GSN in Geneva

Rhett Butler IRIS

As an official observer on the US Delegation from the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, I have had the honor of serving the GSN and the IRIS community in the technical discussions in Geneva surrounding the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and representing the IRIS Global Seismographic Network in its participation in the International Monitoring System (IMS) for the CTBT. Starting in November 1995, I attended four meetings of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament's Ad Hoc Group of Scientific Experts (GSE) and one meeting of the Group of Experts of the Working Group for Verification of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Nuclear Test Ban.

My first trip to Geneva began last November, 1995, when ACDA invited IRIS to send a representative to the GSE meeting for selecting stations for the Auxiliary Seismic Network of the IMS. The Primary Network of fifty sites (mostly arrays for detecting events globally in near-real time) had been already selected, and the task ahead was selecting Auxiliary Network stations for improving locations and characterizing the events as earthquakes or possible nuclear explosions. In 1995, the GSN included 75 stations (over 90 now), with the highest technical standards and near-real time communications links. Stations of the GSN were natural for IMS participation.

The Palais des Nations, which originally housed the League of Nations, is situated on vast grounds overlooking Lake Geneva and the Alps. The Palais is a vast labyrinth of a building, where the third floor is the only level which links the various parts together. In the hall where the meetings were held there are three parallel, long rows of tables arranged with alphabetical name cards for each country represented. Most countries have one or two members in their delegation, the US has 5 members plus observers. The sessions are very formal. The Chair recognizes a country's delegation by name, as opposed to individual people. The sessions are simultaneously translated into the official UN languages, and everyone wears an ear piece.

Walking into the meeting for the first time, I was heartily welcomed both personally and as a representative of the GSN. In various international meetings and associations over the years, I had come to meet or know about half of the people in the room. Many delegations came up and asked what IRIS was doing here. My answer-to help with the Auxiliary Network-was greatly appreciated, as most in the international community recognized the difficulty of the task at hand. With stations of the GSN available for use in the International Monitoring System, first-class seismic facilities established for science could greatly expand the global coverage with dual-use in treaty monitoring. In presentations by many delegations in the sessions, there were frequent, positive reference to "IRIS stations."

In selecting the Auxiliary Network, there were diverse initial positions among the delegations. Some delegations proposed up to 150 stations, whereas another saw scientific need for no more than 30. China, a country larger than the United States, felt that no more than two Auxiliary stations should be selected within her borders. Israel, a country smaller than Connecticut, desired four stations. The science of seismology formed the basis for the discussions during the sessions. However, the delegations represent countries, and countries have national objectives. During the sessions a number of the scientific arguments being made had a distinctly political edge. Nearly all of the delegations desired between 100 and 150 stations for the Auxiliary Network. Within this group there was some "horse trading" on which site among several contenders might be selected. Naturally, those countries represented at the session are well represented in the Auxiliary Network, though there are some notable exceptions. The GSN played a key role in a compromise at the end of the session concerning the number of Auxiliary stations in Asia, by agreeing to establish a new station at Makanchi, Kazakhstan.

Later sessions concerned the other IMS technologies, the International Data Center, and the transition from GSETT-3 (Group of Scientific Experts Technical Test-3) to the planned IMS. It was my honor to speak on behalf of the US delegation in answering questions about the participation of GSN stations. At the later sessions, there was a palpable excitement regarding the outcome of the treaty negotiations—as of my last meeting in August, India was still blocking consensus in the Conference on Disarmament for accepting the Treaty, ironically against the backdrop of Greenpeace blocking the entrances to the Palais on Hiroshima Day. The eventual outcome, where the Treaty was taken directly to the UN, was one of several scenarios being actively discussed.

The formality of the sessions is balanced by the informal meetings during the breaks, where friendly diplomacy over coffee or hot chocolate leads to arrangements which are quickly gaveled later in the formal session. The informal and friendly get-togethers over lunch and dinner lead to in-depth discussions of issues. The friendships forged are remembered beyond Geneva.

Sitting in the Council Chambers watching the Ambassadors do the business of nations is fascinating. Surrounded by frescoes of workers toiling and human conflict of the ages, and in the best diplomatic attire, the nations sit and politely offer their national views. Here too, the work is behind the scenes. Three hundred people may meet for only ten minutes—a couple of routine announcements—when behind the scenes discussions have not reached a consensus. The pace seems glacial, yet patience abounds and the end is reached.

Several delegates told me that I came to the most interesting and exciting GSE sessions in the history of the group. During the 1970's, entire meetings were said to be taken up with deciding when next to meet. Nearing the completion of the CTBT, there were things to be decided and decisions were made. The stations of the GSN now have a fundamental contribution for the International Seismological Monitoring System for the Treaty, in addition to their value for Earth science.


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