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Experts from emerging and developing countries debate crucial, timely topics related to nuclear energy, nuclear proliferation, and economic development. Each author contributes an essay per round, for a total of nine essays for the entire Roundtable. This feature was made possible by a three-year grant from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.

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Development and Disarmament Roundtable

The potential and pitfalls of societal verification

The idea that ordinary people might contribute to verification of arms control treaties is not new; abstract discussions of the concept date back decades. But powerful and portable electronic devices have spread so widely in recent years that societal verification now seems an imminent reality. Motivated individuals might, for instance, collect treaty-relevant data through onboard sensors that smartphones can carry and then transmit the information to multilateral verification bodies or, as is already happening, share it online with global communities that subject it to crowdsourced analysis. But will societal verification generate enthusiasm in the developed and developing worlds alike? What legal protections must be established for participants? And will information gathered through societal verification ultimately prove useful and trustworthy? Below, Jamal Khaer Ibrahim of Malaysia, Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan of India, and Ibrahim Said Ibrahim of Egypt grapple with this question: As handheld devices increasingly penetrate the developing world, how might individuals in developing countries be empowered to contribute to nonproliferation efforts and nuclear, biological, and chemical treaty verification?

The Development and Disarmament Roundtable can also be read in Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish.

Editor's note: This Development and Disarmament Roundtable was inspired by a Global Forum feature in the May/June 2012 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that includes articles by Lassina Zerbo, Nima Gerami, and Jamal Khaer Ibrahim.

Round 1

05/07/2013 - 05:08

Needed: Motivation and support

Jamal Khaer Ibrahim
05/08/2013 - 05:07

Discomfort with verification, and how to overcome it

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
05/09/2013 - 06:59

Educated practitioners are the key

Ibrahim Said Ibrahim

Round 2

05/16/2013 - 10:33

Choosing the right track

Jamal Khaer Ibrahim
05/23/2013 - 07:02

Incentives and limits

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
05/30/2013 - 06:48

Utopian dreams, practical uses

Ibrahim Said Ibrahim

Round 3

06/06/2013 - 06:51

Finding acceptance, filling gaps

Jamal Khaer Ibrahim
06/19/2013 - 08:54

Not so fast

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
07/01/2013 - 12:34

Why politics is primary

Ibrahim Said Ibrahim

Round 1

05/07/2013 - 05:08

Needed: Motivation and support

The increasing prevalence of handheld devices presents new opportunities for ordinary people to participate in treaty verification. It has been suggested, for example, that the accelerometers in smartphones could be used to detect unusual seismic events that might indicate nuclear tests or that various kinds of data crowdsourcing could identify efforts to subvert the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. As handheld devices continue to spread -- and, particularly in the developing world, as they become more affordable -- opportunities for societal verification might well be expected to grow.

But handheld devices are just hardware that runs software -- the sort of tool sometimes called a "tangible enabler." If societal verification is to flourish, intangible enablers will be critical as well. These might include broader public appreciation of the importance of nonproliferation and disarmament efforts; awareness of handheld devices' potential to contribute to these efforts (that is, an understanding of what people might detect and report with the aid of handheld devices); and ultimately a willingness to participate in societal verification initiatives. Governments could establish these enablers within a society through educational efforts, but to people in many developing countries, especially nations that do not possess weapons of mass destruction, disarmament and nonproliferation issues may seem matters of low priority. Compared with questions of immediate and local concern, treaty verification efforts may struggle to engender public enthusiasm, despite vigorous educational efforts.

Complicating matters further is the fact that, although some segments of civil society in developing countries maintain a global outlook and have a good understanding of the disarmament and nonproliferation regime, their perspectives may be characterized by a degree of cynicism. Developing countries may perceive that regime as mainly intended to preserve the status quo, according to which certain nations possess weapons of mass destruction and others don't. This perception is only intensified by the rough correlation that exists between, on the one hand, the developed world and those with nuclear weapons and, on the other, the developing world and those that lack such weapons. Also, nuclear weapon states are often the most vocal proponents of strong nonproliferation measures, yet they generally do not demonstrate a corresponding commitment to comprehensive disarmament. So nonproliferation arguments may be the wrong basis on which to build enthusiasm about societal verification in developing countries.

Aligned incentives. Greater potential for success may exist in more localized contexts. For example, some of the more advanced developing countries are home to firms involved in precision engineering -- businesses that in some cases entail inherent proliferation risks because of their ability to produce items that might be put to malicious uses. In 2004, for example, a Malaysian precision-engineering firm was investigated for its alleged role in producing components for Libya's uranium-enrichment program. Partly as a result, Malaysia in 2010 passed a strict export-control law, which included heavy penalties that might concern professionals who work in industries like precision engineering. These professionals, even if they are not very interested in societal verification as a means to contribute to nonproliferation per se, might find that their personal and professional interests align with those of the international nonproliferation regime.

But if professionals in fields like precision engineering are indeed motivated to participate in societal verification, a proper "ecosystem" would need to be established so that their efforts could have the best chances of success. In my view, such an ecosystem -- perhaps consisting of online support, official outreach, and facilitation of linkages with experts in related fields -- would probably best be established through a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach. The physicist Joseph Rotblat suggested that "the right and the civic duty of the citizen" to engage in reporting on verification issues will "have to become part of … national codes of law." But I believe that an ecosystem for societal verification solely based on laws and regulations -- especially if they are closely aligned with international legal instruments like the Additional Protocol or UN Security Council Resolution 1540 -- would struggle to overcome the cynicism about nonproliferation initiatives that often exists in the developing world. Such a legal structure, on its own, would probably not be effective.

So what could national authorities do to encourage societal verification? They could support the establishment of social media tools that would allow professionals to discuss practical implementation issues in societal verification. They could contribute to these discussions through consistent outreach activities, which would include quickly responding to questions and concerns raised by participants. And they could seek to facilitate communication and cooperation between the professionals who might contribute to societal verification and the nongovernmental organizations, including think tanks, that are active in disarmament and nonproliferation.

Any ecosystem for societal verification, however, would function best if it were supported by a credible road map toward general disarmament and by further progress toward that goal. Progress toward general disarmament would instill wider confidence in the developing world in the disarmament and nonproliferation regime, and this in turn would motivate individuals to become more proactive in societal verification efforts.

05/08/2013 - 05:07

Discomfort with verification, and how to overcome it

In the West, handheld devices are attracting considerable attention these days because of their potential to aid in the verification of multilateral arms control arrangements. With penetration of handheld devices nearly total in the West and continuing to increase in the developing world -- Asia, Africa, and Latin America are expected to account for a majority of the growth in mobile subscriptions over the coming years -- opportunities are indeed emerging for technologies such as mobile phones and tablet computers to play a role in verifying compliance with agreements on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

Many of the key verification problems associated with arms control arrangements are centered in developing countries. Anything that can contribute to nonproliferation in these nations should be welcomed. But it is not clear that people in the developing world will regard handheld devices and their potential verification uses in the same way that many in the West do. Three reasons for skepticism in this regard stand out.

First, in India and many other developing countries, individuals who participate in societal verification efforts might put themselves at considerable personal risk. They might find themselves viewed in the way that human rights activists are sometimes viewed -- as less than patriotic, or as dangers to national security. And even if they do not violate any laws, they might nonetheless become targets of bureaucratic and political ire. In India, even a technology like Google Maps has faced significant opposition because it shows the locations of sensitive sites, and Google Earth has encountered official resistance in many countries. Taking all this into account, it may simply be irresponsible to encourage citizens of certain countries to participate in societal verification.

Second, the idea that ordinary people can contribute to treaty verification, whether by carrying out crowdsourcing projects or by gathering information with handheld devices, is based on the assumption that ordinary people will wish to become active partners in arms control arrangements. Even putting aside the negative repercussion that participants in societal verification might suffer, this assumption seems dubious in the developing world. Citizens of developing countries simply do not view arms control in the same way that it is viewed by arms control advocates in the West.

Many people in developing countries tend to be highly nationalistic, and their nationalism is often bound up with a certain amount of anti-Westernism -- which is unsurprising, considering that many developing countries are former colonies of Western nations or have otherwise been dominated by the West. Arms control in particular is often regarded as an instrument of Western domination, and significant opposition to arms control measures can exist at the popular level. This popular distrust of arms control efforts is exacerbated by the West's perceived lack of credibility -- often, the West is accused of treating arms control as a matter of convenience, something to be discarded when it conflicts with other, more pressing interests. These views are unfortunate, and perhaps not valid, but they are deeply held. Therefore, it is probably not safe to assume that ordinary people in developing countries will choose to participate in societal verification efforts.

Third, verification efforts of any kind can provoke discomfort in developing countries. As an example, though many developing nations have negotiated Additional Protocols with the International Atomic Energy Agency, sympathy still exists for a country like Iran, which has signed but not ratified an Additional Protocol. To many people in developing countries, the Additional Protocol seems to allow foreign inspectors to enter national territory at will and inspect any location they please. This recalls the colonial era, when developing countries lacked control over their own territory. And though some verification measures, such as those included in the Chemical Weapons Convention, have gained wide acceptance, this acceptance is rarely accompanied by any real sense of comfort.

Another example of developing nations' discomfort with verification procedures is provided by the confidence-building measures that countries like India, China, and Pakistan have put in place to reduce bilateral tensions. These measures build on a model established during the Cold War by the United States and the Soviet Union. But though the Cold War superpowers included arms control verification as a significant element of their confidence-building measures, nations like India, China, and Pakistan have not even considered doing so.

Given such sensitivities, seeking to involve ordinary citizens in verification arrangements might only heighten the discomfort that developing countries feel about multilateral arms control measures. Indeed, the bureaucratic and political elites in developing countries would likely regard as illegitimate any effort to involve citizens in monitoring the behavior of states on behalf of an extraterritorial agency. And any arms control initiative that contained arrangements for societal verification might likewise be seen as illegitimate.

Does all this mean that societal verification is a nonstarter in the developing world? Not necessarily. But societal verification's success probably depends on arms control itself becoming much more politically palatable. Resistance to arms control measures across the developing world stems in part from developing countries' not having been fully involved in the development of treaties and regimes. Making arms control processes more transparent, and involving as many developing countries as possible in those processes, especially in the drafting stages of arms control agreements, would provide the developing world with a worthwhile sense of ownership about those initiatives. A more inclusive process would also encourage treaty compliance and, ultimately, result in greater effectiveness for arms control regimes. In my view, societal verification can contribute to nonproliferation efforts and treaty compliance, but only after arms control itself becomes more widely accepted.

05/09/2013 - 06:59

Educated practitioners are the key

At its most basic level, societal verification might be defined as a person-to-person means of gathering, sharing, and validating information. Societal verification techniques might be applied to fields including human rights, humanitarian assistance, peacebuilding, conflict prevention, and environmental protection. For the purposes of this Roundtable, arms control is paramount. But societal verification's ability to fulfill its potential in arms control will ultimately depend on the people who practice it. That is, sufficient numbers of people must emerge who both understand how handheld devices and social networks can contribute to arms control -- and maintain an international outlook that entails a sense of global responsibility.

The revolution in information and communication technology that has occurred in recent years has made societal verification an increasingly practical idea. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook, as well as handheld devices like smartphones and tablet computers, have transformed societal verification of arms control treaties into something approaching reality. The hardware and software that people use in their daily lives represent a new technical means of verification; a time may be nearing when informal inspections can be carried out by anyone.

Though societal verification of arms control agreements is still in its earliest stages, social networks and handheld technologies have already proved their usefulness in humanitarian disasters and political transitions. In Japan, in the aftermath of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, ordinary people produced crowdsourced maps that plotted radiation measurements. After Haiti's 2010 earthquake, crowdsourcing made an important contribution to emergency response. In my own country, Egypt, handheld devices and social networks played a well-known role in the January 25 revolution. In the revolution's aftermath, information that political players disseminate, sometimes deliberately to mislead, is being subjected to a sort of public verification. And information withheld by government-controlled media is sometimes reported through other means. For example, when radioactive material was stolen from Egypt's planned Al Dabaa nuclear power plant in early 2012, Facebook users reported the theft hours before government-controlled media did so.

In Syria, societal verification techniques have played a key role in establishing the belief in many quarters that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people. Though significant doubt remains about what weapons have been used and who has used them, it is at least interesting to note the role that societal verification is playing in a situation where reliable information is otherwise difficult to obtain. In a conflict zone such as Syria, gathering intelligence through conventional methods is challenging. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons does not operate monitoring stations such as those maintained by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). Proving the use of chemical weapons by testing samples of soil or water can be problematic because samples degrade over time. True, uploaded video streams and reports delivered via social networks can themselves be attempts at misinformation -- but Syria at least provides an intriguing test case of societal verification's potential.

These examples from Haiti, Japan, Egypt, and Syria may point toward a future in which the treaty verification functions now performed by organizations like the CTBTO are increasingly carried out by ordinary people. The commission performs its verification duties through a network of stations that detect radionuclides and other signs of nuclear detonations. Stations like these are not cheap to construct and maintain, however, and some states may be reluctant to host facilities. To some extent, then, it may be possible to let ordinary people with handheld devices take over the work. Every iPhone, for example, when paired with a device such as the iRad Geiger, can function as a sophisticated radiation detector. A network of educated smartphone users equipped with such devices could form the basis of an auxiliary global monitoring system that could report global radiation readings for both arms control and environmental purposes. Such a system could perhaps be facilitated by a nongovernmental organization.

In my view, the main obstacle preventing such a thing from becoming reality is that only a limited number of people understand their own ability to collect information relevant to treaty verification. And it may be that too few people in the developing world maintain an international outlook that is consistent with contributions to nonproliferation, physical protection of fissile materials, efforts to stop trafficking, and the like.

But models exist for educating people in verification, its importance, and its techniques. For instance, a University of Oslo program with which I was formerly affiliated, with its roots in the UK-Norway Initiative on Nuclear Warhead Dismantlement Verification, strives to educate university students in verification issues associated with nuclear disarmament. In addition to providing training in the practical techniques of verification, the program introduces students to the political and humanitarian dimensions of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. It also emphasizes the risk that information about nuclear weapon design could inadvertently be gained during verification procedures and then transferred to a non-nuclear weapon state, which would be out of keeping with Article II of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This risk carries clear implications for the practice of societal verification. In any event, programs such as this might be adapted to encompass a broad range of issues associated with societal verification, and offered to interested individuals wherever political conditions permit.

But politics would restrict societal verification efforts quite seriously in some countries, just as it often restricts journalists. In environments of repressive government or political instability, journalists can be exposed to, among other things, accusations of breaching national security, and it is reasonable to believe that participants in verification efforts would face the same dangers. Syria, for example, which Reporters Without Borders places close to the bottom in its world ranking of press freedom, is a very problematic environment for societal verification practitioners. Here in Egypt, and in some other transitional states in the Arab world, the situation is not quite as severe. Journalists generally need not fear for their lives -- but political activists must be concerned that their online activities are being tracked. Participants in societal verification would certainly be justified in harboring the same concerns.

Political barriers will to a large extent be overcome, however, as long as a sufficiently large cadre of educated individuals is motivated to participate in verification efforts. Societal verification is unlikely ever to completely supplant the work of organizations like the CTBTO. But it looks increasingly likely to become a useful complement.

Round 2

05/16/2013 - 10:33

Choosing the right track

I argued in my first Roundtable essay that any societal verification effort perceived as too closely aligned with government would have limited chances of success in the developing world. In my view, this would hold true for diplomacy as well. A diplomatic initiative to promote societal verification might have its best chance of success if it involved no official diplomacy at all.

Diplomacy is often characterized as running along three tracks. Track 1 involves interactions between high-level representatives of national governments; it is characterized by formal negotiations and rather rigid national positions. Track 2 involves policy analysts and academics (and sometimes government officials participating in their personal capacities) who engage in unofficial dialogue, conceptual discussions, and problem-solving activities. Track 3 consists of person-to-person interactions among individuals and civil society groups working at the grassroots level.

Track 3 diplomacy and its informality bear clear similarities to societal verification itself -- and its informality might help overcome the political obstacles to societal verification that my colleagues Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan and Ibrahim Said Ibrahim have discussed.

This possibility rests on two incentives. First, though states' official stances on arms control can be quite rigid (which also helps account for the political constraints that societal verification is likely to face in many places), most nations have incentives to comply with international norms and to gain trust as economic partners -- especially if they wish to develop nuclear power sectors or otherwise participate in nuclear trade.

Second, individuals working in industries associated with the nuclear supply chain have incentives to avoid activities related to proliferation. I argued in my first essay that professionals in the precision engineering industry might find that their personal interests encourage participation in societal verification -- but this idea can be expanded to professionals in any part of the nuclear supply chain. Businesses and individuals might well embrace the techniques of societal verification to protect their professional reputations and avoid criminal or civil penalties associated with wrongdoing.

Once societal verification gained support in the business community, support might bubble up to high levels of government. Public officials might see, within the framework of trade and economic development, the advantages of allowing societal verification to develop freely. The nationalistic tendencies so often displayed when national security issues come into play might be outweighed by economic considerations. In essence, societal verification would be enabled by globalization.

But what would Track 3 diplomacy actually look like in the context of societal verification? An example would be this: Professionals in industries relevant to nuclear trade might develop initiatives to spread the ideas and practices of societal verification to colleagues in other countries. Nongovernmental organizations that focus on arms control would provide support. Governments would take no direct role, because this would only invite the official resistance that so much Track 1 diplomacy encounters. This approach would require restraint on the part of Western governments -- but it would have a far greater chance of success than would direct methods.

05/23/2013 - 07:02

Incentives and limits

In his second Roundtable essay, Jamal Khaer Ibrahim argued that professionals in industries associated with the nuclear supply chain might embrace societal verification out of a desire to "protect their professional reputations and avoid criminal or civil penalties associated with wrongdoing." But that may tell only part of the story. In my own nation, India, security at firms involved with sensitive materials is often lax. In some cases these firms do not even comply with the law, much less display concern about their professional reputations.

I recently co-authored a study on security risks related to chemical, biological, and radiological materials. The study, which entailed field visits to several of India's major industry clusters, revealed significant variations in companies' compliance with the law and their implementation of security standards. Firms that see themselves as part of a globalized world and whose commercial interests extend internationally -- for instance, large pharmaceutical and petrochemical firms -- tend to perform well. But at small and medium-sized firms that operate more locally, the short-term profit motive tends to outweigh safety and security concerns. It is difficult to imagine that firms such as these, which often fail to comply with existing laws and best practices, will demonstrate much interest in participating in societal verification initiatives. And if this is true in India, it is likely to be true across much of the developing world.

Ibrahim also writes that nations might support societal verification efforts out of a desire "to gain trust as economic partners." This strikes me as more valid, and it raises the larger question of how best to incentivize compliance with verification arrangements, including but not limited to societal verification. Incentives could include the prospect of earning economic trust, as Ibrahim suggests, and of gaining greater integration into the world's political and security architectures. Indeed, the best incentive may be to create a more dynamic global political order in which a broader range of nations have a realistic chance of playing an important role.

The principle point of Ibrahim Said Ibrahim's first Roundtable essay is that educated practitioners are key to societal verification's success, and I broadly agree. But I don't believe that many educated practitioners will soon emerge in the developing world. As Ibrahim suggests, only a limited number of people in developing countries understand and appreciate arms control arrangements themselves. Moreover, as I argued in my first essay and as Ibrahim acknowledges, citizens who participate in societal verification efforts might put themselves at personal risk because bureaucratic and political elites could perceive these activities as illegitimate. And particularly in countries where sovereignty, security, and the state's control of sensitive technologies are very closely tied together -- China and India, for example -- states will not embrace societal verification until they perceive substantial benefit in doing so. Until leaders believe that societal verification serves the national interest, ordinary people will be in no position to become educated practitioners.

05/30/2013 - 06:48

Utopian dreams, practical uses

In her first Roundtable essay, Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan discussed a number of issues that might inhibit societal verification of arms control treaties in developing countries: suspicion of existing verification regimes, political constraints, and unwillingness on the part of ordinary people to participate. The last of these in particular is related to a belief, common in the developing world, that justice and equality are lacking in the global nonproliferation regime.

I argued in my first essay that societal verification's success would depend on establishing a sufficiently large cadre of educated practitioners. I acknowledge that in my own region, the Middle East, it might be very difficult to convince people of ordinary educational attainment that they ought to participate. In the Middle East, many people harbor frustrations about the nonproliferation regime, and particularly about Israel's nuclear monopoly. It is hard to preach transparency and trust to people who feel that the entire nonproliferation regime is unjust.

But such conditions do not prevail in every region of the world. In Africa and Latin America, where verification procedures already exist in the context of nuclear-weapon-free zones, people might be expected to view societal verification with greater enthusiasm. Moreover, verification techniques would be put to different uses in different societies. In developed countries, for example, societal verification might be most useful when it comes to issues such as crime, human rights, and environmental accords. In some African and Asian states, the focus might be small arms and landmines; weapons of mass destruction would be of limited concern.

But to return to the Middle East, supernatural effort would be required to convince many people to contribute to verification regimes that they feel are fundamentally unjust. But would this hold equally true for well-educated and less-educated people? Could efforts to promote societal verification prove counterproductive, and cause some people actually to conceal information relevant to arms control treaties? These questions are difficult to answer; what is clear is that societal verification won't truly thrive in the Middle East until the region is characterized by sustainable development, good governance, social justice, and political arrangements that guarantee long-term security.

In his second essay, Jamal Khaer Ibrahim discussed diplomatic approaches to societal verification and argued that track 3 diplomacy -- person-to-person interactions among individuals and civil society groups working at the grassroots level -- is the most appropriate diplomatic approach to promoting citizen verification. I agree that indirect approaches would be the best way to facilitate discussion of these issues. Indeed, track 3 diplomacy and the somewhat more formal track 2 have been the main diplomatic approaches over the last few years in discussions toward establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. The problem, however, is converting the progress that is made in less-formal diplomacy into concrete accomplishments at the national level (track 1). It's an unfortunate reality that track 3 and track 2 ultimately lead back to track 1. Still, Ibrahim is correct that informal diplomacy may contribute to establishing around societal verification a healthy climate of dialogue and debate.

In my view, Ibrahim also makes a strong case that certain business interests might find incentives to embrace societal verification. I would argue that firms in a number of industries whose products can be misused -- nuclear power, chemicals, fertilizers, biotech -- should consider incorporating societal verification into their corporate responsibility strategies. The chemicals industry is already heavily involved in the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the industry played an important role in formulating the convention's verification procedures. Pledging support for societal verification initiatives would be a logical next step.

It is perhaps true that societal verification can reach its fullest potential only under utopian conditions -- in a world where international citizens enthusiastically carry out shared obligations under the protection of benevolent power structures. Such a world will not emerge soon. But that doesn't prevent societal verification from making strong contributions to arms control efforts in the meantime.

Round 3

06/06/2013 - 06:51

Finding acceptance, filling gaps

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan and Ibrahim Said Ibrahim have devoted considerable attention to issues that might prevent societal verification from flourishing -- for example, popular suspicion in the Middle East regarding arms control agreements, or tight state control in a country like India over sensitive technologies. Such obstacles are real. But I would argue that they only buttress the main point of my Roundtable essays so far: that societal verification initiatives have the best chance of flourishing if they are aligned with trade and supply-chain incentives and separated as much as possible from arms control and politics in general.

I wrote in my second essay that much formal diplomacy is characterized by rigid national positions. In arms control negotiations, rigidity often produces acrimony that builds up over time. And arms control negotiators, usually representatives of foreign ministries or national security agencies, tend to be battle-hardened types who do not change their positions easily. For these reasons, arms control negotiations seem the wrong context in which to promote societal verification. But I would go further, and argue that in many countries it would be a mistake to present societal verification to the general public as an arms control initiative. Rather, as I have argued, support for societal verification should be allowed to build up in the business community.

Then, as I wrote earlier, support might bubble up to high levels of government -- and eventually to multilateral bodies. Trade negotiators would be a natural conduit. These negotiators are mostly drawn from trade ministries and they tend to be interested in finding win-win solutions to problems; they want their countries' economies and industries to be considered trustworthy and transparent. If trade negotiators came to perceive national benefit in societal verification, a group such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation might issue societal verification guidelines similar to the guidelines it has issued for supply chain security. This would reinforce the importance of societal verification within the business community. But again, the initial impetus would come from industry professionals whose incentives happened to align with the aims of societal verification.

Necessary, useful. Some possibilities that Rajagopalan and Ibrahim have discussed, such as popular unwillingness to participate in societal verification, seem related mainly to detecting instances in which weapons of mass destruction are used. But in my view, it is on the supply-chain side rather than the detection side that societal verification is not only most likely to succeed but also most needed.

Under arms control treaties, various mechanisms are already in place to detect the use of weapons of mass destruction. The media can be expected to report on uses of biological, chemical, or radiological weapons, and this constitutes another kind of verification. But in the realm of supply chains, few international legal instruments oversee security. Nor are news organizations likely to discover security violations. So it is in supply chains that societal verification could find the greatest acceptance and also fill the biggest security gaps.

06/19/2013 - 08:54

Not so fast

I accept Jamal Khaer Ibrahim's argument that informal, person-to-person approaches, in the vein of track 3 diplomacy, seem to be among the most promising ways for societal verification to gain acceptance in the developing world. But at the same time, I agree with Ibrahim Said Ibrahim's assertion that societal verification can't truly thrive in places where sustainable development, good governance, and the like have yet to take hold. Jamal Khaer Ibrahim speaks of support for societal verification bubbling up from the business community to high levels of government -- but this will only happen in nations that are reasonably open to begin with. Elsewhere, societal verification will have to gain acceptance in bureaucracies and the political class before it can percolate down to the public level.

But even in countries with open forms of government, dangerous regional security environments will often pose obstacles for societal verification. India's neighborhood, for example, is not benign, and it is not perceived as benign either in official circles or among the public. And in a nationalistic environment such as that which exists in South Asia, security concerns are intensified and real threats are sometimes exaggerated. So India's public discussions of security issues focus on issues such as military modernization, offensive capabilities, force multipliers, and strategies allowing vigorous responses to regional security realities. Societal verification is not close in spirit to any of these topics, and it is unlikely to enter public discussion any time soon.

External threats can be major obstacles to societal verification; in a nation like India, so can internal pressures. India faces internal security threats from religious fundamentalists, ethnic secessionists, and a rural Maoist movement that aims to overthrow the state. When a nation faces such menaces within its own borders, the last thing on decision makers' minds will be societal verification. Indeed, societal verification might strike leaders primarily as a threat to the state: The same techniques that could promote treaty verification efforts could also be used for harm if they were taken up by terrorists and other radical elements.

As this Roundtable nears its conclusion, I continue to believe that the success of societal verification will depend above all on arms control itself gaining greater acceptance in developing countries. A useful first step would be to make arms control processes more transparent and inclusive. Societal verification itself can follow at a later stage -- once arms control has gained more acceptance, developing countries have achieved greater freedom and established less dangerous security environments, and states themselves feel ready to implement and encourage societal verification measures. This is a long list of conditions. So though I believe that societal verification might one day make a meaningful contribution to treaty verification, I don't believe that its widespread use is imminent in most of the developing world.

07/01/2013 - 12:34

Why politics is primary

Jamal Khaer Ibrahim has argued extensively in this Roundtable that societal verification has the best chance of flourishing in the developing world if business instead of politics is the primary focus of verification initiatives. He may be correct—as long as arms control is the sole focus of the discussion.

But as I argued in Round One, societal verification techniques might prove useful in fields ranging from human rights and humanitarian assistance to peacebuilding, conflict prevention, and environmental protection. In areas such as these, profit-making enterprises sometimes play only limited roles in the first place. When people require humanitarian assistance, for example, it is often because economic forces have not provided them the basic necessities of life. Is it reasonable in such situations to expect that businesses will devote resources to the societal verification techniques that might ensure the fair distribution of aid? And when it comes to an issue as political as human rights, it is difficult to imagine a successful societal verification initiative that attempted to emphasize business and exclude politics.

But even regarding societal verification of arms control agreements, the importance of business-oriented approaches should not be overvalued, nor that of political approaches undervalued. When Iran's undeclared nuclear facilities at Arak and Natanz were revealed in 2002, it was because of a Paris-based opposition group called the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Conceivably, a businessperson working in nuclear-related supply chains could have provided the information about Arak and Natanz—but that is not what happened.

The Iranian example suggests that the International Atomic Energy Agency should incorporate information derived from societal verification into its deliberations when it assesses states' compliance with their safeguards commitments. To facilitate this, I suggest that the agency establish methods by which industry professionals and citizens alike can safely and anonymously communicate compliance-related information. The United Nations could adopt a similar system that gathered information on issues ranging from arms control to human rights to environmental protection. This would not only assist in treaty verification and compliance with norms but also encourage states to display greater transparency when they deal with multilateral organizations.

This Roundtable has explored a number of key questions on societal verification's role in the developing world, but many avenues for investigation remain. For example: What if all relevant international agreements included language explaining how societal verification would contribute to the agreements' implementation (as, to an extent, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty already does)? What if organizations like the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court weighed in on the protections that national authorities should extend to citizens who report on treaty compliance? What if the United Nations oversaw the negotiation of a treaty on societal verification and the protection of citizens involved in it? This much remains certain: Societal verification will truly thrive only if ordinary people in the developing world—those who can contribute most to verification of arms control treaties—come to feel that their nations are treated justly under the nonproliferation regime.