Mark HibbsSLA versus SLC

One aspect of the current tizzy over the future course for IAEA safeguards is a certain frustration expressed by a number of  states about how the IAEA’s terms of reference all fit together exactly. Above all, confusion reigns in these quarters about the extent of congruity between Integrated Safeguards and State-Level Safeguards. Are they the same or not? Does the second follow from the first, or is it the other way round? I can’t count how many times over the last three months I have heard these questions asked by diplomats who are not verification experts.

At a still deeper level, more than a few people on hand for the GC and board meetings this year have imparted that I was not alone in wrestling with the difference between the State-Level Concept for IAEA safeguards and the State-Level Approach. I plead guilty to have used these terms interchangeably (and in my drafting of this article my peer reviewers didn’t seem to mind). You will find both terms in the text of the 2012 General Conference resolution on safeguards (GC(56)/COM.5/L.3/Rev.2) but, as someone who really knows this stuff pointed out to me this week, there is a difference in what they mean.

You’ll find SLA defined here in the safeguards glossary. But you won’t find SLC.

My interlocutor writes:

SLA means the safeguards approach adopted for a specific state. The SLC is a level above the SLA in generality, and there the issue arises about whether the DG informs the BOG about the ‘conceptual framework’ of safeguards in a GOV/INF document — which is what they did in 2002 for Integrated Safeguards — or if the DG asks the BOG to take some other action (e.g. approve) in which case a GOV document is submitted.

There you have it from the horse’s mouth.

The text of GC(56)/COM.5/L.3/Rev.2, agreed to by the BOG in September, passes muster but is hardly a  model of clarity. Preambular paragraph (m) refers to “the work being undertaken by the Secretariat in conceptualizing and developing State-level approaches to safeguards” (my emphasis) instead of referring to the SLC (Why, if the paragraph is concerned with conceptualization here?–but perhaps the answer is that conceptualization of approaches for individual states is meant). It looks like operative paragraph 20 got it right in referring to “use of a State-level approach…for a [specific] State” but I do wonder who drafted the language of operative paragraph 21 requesting “the Secretariat to report to the BOG on the conceptualization… of the State-level concept…”

It should not surprise the IAEA Secretariat that a number of the agency’s 158 member states are somewhat befuddled and mystified by all this.


  1. Kal (History)

    Thank you, Mark, for your post on this important topic.

    After reading your post, I checked over Agency documents and it appears that the intention is as follows:

    SLC – the concept that the manner in which safeguards are applied in a state depends on state-specific factors and is based on analysis of all safeguards-relevant information available to the Agency about that state

    SLA – the approach to safeguards taken in a particular state based on the application of the SLC to that state’s circumstances

    The SLA is the outcome of applying the SLC to a particular state. The definitions have evolved since the publication of the 2001 Safeguards Glossary but the SLA is still understood as the approach developed for a specific state.

    Integrated safeguards were originally intended to operate as a kind of state-level safeguards for NPT non-nuclear-weapons states that had brought into force a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an Additional Protocol AND achieved the broader conclusion. Within these states, the IAEA has reached the conclusion that all nuclear material remains in peaceful activities (i.e. no undeclared materials, activities, or facilities).

    Now the SLC is being applied to all states. This means that the approach is changing in those states that do not qualify for integrated safeguards. The biggest changes will probably relate to verification of the absence of undeclared materials, activities, and facilities in NPT non-nuclear-weapon states that do not have the broader conclusion. However, the SLC does not give the Agency any new legal authority or powers; it is not a way of imposing AP obligations on states that have not ratified the AP. For non-nuclear-weapon states that do not have APs, the Agency’s tools are limited but it could, for example, increase intensity of inspections of sensitive declared facilities, request special inspections at other sites, or invest more time in searching for clues in open-source literature.

    The approach to safeguards in those states that already have integrated safeguards may also evolve as the Secretariat refines the SLC. However, changes in these states are likely to be more modest because the approach to safeguards in these states already reflects a complete picture of the states nuclear fuel cycle, at least in theory.

  2. Ataune (History)

    For states that have not ratified the AP increasing the intensity of the inspections si fine but special inspection won’t work. If there is a diversion, the case almost certainly is in UNSC under chapter VII therefore irelevent to IAEA. If there is no diversion the procedure for settlement should be invoked. The tricky question is who will call this. My understanding is that the DG is reluctant to do this since the BG has objected to it in the past and arbitration is a non-tested process.