CTBTO senior managers prepare for on-site inspection in first-of-kind exercise

The full senior management of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) participated in a first of its kind table-top exercise exploring the role of CTBTO leadership in the event of an on-site inspection (OSI) to assess whether a nuclear test has taken place.

On-site inspection is the final component of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) verification regime, allowing the CTBTO to gather evidence on the ground if requested by Member States once the Treaty’s global monitoring system detects a possible nuclear test.

However, an OSI can only be launched once the Treaty enters into force. Until then, the CTBTO is charged with building up the on-site inspection capability: training potential inspectors, preparing equipment, and testing procedures in exercises both in Vienna and in the field.

Held on 14 June 2022, the full-day exercise was the first opportunity for nearly 20 of the CTBTO’s senior management members and relevant staff, including Executive Secretary Robert Floyd and all six Directors, to role-play challenging scenarios that could emerge in the build-up to an on-site inspection.

“What I find particularly encouraging about today’s exercise is that it demonstrated the importance of cross-divisional coordination in the event that an OSI is activated,” Floyd said. “The role of senior management is especially crucial to ensure fast and efficient decision-making in such a scenario, where unanticipated challenges will arise along the way.”

Through video injects and exercise scenarios, participants were transported to a world where the CTBT had entered into force three years previously.

The premise of the exercise was that the CTBT’s International Monitoring System had detected an unusual seismic event in the mountainous northwest of the fictional state of Dorne, raising international speculation on whether it had conducted an underground nuclear test, and the neighbouring country of Begonia had requested the CTBTO’s first ever OSI.

“On-site inspection is supposed to be the final, ultimate measure to verify whether a state party has breached the treaty or not,” said Oleg Rozhkov, Director of the On-Site Inspection Division.

Through a series of eight scenarios, participants were asked to examine and discuss a range of issues that could arise in the event of an OSI, from analyzing data, to staffing and logistical support, to political sensitivities inherent in an OSI, to sharing information with the media.

The discussion was led by moderators Andrew Collinson, the On-Site Inspection Division’s Health and Safety Officer, and technical expert Gregor Malich, who guided the discussion surrounding each scenario.  The moderators stressed that there were no right or wrong answers; rather the goal of the exercise was to gather different points of view from a cross-functional group of managers whose expertise would be called upon in the event of an actual OSI.

“These complex and thought-provoking exercises are the best platforms for efficient and effective testing, validation and identification of opportunities for further development in OSI operations and capabilities,” Floyd said.  

The tabletop exercise represents just one aspect of the OSI Division’s ongoing training to be prepared to verify a nuclear test after the Treaty enters into force. They also conduct training of on-site inspectors, both in person and virtually, as well as large-scale integrated field exercises (IFEs) that simulate an actual on-site inspection. The last IFE was conducted in 2014 in Jordan, and the next is expected to take place in 2025.

Table-top Exercise (TTE) held in Vienna, 14 June 2022

Executive Secretary Dr. Robert Floyd addresses participants

Oleg Rozhkov, Director of On-Site Inspection Division

Andrew Collinson, On-Site Inspection Division's Health and Safety Officer

Zeinabou Mindaoudou Souley, Director of the International Monitoring System Division (right)

Discussion after the OSI Table-Top Exercise

Executive Secretary Floyd in role-play scenario with TTE participants