Used in new ways, information technology could join spy satellites and radiation sensors as tools for assuring compliance with arms control and nonproliferation treaties in coming years, a top
During the Cold War,
As many of those weapons have been retired or dismantled under arms control agreements, the verification challenges have been changing, Gottemoeller said. "How do you get at really small objects," she asked, including keeping track of individual warheads that may be held in secret storage facilities.
How do you determine that a country is no longer producing fissile nuclear materials? And how do you monitor the status of weapons manufacturing facilities that are now devoted to other uses?
Weapons inspectors at facilities in the
The inspectors would be able to use their limited time on site more efficiently, she said, and would have better clues about which areas might need more attention. Right now, inspectors are not allowed to bring their laptops into facilities, she said.
"Can we marry the benefits of the information age with the work the inspectors have to do?" she asked. "Is this negotiable? I don't know." But she said it is worth pursuing.
Gottemoeller gave the 2014 AAAS-Hitachi Lecture on
In her talk, Gottemoeller also discussed ubiquitous sensing, a technique that relies on information provided by many mobile platforms (cell phones, iPads, laptops) working in concert. For example, tablet devices are equipped with accelerometers that can detect changes in their orientation, including shaking due to small earth tremors. By networking together the data from numerous mobile devices, Gottemoeller said, analysts might be able to determine whether the shaking was caused by an earthquake or a clandestine nuclear test. There also is an app that can turn smartphones into radiation monitors, another potential sensor use.
The ubiquity of
"The question is whether we can use these apps on mobile platforms and the inherent capabilities to help us understand what's going on with an ephemeral event like a nuclear detonation or a developing radiation leak at a power plant," Gottemoeller said.
While she said there is "real promise," she also cautioned that any use of ubiquitous sensing and social networking would require anonymity so that no connections were made between the mobile device owner and data collection system.
Information technology also enables "societal verification," which already is being used in the environmental sphere, Gottemoeller said. Residents of the
Societal verification for arms control purposes could be more problematic, Gottemoeller acknowledged, depending on the nation involved. Citizens who were to take pictures of missile launches in
A plant that once made chemical weapons and now has been converted to pesticide production is one example. Nearby residents could be urged to report any hints of unusual activity at the plant to the
There is ample precedent for use of new technologies in arms control.
Gottemoeller cited the use of a Blend Down Monitoring System as part of the 1993 U.S.-
Under the 20-year program, 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (the equivalent of 20,000 nuclear warheads) was converted into reactor-grade uranium. Gottemoeller noted that 10% of U.S. electricity output now comes from nuclear plants using fuel created from
"More of this kind of process monitoring is going to be important going forward" on arms control agreements, Gottemoeller said, including ongoing negotiations with
Would rogue states such as
While wider use of new technologies in the arms control arena makes sense, there will be technical, legal, political and diplomatic barriers to overcome. Not every nation may be as willing as
"We'll increasingly have an opportunity to take advantage of what the Web has to offer," Gottemoeller predicted. She noted an intriguing article that happened to appear on the day of her lecture. It described a new Internet-connected scanner, about the size of a flash drive, that uses near-infrared spectroscopy to determine the molecular makeup of objects like food and medications. While it may only give the nutritional breakdown on an apple today, that could be just the beginning. A new generation of miniaturized scanners, useful in a wide range of applications -- including identification of weapons materials -- could be on the horizon.
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