Walter Dorn

Originally published in Derek Paul et al., eds., Disarmament's Missing Dimension: A UN Agency to Administer Multilateral Treaties, Toronto: Science for Peace / Samuel Stevens, 1990, pp. 129–132.


The United Nations was created after World War II out of the realization that a strong central international organization is required to keep the peace. The UN Charter gives the UN the mandate "to maintain international peace and security" (Article 1) and calls for the formulation of "plans to be submitted to the Members of the United Nations for the establishment of a system for the regulation of armaments" (Article 26). The Final Document of the First Special Session on Disarmament states that the UN has the "central role and primary responsibility in the sphere of disarmament". Hence, it is only natural that the responsibility for verifying arms control agreements, under the provisions of specific treaties and at the request by treaty parties, should fall within the domain of the United Nations.

Former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold was adamant that an international disarmament organization, as proposed by the West in 1959 to ensure verification and compliance at successive stages of disarmament, must be placed under the United Nations and not be set up as a separate agency, akin to a specialized agency. Hammarskjold complained that the creation of an independent agency, like the IAEA, would be "a hollowing out of the UN of one of its main fields of activity".1 He elaborates:

"If the disarmament control were to be lifted out of the United Nations ... the result would be a weakening of international cooperation all around as the UN would be robbed of a main part of its substantive content without new and really viable substitutes being created."

In recent years, the international community has become increasingly cognizant of the need to support and strengthen the United Nations. With a verification and compliance capability, the United Nations can play an important role in the implementation of an objective and effective verification regime for arms control. In the same way that peace-keeping has become a vital part of the United Nations' contribution to peace and security, UN verification can be a tool to help maintain international peace and security in the coming decade and through the coming century.

Organizational Difficulties

None of the problems such as: "Who will fund the agency?" "Who will design the agency?" are insurmountable. In fact, they have arisen and been solved during the creation of all international agencies. These are matters that can be decided by members of the United Nations and by the parties to each treaty. With regard to funding, one possibility is that the overhead operations of the agency could be funded by United Nations members and the treaty-specific divisions could be funded by the parties to each treaty. In a world that spends a trillion dollars a year on armaments, nations could easily and wisely afford to create an agency. The agency would, through resource sharing, actually save them money because a single verification organization would be more efficient than a multitude of single-treaty organizations.


The agency would not be authorized to state whether a violation had taken place unless it was specifically given this mandate in a treaty or other international agreement. Decisions about the occurrence of a violation could potentially be made by any of these international bodies: the UN organs, the Executive Council, the Conference of State Parties to a treaty, each party on an individual basis or the agency's Director-General. It would, however, be advisable to give the agency maximum powers in data assessment with or without powers of treaty interpretation. At the very least, the agency should be able to state clearly the facts revealed during an investigation, in such a way as to make a decision on compliance or non-compliance as straightforward as possible. The Director-General may also be granted the right to express an opinion or make a recommendation — such expressions could become highly regarded. In most cases, the scientists and staff within the agency would be well placed to judge the facts when a violation is suspected. The Director-General could then inform the UN Secretary-General, who might try to rectify the situation through direct talks with the suspected party. Under expedient circumstances, a public announcement (regarding the uncovered facts) could be made immediately and reported simultaneously to the Security Council and the General Assembly.


The most crucial stage of ensuring compliance with an arms control agreement is the response phase: what to do when a nation is suspected of a violation? Some automatic responses should be formalized in future treaties. The systems of sanctions in other areas of international affairs (e.g., human rights, trade, environmental protection) could be analyzed with a view to developing effective responses to major and minor arms control violations. Recourse to the Security Council could always be sought by complaining parties, but additional measures should also be devised. A United Nations verification agency (UNVA)2 would not involve itself in the response phase (unless so authorized in a treaty), but by providing objective information on the facts of compliance or non-compliance, it will greatly assist the international community in responding in a timely fashion to violations.

Expanding the Role of the UNVA

The expertise within the agency would be a great resource to the Secretary-General and would make the office a more effective guardian of international peace and security. Once the agency is set up and is running, its activities could possibly be expanded to include some of the following tasks: compliance promotion; crisis monitoring; peace-keeping and peace observation. For the relationship between the UNVA and other international organizations, see Figure 1.

Absolute National Sovereignty

Most arguments against a UN verification agency are identical to those used against the ideal of internationalism itself and against international organizations in general. Common examples are based on the notion held by some states of absolute national sovereignty. These views have decreasing validity in the modern interdependent world. Each nation in the world, like each individual in society, benefits from laws which restrain unacceptable behaviour. Moreover, with the development of the Soviet Union's new policies of glasnost and perestroika, many arguments from preceding decades and centuries have lost their relevance.

Realism and Idealism

The proposal to create a verification and compliance agency within the UN is, at the same time, both realistic and idealistic. It is well within the realm of our capability technically, financially, operationally and institutionally. What is required is the leadership described in this book and an active development of concepts of international glasnost and international perestroika. It is the Western Powers that must now find a role to play in developing a stronger international order in a better world. Rather than taking a piece-meal approach to disarmament, the Western Powers should seek to build the framework for the continued progress of arms control and disarmament. An international structure should be created to help ensure arms control and peace in the twenty-first century.

Woodrow Wilson, the great internationalist and visionary, suggested that there are three questions to ask about a new initiative: "Is it Right? Is it Just? Is it in the interest of Mankind?" For a UN verification and disarmament agency the plain answers are: Yes, Yes, Yes.



Comments on a United Nations Verification Agency

Walter DORN, Representative of Science for Peace to the United Nations

This talk was given in June 1990 at the Bellerive Colloquium in Geneva during a session entitled "The Broader Context of Non-Proliferation and Disarmament." The German Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, Adolf Ritter von Wagner, and Dr. Gwin Prins of Cambridge University had been the previous speakers to which the present speaker was to provide a response. All the talks were originally published in Non-Proliferation in a Disarming World, Sadruddin Aga Khan, ed., Bellerive Foundation, Geneva, 1990.


We have heard an informative and interesting presentation from Ambassador von Wagner dealing with export control regimes, and an eloquent description from Dr. Gwyn Prins of the broader meaning of security in our new international climate.

My response to Ambassador von Wagner is that he has very well described the severe limitations of national export control regimes, but he has not described the moral dilemma of such regimes. In such a two tier system you have countries in effect saying: "do as we say and not as we do." We have heard about that problem quite a bit in the nuclear non-proliferation regime. There is also an environmental analogy: "We have the right to pollute but you don't." Certainly the national export controls are no solution to the proliferation problem, although they may be of temporary assistance.

My response to Gwyn Prins is an appeal to broaden even further the meaning he gives to security, and I will introduce a practical proposal along these lines. Just as security includes the condition of our global environment, so in the final analysis, security can only be thought out in international and global terms, not solely in bilateral or regional terms. The security of any one nation is dependent on the security of the rest and a threat to the security of one nation, be it an environmental or military threat, should be of concern to all nations. This is the enlightened self-interest view of security. Bilateral (United States, Soviet) and regional (European) disarmament progress can and should be used first and foremost to promote and strengthen the global system of disarmament and security.

The United Nations, which was not mentioned in either talks, was created out of the experience of two world wars, each of which began regionally. Why do we need to experience the devastation and suffering of world wars to realise that only by building the global framework for security and arms control can we achieve stable and enduring peace? It seems we forget so easily in times of peace the lessons we learned so painfully in the times of war. We relax into a complacent attitude that the global institutions need no further development, need not be cultivated or strengthened. Meanwhile our militaries rationalise enormous expenditures, about a trillion dollars annually for ill-defined national security reasons. Hence we risk marginalising the United Nations and its potential contribution to arms control.

The international climate has never been better to strengthen the United Nations role in arms control. For decades after the Second World War, the United States and other Western countries tried desperately to establish United Nations control mechanisms, but the Soviet Union was opposed. Now the tables are turned, the Soviet Union is proposing an enhanced role; President Gorbachev made a proposal to "set up under the aegis of the United Nations a mechanism for extensive international verification of compliance with agreements to lessen international tensions, limit weapons and to monitor the military situation in conflict areas." Now, the United States is in opposition.

In this Colloquium we have already heard from William Epstein that a CTB, which is in effect currently opposed by the United States, is absolutely necessary to halt the nuclear arms race. We have heard from Randall Forsberg that a nuclear freeze is as viable and valid today as it ever was. We have likewise heard many other very positive proposals made during this Colloquium. I would like to put forward a proposal for a United Nations verification capability that is as necessary and desirable in the world today as it was in the 1950s and '60s.

Perhaps it is time to recall the other obligation under Article VI of the NPT, namely that parties undertake to pursue negotiations on "general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control." This goal is called for in the majority of multilateral arms control treaties, and is reaffirmed each year in resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly. While a single plan for general and complete disarmament is not practical today, there is no reason why we cannot develop a system for progressive disarmament under effective international control which in today's terms, means international verification. In fact such a versatile system is necessary because the events of the day can easily overtake negotiations, as we have witnessed in the CFE talks. Painstaking, drawn out, adversarial types of negotiations are the slow road to disarmament. A vast track for regional and unnegotiated multilateral disarmament must also be created

For this reason Bill Epstein and I have written a paper presenting the case for a United Nations verification system or agency. Such an agency could be used to certify acts of unilateral disarmament, to investigate breaches of arms control treaties and to verify compliance with certain multilateral treaties. I will read only very sparsely from the paper. Verification must for sure be carried out in an objective manner. The most objective, flexible and cost effective option to verify most multilateral treaties would be an agency under the United Nations Secretary-General. The United Nations verification agency (UNVA) would be an international means to develop both the technology and political framework for arms control verification. It would be a positive application of science for peace. The benefits can be cited quite easily. It would speed up and help secure the arms control process. By developing a nucleus of international expertise before treaties are signed verification will be available when it is most needed, at the beginning of treaty implementation. Just as the IAEA safeguards system was in existence before the NPT was signed and could quickly be extended to cover that Treaty, so too UNVA could be put in place and have acquired expertise before treaties are signed. Before and during disarmament negotiations, UNVA could perform preliminary inspections within States which request them. For instance, UNVA could verify the size of declared arms stocks. This might serve as a welcome boost to negotiations especially in situations where current military capabilities are points of contention. Serving as an invited observer, UNVA would help to create military transparency and openness.

Secondly, we make the case that a multi-treaty agency or an umbrella agency would help reduce the costs and improve the efficiency of verification. Furthermore, UNVA would help provide a true international control mechanism over the international arms race, one in which all nations could develop confidence.

Former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold was adamant that an international disarmament control organisation, as was being proposed by the West in 1960, be placed under the United Nations. Hammarskjold felt that the creation of an independent disarmament organisation "would be a hollowing out of the United Nations in one of its main fields of activity."

In the paper, we describe the possible organisational structure of UNVA, some applications to specific areas of arms control, including nuclear arms control, answer possible objections to the proposal and suggest modest steps to be taken over the next few years to develop such a capability.

In conclusion, bilateral agreements and regional agreements between the superpowers may continue to be based on adversarial inspection and surveillance. This type of verification system is more concerned with the national security interests of each of the parties than with the co-operative effort to assure compliance to the satisfaction of the international community. Regional and global treaties, however, require a strong multilateral framework. Without this framework, there will be unacceptably slow progress in multilateral, global disarmament. With this framework, the opportunities for progressive disarmament will be vastly greater as we enter the next century. As Sadruddin Aga Khan has said, our moorings have to be well established as we move towards the bimillennium. A United Nations verification capability could help establish such a mooring and give peace a chance in the twenty-first century.