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"Forget the Rest" blog

Societal Verification

Joseph Rotblat
(source: Joseph Rotblat, J Steinberger, B M Udgaonkar, A Nuclear-weapon-free world : desirable?, feasible?, Boulder: Westview Press, 1993.)


The end of the Cold War and the subsequent collapse of the communist regime and the Soviet Union have eliminated the main rationale for the’ retention of huge nuclear arsenals. But even if these arsenals are greatly reduced, the threat of the use of nuclear weapons will obviously exist as long as nuclear weapons exist, and many people are led to the belief that a world with nuclear weapons is bound to be an unstable world.

Among them are some who--while convinced that a nuclear-weapon-free world is desirable--are not convinced that it is feasible; they are concerned about the effectiveness of the treaty to eliminate all nuclear weapons in protecting against cheating, such as concealment of a clandestine nuclear arsenal; or undetected production of weapons later on (see Chapter 5).

The chief protection against possible violation of the treaty is a regime of verification of compliance with the terms of the treaty. The main component of such a regime--technological verification, which uses methods such as physical inspection, instrumental detection, ground surveillance or aerial reconnaissance--is discussed in Chapter 4. This chapter deals with another component, societal verification. It is shown that the simultaneous employment of both these components would provide adequate protection and satisfy the legitimate concerns about the effectiveness of the treaty.

Role of Societal Verification

Societal verification is here defined as a system of monitoring compliance with treaties, and detecting attempts to violate them, by means other than technological verification. As the name implies, societal verification is based on the involvement of the whole community, or broad groups of it, in contrast to the employment of highly specialized teams of experts required for technological verification. In that sense societal verification can be viewed as being part of the political requirements for the disarmament process.

Even at the present state of the art, technical verification is sufficiently developed to protect treaties aiming at reducing nuclear arms down to very low levels, of the order of a few per cent of the present arsenals. But it is asserted that. technology alone would not be an adequate safeguard for treaties aiming at zero, the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The effectiveness of verification techniques is likely to be greatly improved in the future, if more research effort is put into it, particularly if the weapon designers themselves were given the task of seeking such improvements, as part of the process of conversion of military research establishments to peaceful applications. Nevertheless, these techniques are unlikely to become 100 per cent effective, or to come near enough to this figure to satisfy the concerns of national security organs. For non nuclear weapons, a 90-95 per cent effectiveness is generally acceptable, but the enormous destructive power of nuclear weapons makes it necessary to reduce the error to very nearly zero, if a treaty to eliminate these weapons completely is to have a chance of being universally accepted. In a NWFW, the illegal retention of even a few nuclear weapons, or their clandestine production after the treaty has come into force, might give the transgressing state considerable power and the capability to exert political blackmail. This is the reason why an additional system of verification is needed.

Like the technological element, societal verification will have to be an integral part of the step-by-step disarmament process. As will be shown, its implementation requires a change in certain attitudes of the general public, which may take time. On the other hand, the technological element, even the mere physical destruction of nuclear armaments, will also take some years to complete. As has been pointed out elsewhere 1 the two aspects of the disarmament the technological and the political, are both not only necessary but reinf6rce each other in a process of positive feed-back. The side-by-side implementation of both aspects will significantly accelerate the achievement of a NWFW.

Citizen’s Reporting

The main form of societal verification is by inducing the citizens of the countries signing the treaty to report to an appropriate international authority any information about attempted violation going on in their countries. For this system of verification to be effective it is vital that all such reporting becomes the right and the civic duty of the citizen. This right and duty will have to become part of the national codes of law in the countries party to the treaty. The adoption of such laws would be greatly facilitated if this was made an integral part of the treaty on the elimination of nuclear weapons, and explicitly expressed in a specific clause of that treaty.

The concept of citizen’s reporting has been discussed in the literature for many years, tinder different names, such as ‘inspection by the people’, or ‘knowledge detection’. The idea was introduced in the late 1950s by Lewis Bohn2 and Seymour Melman and incorporated in the classic World Peace Through World Liiw by Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn. Leo Szilard, in his quixotic The Voice of the Dolphins also considered it an important part of the disarmament process.

The early 1960s were the period of intense debate on ‘general and complete disarmament’, when many detailed studies, including concrete proposals for the implementation of GCD, were much on the United Nations agenda (see Chapter 1). After it became obvious that the political climate was not ripe for such a radical remodelling of the world’s security system, and with the intensification of the Cold War and declining stature of the United Nations, the subject of citizen's reporting ceased to be a topic of interest, although papers elaborating certain aspects of the concept appeared in various journals from time to time.6

The momentous events since the end of the 1980s have made it possible to bring back from the cold many ideals and aspirations; objectives that were previously dismissed as Utopian can now be brought to the fore. Among these is citizen's reporting. This appears to be an idea whose time has come. The recent dramatic changes in the political arena, especially the restoration of the United Nations to its primary role of maintaining global peace and security, justify a re-examination of the concept of citizen's reporting, at least as applied to the more restricted aim of nuclear disarmament.

In relation to general disarmament, Clark and Sohn4 proposed a revision of the UN Charter that envisaged a UN Inspection Service with. direct responsibility for supervision over the fulfilment of obligations by nations and individuals in respect to all phases of disarmament. Two sections of the relevant Article deal with citizen's reporting:

Any person having any information concerning any violation of this Annex or of any law or regulation enacted thereunder shall immediately report all such information to the United Nations Inspection Service. The General Assembly shall enact regulations governing the granting of rewards to persons supplying the Inspection Service with such information, and the provision of asylum to them and their families.

No nation shall penalize directly, or indirectly any person or public or private organization supplying information to the United Nations with respect to any violation of this Annex.

The granting of rewards for supplying information--as an encouragement to fulfil this duty--was also recommended by Szilard 5; writing in 1961, he suggested an award of one million dollars, free of tax, to be paid by the government accused of a violation, but returnable if the information later turned out to be invalid. Lewis Bohn also approves of financial and other rewards, but goes further than this: he calls specifically for

a provision in the original arms-control agreement requiring all participating governments to pass laws making it a crime, punishable by domestic law, to violate the provisions of the arms-control agreement or to keep secret from the agency for international control any information of such a violation. Moreover, these provisions of the law of the land should be publicized by each government and failure to support them by such publicity (or by other ways) should be declared to be a major violation of the control treaty.

As already mentioned, these proposals were put forward in the context of general and complete disarmament, but they can also be applied--with a better chance of success--to the treaty on the elimination of nuclear weapons. The fundamental point is that the duty of the citizen to supply information about any violations should be an integral part of the treaty on the elimination of nuclear weapons, and be spelled out clearly in the terms of the treaty. Thus, disclosing to an outside--albeit international--body information about sensitive security matters inside one's country, would not only cease to be considered as a crime, an act of treason, but would in fact become part of the law of one's country.

The inclusion of a clause in an international treaty demanding the enactment of new national laws may be viewed as an infringement of sovereignty, but surrender of some sovereignty is implicit in every international treaty. In any case, the currently accepted concept of the nation-state as the supreme power--which can compel obedience from the population within its territory, deny the right of others to interfere in its internal affairs, but would expect others to come to its rescue if its territorial integrity is assailed--would have to be abandoned, since it is not compatible with world security.

In this interdependent world, there can be no room for a multitude of absolutely sovereign states. Indeed, the very tendency to break up into smaller and smaller units makes sovereignty a nonsensical notion. The Russell-Einstein Manifesto stated "The abolition of war will demand distasteful limitations of national sovereignty." Thirty seven years later, the political and technological developments have made this imperative.

Moves in this direction are already afoot. Simultaneously with the separation of states into smaller units, some long-established independent states are coming together and forming large communities. Even one of the oldest of parliaments, the British House of Commons, has conceded that, once the UK had signed the Treaty of Rome, the laws of the European Community took precedence. Such limitations on national sovereignty as have been accepted in Europe will have to be applied widely, to all nations of the world.

Effectiveness of Citizen's Reporting

Even if governments were persuaded to pass laws to make reporting legitimate, t his goes so much against traditional loyalties that it would require a considerable educational effort to induce people to act on it voluntarily. This raises the question: how effective would citizen s reporting be, if it were legitimized and safeguarded by a clause as discussed above?

In considering the answer to this question one needs to be reminded of the assumption implied in this chapter, namely that a political climate has been generated in which the elimination of nuclear weapons is being considered as a realistic and desirable goal for world security. During the Cold War era, with all the mistrust, fear and hostile propaganda that it engendered, a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons would have had no chance. An atmosphere of trust, and willingness to elaborate and collaborate on a global security system, are essential conditions for starting negotiations on such a treaty. But the changed political situation has brought us a long way towards meeting this condition. Another essential condition is the existence of an international authority capable of ensuring compliance with the terms of the treaty. In this respect too, the recent events augur well. The greatly enhanced stature of the United Nations makes it likely that an agency under its aegis would command the necessary degree of confidence about its effectiveness, although this effectiveness would have to be boosted by providing the United Nations with the machinery both for peace keeping and peace enforcing, so that it would be able to exercise its authority in a demonstrably independent manner. The measures proposed by the UN Secretary-General, if implemented, will go a long way towards this objective.

There are good reasons for expecting that citizen s reporting would be more effective in relation to nuclear than to other types of weapons. By the very nature of its technology, the maintenance of a concealed nuclear arsenal, or the preparation for making such weapons, requires the involvement of many people with specialized skills, and complex facilities. A government intending a violation would thus face the considerable risk that the attempt would be detected at an early stage and reported to the international authority by its own citizens, thus incurring the reprisals provided in the treaty, well before being in a position to reap the fruit of the contemplated violation. Another reason why the probability of exposure of such attempts is greater in relation to nuclear weapons is because in the minds of the public a nuclear war carries with it the threat of global destruction, possibly the end of civilization, and people are likely to do their utmost to prevent anything that may lead to such an outcome. If properly operated, citizen s reporting would provide the necessary supplement to technological verification, and thus allay the fears that a violation of the treaty on the elimination of nuclear weapons would go undetected.

Data in the literature justify the belief that there will be enough people willing to overcome the taboo on reporting upon their own government.

In 1958, a public opinion poll was carried out in six countries to determine the attitude of citizens towards disarmament and inspection by the public. The poll was conducted by the American Institute of Public Opinion and its affiliates in other countries.

Table 1 contains (lie text of the three questions posed in the poll and the replies in terms of percentages. The sizes of the samples (shown in the table) were sufficiently large (especially in the UK and USA) to give statistically meaningful answers. They matched, by sex and age, the total populations in the countries.

As is seen, in all six countries the opinion was decisively in favour of making it a citizen s duty to report attempts to make nuclear weapons secretly. Similarly, at least half of those interviewed expressed a willingness to report any knowledge of such attempts.

A breakdown by sex showed no difference in the responses by males and females, but there was a significant difference between professions: scientists and engineers (about 1.5 per cent of the samples) did show a greater willingness to report violations (84 per cent in the total survey) than the other groups (69 per cent). This difference is significant, and singles them out as the key group for citizen's reporting.

It might be of interest to repeat the survey at the present time, after the momentous changes in the world, and to include, in particular, the countries of the former Soviet Union as well as those with ambitions to become nuclear powers.

All the countries canvassed in the 1958 survey had democratic regimes. In non-democratic countries, with little respect for individual human liberties, citizen's reporting is likely to be ineffective. This is a general view, but it merits closer examination.

Consider the case of a country like Iraq, under the heel of a Saddarn Hussein. What is the probability that a citizen of that country would report preparations to manufacture a nuclear weapon? In answering this question one has to be reminded that we are looking not at the situation as prevails now, but at a future stage, when the vast majority of nations had agreed to sign a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons, and as part of it, had agreed to make the right and duty of citizen's reporting an integral part of national law. There would then be two alternatives for Iraq: (a) to accede to the treaty with all its ramifications; (b) to refuse to join it. Choosing the latter alternative would be deemed by other states as a declaration by Iraq that it intends to acquire nuclear weapons, and this would make it subject to all the rigours, such as economic sanctions and strict import controls, designed to make it impossible for Iraq to achieve its aim.

Should Iraq choose the first alternative, then it would have to accept the terms of the international safeguarding regime, including the setting up of monitoring offices in the country, and this would make it easier for citizens to report attempts to violate the treaty. This would greatly reduce the chances of a violation going on undetected, particularly since one needs only a few reports of genuine attempts at transgression to initiate an investigation and thwart the attempt.

Various ways have been suggested to encourage and remind people of their duty, such as frequent advertisements on television and in newspapers, or the provision of detailed information about how to get in touch with the relevant UN authority. The suitability of offering financial rewards (except for expenses incurred) is debatable, in some cases it may be a useful inducement On the whole, reporting should be a response to one's deeply felt moral obligation, Financial rewards might indeed be counterproductive and encourage false reporting.

This leads to another difficult problem, how to prevent trivial reports or deliberate hoaxes. A continuous flood of alleged violations would not only saturate the system but could lead to embarrassing situations and even international crises. Indeed, discrediting the reporting regime by such action could be the deliberate aim of a government (or group of terrorists) intending to violate the treaty. In a somewhat different context, this is the kind of problem that faces the community all the time in many countries where hoax calls of bombs hidden on aircraft or in other public places often result in the disruption of the normal way of life. But just as the community is learning to deal with these nuisances it should be possible to devise a system of scrutinizing reports to distinguish between genuine and bogus information, For example, any anonymous report would be disregarded; the bona fides of the 'reporter' would be investigated before any action is taken; penalties might be imposed for deliberately false information. There is a need for more study of this problem, as well as of the detailed procedure for checking and verifying reports of attempted violations of. a treaty, when and how a government should be confronted with the evidence, and the type of sanction to be applied.

Whistle Blowing

Apart from citizen's reporting, which relies upon members of the general public finding out, in one way or another, about attempts to rebuild nuclear weapons in a NWFW, the preparation for such actions could also be monitored systematically by workers in the relevant disciplines or industries. Any serious attempt to violate the treaty would require the involvement of highly specialized scientists and technologists. Monitoring the movement and change of employment of such experts would provide an important due and lead to early detection. For this purpose the community of scientists and technologists would need to he ilerted and their help enlisted.

It should be pointed out that one of the requirements in the agreement to abolish nuclear weapons would be the closure--or Coflversjon.of research establishments, such as Livermore or Chelabjnsk, whose main task is the design and development of nuclear weapons arid the means of their delivery. The closure--or conversion-of these establishments will remove the existing legitimized secrecy of scientific research, a pernicious practice that goes against the very basis of science, openness, Openness in science means that the outcome of research work is published in journals or books, and is available to anyone interested. It also means that projected and Ongoing research is widely known, Under openness in science there would be much more communication among scientists, and therefore greater awareness in the scientific community about the whereabouts and the type and scope of the work carried out by their colleagues, This would make it Particularly difficult for key people, those who would have to be in charge of a breakout attempt, to carry out such attempts undetected.

Apart from relying on sporadic observations, organizations of scientists and technologists could be set up for the specific purpose of acting as a watchdog of compliance with treaties, by monitoring the activities of individuals likely to become involved in illegal projects. Such monitoring can be done, without appearing to spy on one's colleagues, by keeping a register of scientists and technologists, and by noting changes of place of work or pattern of publications (or their absence). Other 'give aways' of attempted clandestine activities include the start of new projects at academic institutions without proper justificatjor; the recruitment of young scientists and engineers in numbers not warranted by the declared purpose of the project; or the large scale procurement of certain types of apparatus, materials, and equipment.

Special attention would have to be paid to institutions with nuclear facilities, such as processing of spent fuel elements from nuclear reactors, storage of such elements, plants for enrichment of isotopes, or management of intense radioactive Sources, With the halt of military uses, all the establishments dealing with the above will have to be opened and made subject not only to monitoring by IAEA safeguards, but also to the scrutiny of the watchdog organizations The disclosures from Iraq have demonstrated the inadequacy of the present JAFA safeguard regime, and the need for a much tighter and effective system. The needed changes should be such as to ensure better monitoring of all activities in nuclear facilities.

In countries with an open democratic regime, the measures described above could ensure that no clandestine activities would go on undetected, thus easing the task of the inspectorate supervising the compliance with the terms of the treaty. In countries with non-democratic regimes much more vigilance by the inspectorate would be necessary. But even in these countries there are bound to be many scientists with a social conscience ready to carry out the task of monitoring and whistle-blowing, particularly if this became a legal duty.

A Loyalty to Mankind

One of the most difficult aspects of societal verification is that it carries with it the taint of disloyalty, the stigma of spying on one's colleagues or fellow-citizens; this would make it distasteful to many well-meaning people, although this stigma would be removed if reporting were sanctioned in international and domestic laws.

Loyalty to one's group is a natural condition for the stability of the group; it is essential to ensure its continuity. For this reason it has, over the years, become enshrined with codes and taboos. Disloyalty is equated with dishonour and, in addition, may carry penalties of various kinds. The more aggressive, or less scrupulous, members of the group often exploit this for their own gains; weaker members are bullied and subjected to various forms of mistreatment, and the codes ensure that this will not be disclosed by the victims. This happens in all groups, starting with the family where children will not squeal on their siblings; in schools, where 'telling tales' is not done on the penalty of being ostracized; and it extends to trade unions--where disclosure of unfair practices carries with it the threat of being 'sent to Coventry'--and to other fraternities and associations.

The increasing interdependence of everyone in modern society--mainly resulting from ever-increasing specialization-inevitably leads to new, larger groups coming into being, and demanding new loyalties. These new loyalties are usually an extension, not a replacement, of the loyalties to the smaller communities. We still have our loyalty to our family, to our local community, to our professional group, on top of the loyalty to our nation. The necessity for larger groups is unquestioned, since they are able to provide greater security for all their members, and therefore loyalty to them takes precedence over that to the smaller

At present, loyalty to one's nation is supreme, generally overriding the loyalty to any of the subgroups. Patriotism is the dogma; 'my country right or wrong', the motto. And in case these slogans are not obeyed, loyalty is enforced by codes of national criminal laws. Aiiy transgression is punished by the force of the law: attempts by individuals to exercise their conscience by putting humanitarian needs above those dictated by national laws are denounced by labelling those individuals as dissidents, traitors or spies. They are often severely punished by exile (Sakharov), long-term prison sentences (Vanunu), or even execution (the Rosenbergs).

The time has now come to develop, and recognize consciously, loyalty to a much larger group, loyalty to mankind. In this nuclear age the very existence of the human species is no longer assured. It has been put in peril not by the threat of external or natural forces, such as a collision with a large meteorite, or an enormous eruption of a volcano, hut by the action of man; the end of civilization can now be brought about either abruptly, in a nuclear war, or slowly, by the continuous degradation of the environment.

Nothing unites people more than the threat from a common enemy. All our national differences would have been forgotten in an instant, if the planet Earth were attacked by 'Martians'. The fact that the threat is man-made, the outcome of our own developments and actions, should not make it less of a common enemy, demanding common efforts. The Russell-Einstein Manifesto 8 recognized this when it said: "We are speaking on occasion, not as members of this or that nation, con tinent or creed, but as human beiu8s, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt".

Among scientists, the group to whom the Manifesto was especially directed, the feeling of belonging to mankind is already well developed. Science has always been cosmopolitan in nature; its methods and ethics are universal, transcending geographical frontiers and political barriers. Because of this, scientists have developed the sense of belonging to the world community, of being citizens of the world. There are also other groups which 'speak the same language', such as musicians or artists. What is now urgently needed is to develop the same sense of feeling in everybody. We need to foster and nurture in each of us a new loyalty, an extension of the loyalty to our nation, to embrace the whole of mankind.

This new loyalty is necessary for the protection of the human species, whether nuclear weapons are eliminated or not. But the recognition of the necessity of this loyalty, and the education of the general public about this need, would be of momentous importance in ensuring compliance with a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons. It would contribute towards this by overcoming national taboos, and by making societal verification a natural expression of one's concern for mankind, It would make it an effective instrument for achieving such a treaty, since it would allay the fears that many have about the stability of a NWFW.


The end of the Cold War has further reduced the need for nuclear arsenals. The dramatic events in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union have brought home to everybody the grave dangers of the spread of nuclear weapons. Such proliferation cannot, however, be prevented, if some states consider the retention of nuclear weapons to be necessary for their security. This emphasizes the desirability of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

The feasibility of a nuclear-weapon-free world depends largely on the existence of an effective regime of verification. Due to the enormous destructive potential of nuclear weapons, such a regime would have to be nearly one hundred per cent effective. Further intensive research work--involving the designers and makers of nuclear weapons--needs to be carried out urgently, in order to improve the effectiveness of technological verification.

In parallel with this, there is the equally urgent need to evolve a system of societal vetification, in which all members of the community, or large groups of it, would have an active role. The main form of such verification is citizen's reporting, in which all citizens will have the right and the duty to provide information to an international authority about attempts to violate the terms of the treaty on the elimination of nuclear weapons. This right and the civic duty of citizens would have to be safeguarded by a clause in the treaty, requiring the passing of relevant national laws in the countries party to the treaty.

The passing of such laws may not be as difficult as is feared by some; after all, it would simply mean the underwriting of an agreement entered into by the government on behalf of its citizens. The surprising thing is that it has not been done before. In order to test the acceptability of such a step, a clause as mentioned above should be introduced into any treaty negotiated henceforth.
In addition, organizations of scientists and technologists should he set up with the task of serving as watchdogs and whistle blowers, to monitor the activities of individuals and groups likely to become involved in projects contravening international treaties.

The implementation of societal verification would he greatly facilitated by a modification of the concept of sovereignty of states and by the development of a new loyalty, a loyalty to mankind. This is in any case essential in the ever increasing interdependence of all peoples on the globe, and the threat to the continued existence of the human species. The fostering and nurturing of this new loyalty should be a specific task for the groups, such as scientists, that are already cosmopolitan, because they 'speak' the same language.


  1. J. Rotblat and V.I. Goldanskii, "The Elimination of Nuclear Arsenals: is it Desirable? is it Feasible?" in Verification: Monitoring Disarmament F. Calogero, M.L. Goldberger and S.P. Kapitza eds., Westview Press, Oxford, 1991, pp.205-23.
  2. Lewis Bohn, Rand Corporation Memorandum, 1956.
  3. Seymour Melman ed., Inspection for Disarmament, Columbia University Press, New York 1958.
  4. Grenville Clark and Louis B. Sohn, World Peace Through World Law (2nd ed.), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1960, p.267.
  5. Leo Szilard, The Voice of the Dolphins, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1961.
  6. see B.M. Portnoy, Arms Control Procedure: Inspection by the People - A Revaluation and a Proposal" Cornell International Law Journal, vol.4, No.2, 1971
  7. Lewis Bohn, "Non-Physical Inspection Techniques", in Arms Control, Disarmament, and National Security, D.G. Brennan ed., Braziller, New York, 1961.
  8. see J. Rotbiat, Scientists in the Quest for Peace, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1972, pp.137-140.
  9. Boutros Boutros-Ghaili, An Agenda for Peace, United Nations, New York, 1992.
  10. W.M. Evan, "Inspection by the People", in Inspection for Disarmament (ref. 3 above)

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