The Case for International Surveillance and Verification


Chapter VI - Creating the System

By Action in the United Nations

There are many possible avenues by which a peace-keeping satellite system could be created. One possibility, though not the most likely, is that a Member State of the United Nations (France perhaps) will revive the ISMA proposal in the General Assembly. Since there is a growing interest in international verification, as described in Chapter V, a series of successful resolutions could well see an ISMA begun in some preliminary form. However, several obstacles remain: the opposition of the United States is a great consideration (even though the Soviet Union may now support ISMA), the political challenge of linking the system to a treaty or to an established process, the large cost of initiating and developing the system and the legality of surveillance under international law. While direct action by the General Assembly on the ISMA proposal is still possible, the area is likely to advance by other means first.

It is likely that the U.N. will gradual develop various international systems of verification. A preliminary system of verification may at first involve observer teams sent to various areas. Indeed, already the Secretary-General has been given the authority to investigate incidents of non-compliance with the Geneva protocol which prohibits the use of chemical weapons. A seismic system for verification of nuclear testing could be incorporated at an early date since international cooperation in this field has already been tried and proven successful. As the United Nations expands its capacities, it could begin to use satellite reconnaissance data. As a preliminary step, the United Nations should consider extending its remote sensing program at the FAO to include the interpretation of available imagery to gather information that may be of value in terms of international peace and security. They could establish an associated agency with offices nearby which would look at this question.

The Soviet Union has made an initiative at the U.N. to establish a World Space Organization (see Chapter IV and Borgese, 1987). The organization's function would include a verification component for an treaty prohibiting the weaponization of space. If the Soviet proposal moves into the centre of debate at the United Nations, a verification system for monitoring activities in outer space may become a reality before a system is set up to monitor activities on earth. The first step in the Soviet proposal, which has not yet been considered by the General Assembly in resolution form, is to sponsor a conference on the subject of international cooperation in space and to discuss the formation of the organization. Canada should consider an active role in the debate and molding of this organization.

By a Consortium of Nations

A second type of sponsorship for a peace-keeping satellite agency is a regional consortium of nations. Interest in a regional satellite monitoring system (RSMA) is strong in European governments. It may be that Europe will be the first to attempt to set up such a system. If there is progress in the MBFR talks, then the question of verification will become a main issue. An MBFR Treaty could provide for a verification system whose findings are either (1) maintained under secrecy and only discussed in an appropriate commission or (2) open to the public at all times. Furthermore, the original data supplied from the verification organization could be supplied or, under certain circumstances, only the results of an investigation. It is also not known if non-European governments (e.g. Canada) would play a role in the MBFR verification.

A desirable membership in an RSMA, if it were not to be open to all nations, would include: technologically advanced countries, non-aligned countries and developing countries. In developing the RSMA, provisions could be made for its eventual inclusion in the U.N..

By Private/Non-governmental Organizations

A third possible type of sponsors are private and non-governmental organizations. A recent example of an NGO initiative in verification is that of the National Resources Defence Council (NRDC), which set up seismic stations in the Soviet Union. This was unprecedented. It demonstrates the role NGOs could play in verification. NGOs could find a role to play in the verification of a number of treaties. Given an increase in the resolving power of civilian satellites, NGOs and the media will have a new form of "direct" investigation. Already, this has begun to happen. The magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology published in 1986 a picture of a runway for the Soviet Space Shuttle. The picture was obtained from the French satellite SPOT, which can take pictures with a 10 m resolution. The example shows that information of military value could now be obtained through civilian means.

The possibilities of a private/NGO role in verification should be considered seriously. As the "view from space" becomes more accessible, the opportunity for enhancing international security arises. At the same time, it will also be possible to use the technology for destructive purposes, for example, for terrorist action. Both these factors necessitate some sort of international agency to oversee the proper interpretation, the distribution and the security of sensitive surveillance data.

The cost for setting up a satellite interpretation lab could be as low as $60,000 (Alfoldi and Ryerson, 1976). This includes only the cost for non-digital equipment and the cost of equipment and furniture for the basic laboratory. The system could be set up the NGO as a non-profit organization, publicly chartered under the legal system of a neutral host nation, in conformity with U.N. principles. The organizational structures for this organization would have to be investigated in more detail. The whole subject of NGO involvement in verification and crisis management is worthy of a great deal more study.