State Arms Control Chief Sees Uses for Social Media in Nuke Verification Efforts

Social media could have unexplored uses in international efforts to verify that nations' are upholding their disarmament and nonproliferation commitments, NPR on Wednesday quoted the State Department's lead official for arms control as saying (see GSN, Feb. 9, 2011).

Acting Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said her own prolific use of Twitter has sparked her interest in ways that social media could harness the eyes and ears of large international populations to enhance formal verification and monitoring programs.

"Can it help us to understand what's going on with a nuclear facility in a certain country, for example, or what's going on with the production of chemicals at a chemical plant?" she said.

"As we look to the future of nuclear arms reductions, for example, we're concerned about going after smaller objects like warheads and monitoring warheads," Gottemoeller said, adding that the plethora of crowd-sourced information freely available on the Internet could be useful in this effort.

Gottemoeller recently called on members of the digital community to put their talents to use in developing tools that people could use in tracking nations' adherence to their agreements.

"We think that this is a realm where governments can actually partner with their citizens in order to make the case that they are fully living up to their arms control obligations," she said.

The Institute for Science and International Security in recent years has uploaded satellite images of Iranian atomic installations in order to track progress at key sites, Ploughshares Fund President Joseph Cirincione said.

"What used to be the sole tool of great states can now be purchased by an NGO," he said.

"You can imagine how you can take that kind of transparency and verification technologies that satellites give you, marry it up to the networking capabilities that Facebook, Twitter and the web give you, and you can really start to imagine a verification regime that would make it very difficult for any state to hide a significant nuclear capability," Cirincione added.

Gottemoeller said it has been difficult to bring all State Department staffers on board with the idea as it is likely to necessitate a greater degree of openness among those in decision-making roles.

"States still want to rely on secrecy," according to George Perkovich, a nuclear policy analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It's just harder to do."

Implementing Gottemoeller's thinking could be a strike against opacity or violations in national arms control and nonproliferation requirements "because the idea that somebody in their complex, somebody in the know could actually blow the whistle can be a deterrent," Perkovich said.

There is a concern, though, that citizens using social media to track their governments' weapons activities could be targeted by repressive regimes.

"If people try to organize groups along this basis, I think those states could say that that's violation of the state's monopoly on this function, and you could say it's an act of treason or espionage and people may be putting their lives at risk," Perkovich said.

"States still have very deep, dark secrets that they guard jealously," he said. "It's just that it's harder and harder to do that, and when they break, they break instantaneously and globally" (Mike Shuster, NPR, Feb. 8).

February 9, 2012
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Social media could have unexplored uses in international efforts to verify that nations' are upholding their disarmament and nonproliferation commitments, NPR on Wednesday quoted the State Department's lead official for arms control as saying.

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