’ under Article 6(2).
Guest Post: What Nuclear Weapons-Related Activities Are Covered by the Environmental Remediation obligation of the Nuclear Ban Treaty? Part 1: A Question of Interpretation?Posted: June 25, 2022
In honor of the recently completed first meeting of state parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons, I’m pleased to host a two-part guest post by Dr. Christopher Evans. Chris is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in International Law at the University of Auckland. He completed his PhD at the University of Reading in February 2022, which received a full studentship from the AHRC South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership. His research focuses on contemporary nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament law issues has been published in various journals and is available here.
What Nuclear Weapons-Related Activities Are Covered by the Environmental Remediation obligation of the Nuclear Ban Treaty? Part 1: A Question of Interpretation?
By. Dr. Christopher Evans
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) TPNW represents a controversial development in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament law that has been met with widespread opposition from the nuclear weapon-possessing states. Despite the fact that some commentators have questioned the contribution of the TPNW to nuclear disarmament efforts (see here and here), the forthcoming first meeting of states parties (1MSP) of the TPNW scheduled for 21-23 June 2022 constitutes the beginning of efforts to operationalise the ‘positive obligations’ contained in Article 6, which require affected states parties – rather than those states that had used or tested nuclear weapons (e.g. the nuclear weapon possessing states) – to address existing harms and damage to both affected individuals and the environment caused by the testing or use of nuclear weapons (see here, here, and here).
This two-part post examines a particular issue relating to the environmental remediation obligation established by Article 6(2) of the TPNW; specifically what nuclear weapons-related activities are covered by the remediation obligation imposed upon affected states parties under Article 6(2). In full, Article 6(2) reads:
‘Each State Party, with respect to areas under its jurisdiction or control contaminated as a result of activities related to the testing or use of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, shall take necessary and appropriate measures towards the environmental remediation of areas so contaminated.’
This two-part post explores this question from two perspectives. Part 1 first considers the scope of activities captured under Article 6(2) by employing the rules of treaty interpretation contained within Articles 31 and 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) and which reflect customary international law (here, para. 99). Part 2 then identifies some policy/practical considerations stemming from a broad interpretation of Article 6(2), and provides some recommendations as to how states parties could proceed to clarify this question within the institutional framework of the TPNW.
A Matter of Interpretation?
As a first port of call, it is suggested that the scope of nuclear weapons-related activities captured by Article 6(2) could be interpreted either ‘narrowly’ to address only environmental contamination arising from the testing and use of nuclear weapons (see here, here, and here); or ‘broadly’ to capture additional activities ‘related to’ the nuclear weapons lifecycle, for example, uranium mining, fissile material production, and radioactive waste storage, each of which can cause environmental harm (see respectively, here, here, and here). Determining the scope of activities covered by the environmental remediation obligation in Article 6(2) rests on interpreting the provision in accordance with Articles 31 and 32 of the VCLT. Ultimately, however, it will be revealed that the application of treaty interpretation rules does not provide a clear answer as to whether a broad or narrow approach to the activities captured by Article 6(2) can be reached with any certainty.
Article 31(1) of the VCLT states that a treaty shall be interpreted ‘in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in light of its object and purpose’. Both the International Law Commission (here, page 220) and the International Court of Justice (here, para. 41) have emphasised that the ordinary meaning should be ‘starting point’ for interpretation and must be presumed ‘to be the authentic expression of the intentionof the parties’.
Applying this starting point, the ordinary language of Article 6(2) introduces the uncertainty surrounding the scope of activities covered. First, the fact that Article 6(2) only explicitly references nuclear weapons testing and use suggests that a narrower scope is implied. This view gains further support when one considers the comprehensive range of prohibitions included within Article 1. Indeed, as Article 1 forms part of the TPNW’s ‘context’ pursuant to Article 31(2) of the VCLT, the fact that only the use and testing of nuclear weapons are explicitly mentioned in Article 6(2) out of the comprehensive prohibitions established by Article 1 supports a narrow interpretation.
Furthermore, Article 6(2) contrasts with the comparable ‘Environmental Security’ provision of the 2006 Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia (Treaty of Semipalatinsk), where states parties undertake:
‘to assist any efforts toward the environmental rehabilitation of territories contaminated as a result of past activities related to the development, production or storage of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, in particular uranium tailings storage sites and nuclear test sites.’
Evidently, whereas the scope of activities captured by Article 6 of the Treaty of Semipalatinsk could be expanded without over-extending the ordinary language of the provision, such a broader interpretation would be more difficult to reconcile with Article 6(2) of the TPNW, which instead refers only to nuclear weapons testing and use.
Nevertheless, the inclusion of the preceding phrase ‘activities related to…’ does seem indicate a broader scope that would encompass additional activities that are closely connected to either nuclear weapons use or testing. Indeed, some commentators have suggested that Article 6(2) ‘covers contamination resulting from, for example, production, transport or stockpiling of nuclear weapons, as these are “activities related to” testing and use’ (here page 9). Moffatt has likewise argued:
‘it may seem arguable to perhaps interpret Article 6(2) as requiring environmental remediation of areas where activities such as mining, milling or disposal have taken place, those activities have in fact resulted in contamination and these activities were exclusively performed not for peaceful purposes, but only “related to […] testing or use”.’ (page 39).
Moreover, when one considers the entirety of Article 6, paragraph 1 addressing victim assistance only refers to ‘individuals under its jurisdiction who are affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapon’, thus omitting the preceding phrase ‘activities related to’. This could suggests that whereas victim assistance should be provided more limitedly to individuals affected specifically by the testing or use of nuclear weapons, Article 6(2) has a broader ambit capturing additional activities related to testing and use. At the same time, however, if participating states desired a broader range of activities to be covered under Article 6(2), it is unclear why additional activities were not expressly incorporated in the text in a similar manner to the language adopted by the Treaty of Semipalatinsk.
For the above reasons, therefore, it seems the ordinary meaning fails to clarify the scope of activities requiring environmental remediation under Article 6(2).
This ambiguity means that it is necessary to examine whether the negotiation history (travaux préparatoires) of the TPNW during the 2017 negotiation conference (2017 Conference) can shed any further light on the scope of Article 6(2). Under Article 32 of the VCLT, recourse to the travaux préparatoires is permissible when the interpretation under Article 31 of the VCLT either a) ‘leaves the meaning ambiguous or obscure’; or b) ‘leads to a result which is manifestly absurd or unreasonable’. Again, however, the travaux préparatoires offers little assistance in clarifying the scope of activities captured by Article 6(2).
According to Pace University, ‘16 states plus CARICOM expressed support in their statements for environmental remediation of areas contaminated by the use (including testing) of nuclear weapons’ during the March 2017 session (para. 9). Other participants, called for a broader range of nuclear weapons-related activities to be explicitly included in any environmental remediation obligation established. Papua New Guinea, for instance, suggested that the phrase ‘activities related to the use, testing, production or storage of nuclear weapons in their territory’ could be included in connection with environmental remediation (para. 9). Civil society too argued for a broader scope. For example, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom argued that:
‘The ban treaty should reflect the need to rehabilitate territories that have been contaminated as a result of activities related to the use, development, testing, production, transit, transshipment, or storage of nuclear weapons in their territory.’ (para. 5).
Facing these differing viewpoints, conference President Whyte Gómez included an environmental remediation provision in the initial Draft Convention released on 22 May 2017, which read as follows
‘Each State Party with respect to areas under its jurisdiction or control contaminated as a result of activities related to the testing or use of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, shall have the right to request and to receive assistance toward the environmental remediation of areas so contaminated.’
Accordingly, despite proposals to explicitly include additional nuclear weapons-related activities in the March 2017 session, no such language was included in the 22 May Draft. This draft environmental remediation provision was not discussed again until the 17th plenary session held on 20 June 2017, though no participating state sought to clarify the meaning of the phrase ‘contaminated as a result of activities related to the testing or use of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices’.
Following the 20 June 2017 plenary session, further consideration of Article 6 shifted to behind closed doors negotiations facilitated by Ambassador Labbé of Chile. Although no public records of the discussions are available, the final recommendations adopted by Ambassador Labbé on 30 June 2017 did not expand or clarify the meaning of the phrase ‘activities related to the testing and use of nuclear weapons’. This is despite suggestions by the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (para. 9) and the Italian branch of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (para. 14) to include the ‘production’ stage of nuclear weapons in both the victim assistance and environmental remediation obligations.
However, on 5July 2017, during the final stages of the negotiations, Kazakhstan suggested adopting the phrase ‘past activities associated with the development, production, storage of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, for instance uranium tailings’ within Article 6 generally (see here at 16:30-16:48). While this represented a last-ditch attempt to expand the range of nuclear weapons-related activities captured under Article 6, the limited remaining mandated time meant that other issues required more urgent discussion, notably disagreement on the primary/fundamental responsibility of user states for implementing the positive obligations. Accordingly, the text complied by the informal group on 30 June 2017 remained unchanged, while the scope of the phrase ‘activities related to the use or testing of nuclear weapons’ remained unelaborated and unaddressed.
Overall, the application of Articles 31 and 32 of the VCLT does not provide any decisive clarification on the scope of activities covered under Article 6(2), suggesting in turn that either a narrow or broad interpretation could be endorsed by States in the future. Part 2 of this blog turns to consider various policy and practical considerations arising from both a broad and narrow interpretation of activities captured by Article 6(2), and provide some suggestions on how to address this ambiguity within the framework of the TPNW.
I wanted to post a podcast I was recently invited to do by my friend, Professor Don Rothwell of the Australian National University. We actually recorded it back in December 2021, but the legal issues haven’t significantly changed. I’m guest teaching a course right now at the ANU on Nuclear Security Law, and it brought this podcast back to mind. Anyway, it’s not long – only about 18 minutes. Enjoy!
On June 5 the IAEA Director General provided a report to the Board of Governors on an ongoing dispute with Iran concerning requests the IAEA has made to inspect several sites in Iran suspected of being past locations of undeclared nuclear material. Iran claims that there are “some legal ambiguities and concerns which need to be addressed” before access is granted. Assumedly those legal concerns involve interpretations of the Additional Protocol agreement that Iran is provisionally applying pursuant to the terms of the JCPOA.
A friend sent me the report in the interests of transparency. You can access it below.
Jonathan Tirone has some good explanatory commentary about the report here.
I wanted to bring readers’ attention to a paper I recently wrote on strategic trade controls. It’s forthcoming in an edited collection, but it’s available now on SSRN at this link. STCs are a subject I’ve been working on for about 18 years, since my days of studying and working with the excellent staff at the University of Georgia Center for International Trade and Security. STCs are an often undervalued but extremely important part of the overall system of WMD nonproliferation law. I wrote this piece based upon both my academic work in the area, and the work on the ground I’ve done over the past few years advising the Government of Jordan on the creation of their new transit and transshipment STC law. I hope some find it a useful explication of the area.
I know I’ve been a bit quiet lately. I am working on a new book on the TPNW in its context within international nuclear weapons law. I’ve also been traveling to Jordan a lot the past few years to assist in their development of a strategic trade control transit and transshipment law and implementing regulations.
Obviously a lot going on in the arms control law world. Most important is probably the imminent demise of New START and the Trump administration’s disingenuous demand that any new nuclear arms control treaty include China.
But in the midst of everything else going on, I have been provided with the newly released 2019 IAEA Safeguards Implementation Report by a friend acting in the interest of transparency. SIRs are always fascinating sources of information about the IAEA’s work. This one comes with an annex describing the facilities subject to IAEA safeguards around the world. So enjoy reading these and I’ll get back to work on my book.
Best wishes to all.
Find the full report below. One particular paragraph of interest:
24. Iran continues to provisionally apply the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement in accordance with Article 17(b) of the Additional Protocol, pending its entry into force. The Agency has continued to evaluate Iran’s declarations under the Additional Protocol, and has conducted complementary accesses under the Additional Protocol to all the sites and locations in Iran which it needed to visit. Timely and proactive cooperation by Iran in providing such access facilitates implementation of the Additional Protocol and enhances confidence.
I received a copy of the 2018 Safeguards Implementation Report from a friend. Find a link to it below.
A different friend, Jonathan Tirone, wrote a typically excellent summary of some of the takeaway points from the SIR regarding Iran inspections today over at Bloomberg News. You can find his story here.
For ease of reference, I’ll also paste the text of his story below. All of this is relevant to the current Trump-imposed crisis regarding Iranian compliance with the JCPOA.
Iran Snap Nuclear Inspections Jump as Tensions With U.S. Rise
May 10, 2019, 9:39 AM CDT
Snap inspections at Iranian nuclear facilities jumped last year, underscoring the wide-reaching ability of international monitors to access potential sites that could feed clandestine research.
The finding was included in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest Safeguards Implementation Report, which is circulating among nuclear-security officials as the specter of another Middle Eastern conflict rises. Europe in particular has found itself squeezed between hostile governments in Washington and Tehran after the U.S. left the nuclear deal and slapped sanctions on Iran.
According to a copy of the restricted report published this week and obtained by Bloomberg News, inspectors deployed in Iran conducted a record number of so-called complementary accesses for a third year running in 2018. Almost 400 inspectors spent some 1,867 person-days combing Iranian sites and triggered more than three surprise visits a month.
“These snap inspections are a reflection of the concern, particularly among Europeans, that Iran would ramp up nuclear work in a clandestine fashion after the U.S. left the nuclear deal,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Iran Snap Inspections
Monitors conducted more than three surprise visits a month last year
Source: IAEA Safeguards Implementation Report
Iran on Wednesday warned that it would abandon some elements of the 2015 accord if European nations failed to come up with ways to protect banking and oil business within 60 days. A day later the U.S., which left the agreement a year ago and is sending a carrier strike force to the Persian Gulf, piled on more penalties.
The escalation is disconcerting to non-proliferation officials who see the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and world powers as a model agreement, one that bestowed unprecedented powers and access to international monitors.
The agreement “amounts to the most robust verification system in existence anywhere in the world,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said last month in Washington after meeting with U.S. officials.
Since the deal came into force in January 2016, IAEA inspectors have issued 14-straight reports showing that Iran has remained within the parameters of the deal.
That could change during the third quarter, after the U.S. revoked two waivers that permitted Iran to ship out enriched uranium and heavy water. Delivering his response to a year of U.S. pressure, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that recent enriched-uranium stockpiles would exceed limits if the country isn’t allowed to send its inventories of the heavy metal overseas.
Four years of IAEA verification, amounting to more than 8,000 inspection days and more than 100 snap inspections, have cost about 85.5 million euros ($96 million), or about three-fifths the cost of a single F-35 fighter jet made by Lockheed Martin Corp.
Iran Monitoring Costs
Total inspections costs are less than EU100 million under the deal
Source: IAEA Safeguards Implementation Report
“We’re seeing the cost of keeping peace through this diplomatic accord far cheaper than the cost of a potential military confrontation,” according to Geranmayeh, who advises EU governments. “That’s something to consider for a cost conscious U.S. president that complains about ‘forever wars’. The cost of the deal is a drop in the ocean.”
I recently came into possession of the IAEA Director General’s February 22, 2019 report to the Board of Governors on IAEA verification activities in Iran. See it at the link below. It states in relevant part that
Iran continues to provisionally apply the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement in accordance with Article 17(b) of the Additional Protocol, pending its entry into force. The Agency has continued to evaluate Iran’s declarations under the Additional Protocol, and has conducted complementary accesses under the Additional Protocol to all the sites and locations in Iran which it needed to visit.
and in summary that
The Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities and locations outside facilities where nuclear material is customarily used (LOFs) declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. Evaluations regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities for Iran remained ongoing.
This isn’t news other than the fact that the IAEA, once again, determines that Iran is fully living up to its end of the JCPOA, even though the US is no longer keeping its commitments under the deal.
This is in keeping with the U.S. intelligence community’s recently re-iterated assessment that Iran is not currently undertaking activities relevant to developing a nuclear weapon, contrary to high profile yet erroneous assertions by the Trump administration.
It is also remarkable that this report does not mention the trove of documents which Israel claims to have appropriated from a storage facility in Iran and which, Israel says, provides evidence that Iran lied about its past nuclear weapon related activities.
Even though Israel and the U.S. have been lobbying IAEA Director General Amano hard to re-open the IAEA’s assessment regarding the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, which it provided in 2015 in conjunction with the adoption of the JCPOA, so far the IAEA does not seem impressed by the alleged revelations. At least not impressed enough to change their assessment, or even mention the new claims in this most recent report.
I think it’s important to keep noting that Iran, as well as the other JCPOA parties other than the U.S., are still committed to the deal and recognize its importance. The U.S. decision to cease upholding its commitments under the JCPOA was wrongheaded – based on incorrect assertions about Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, and in the end clearly just the product of a President who thinks that no deal agreed to by anyone but him is any good.
I’m very pleased to host a guest post from an old friend of mine, and A-list international law academic, James Green. James is Professor of Public International Law at Reading University. He has written widely on international use of force law, WMD proliferation law, and he most recently wrote an acclaimed book on the persistent objector principle.
In this post, James considers what would happen if Bruce Willis movies predicted the future. I’ll leave it to James to explain 🙂
But seriously, this is in fact a very interesting legal area due to the various treaty and customary law principles it implicates. Take it away, James . . .
Planetary Defense and International Law: Balancing Risks
By: Dr. James A. Green
Professor of Public International Law, University of Reading (UK)
Major asteroid impact is a low-probability, but high-consequence risk. Large ‘Near-Earth Objects’ (NEOs) don’t hit Earth often, but there have been at least 5 extinction-events in the history of our planet because of such impacts (not least, the end of the dinosaurs). Of course, low probability risks are easily dismissed, however high the consequences of them manifesting might be, and, until recently, the countries of the world largely viewed the threat posed by NEOs as something best left to Hollywood films like Armageddon or Deep Impact. Limited funding, a lack of coordinated strategies and infrastructure, and a pervading absence of political will all meant that – had a large collision-course asteroid appeared 20 (or even 5) years ago – our chances of responding to it in time might have been pretty slim.
But that’s all changed, following the impact (in more ways than one) of the meteoroid that hit Chelyabinsk in Russia in 2013, which injured over a thousand people. Suddenly, the NEO threat became ‘real’, and major players – the US, Russia and the EU – all started pumping money into NEO preparedness, and developing formal strategies for response (see, for example, the production of the US’s first ever National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy in December 2016). At the UN, we’ve witnessed the recent creation of an embryonic international institutional infrastructure, with new inter-state bodies to detect (IAWN) and respond (SMPAG) to asteroids. The risk of asteroid cataclysm hasn’t changed – it’s still extremely unlikely any time soon, but very likely at some point in the next 100,000 years (who knows when?) – but what has changed is that humanity now has the global political will and infrastructure to begin to be in a position to respond, if needed.
Alongside this, there is an increasingly strong, if not unanimous, scientific view that the use of nuclear weapons would in many cases be our best hope of responding to a collision-course NEO. NASA has quantified the use of nuclear weapons as being between 10-100 times more effective than any non-nuclear alternative. In line with this view, the newfound (post-Chelyabinsk) governmental and inter-governmental focus on NEO preparedness has particularly engaged in developing what we might term the ‘nuclear option’. For example, even before the end of 2013, the US and Russia had mooted working on a nuclear planetary defense initiative together. That now seems to be on hold given current tensions between the two states (Crimea, Trump’s election, Salisbury, you name it), but the very fact that these nations – given their shared nuclear history – seriously considered the possibility of joint nuclear action against asteroids speaks volumes.