An absence of trust; the peril of ignoring the verification of treaties

19 July, 2011


Richard Burge, Chief Executive, writes:

This may come as a bit of a shock, but you simply cannot rely on some nations to do what they agree to in international treaties or what they promise at global conventions. So we need to check. Apart from the fact that nations may feel slighted if their word is not taken on trust, surely this is a simple exercise. As we have found out at Wilton Park, verification is complicated. We have also realised that without effective and scientifically robust verification, confidence in treaties can be compromised or undermined. This is true for obligations that derive from socially-based treaties as much as those from  a science-base. It is disarmament, especially that associated with weapons of mass destruction where most experience has been gained in what sort of verification works and how your prepare for it. 

At a recent conference, we brought together verifiers (a modern profession but you wonder if Chaucer had been able to have written The Verifiers Tale, would we be further along this path) who worked across the range of treaties where verification is essential; biological weapons, whale conservationists, carbon emission specialists, political economists, and auditors. The commonality of their skills, their techniques and their problems were astonishing.

But what struck me most, as an inexpert observer, was a single dominant and common factor. If the means of conducting verification are not integral to the construction of a treaty, and if the measurements are not agreed before the treaty is signed, then at worst failure or at best ineffectiveness is the likely end result. Alas, in the political rush to agree treaties in order to stop an on-coming disaster or to forestall an impending conflict, we often leave the verification process to be resolved at a later date. And when that later date is reached, those who did not want the treaty in the first place or for whom the failure to deliver treaty obligations is a matter of nation convenience, can finally have their way.


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