The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) defines a Safeguards Agreement as:
An agreement for the application of safeguards concluded between the IAEA and a State or a group of States, and, in certain cases, with a regional or bilateral inspectorate, such as Euratom and ABACC. Such an agreement is concluded either because of the requirements of a project and supply agreement, or to satisfy the relevant requirements of bilateral or multilateral arrangements, or at the request of a State to any of that State's nuclear activities.
Safeguards Agreements exist to provide confidence to the International Community that nuclear material, non-nuclear material (heavy water, zirconium tubes, etc.), facilities, and/or equipment that could be used for military goals are only used for peaceful purposes.
There are currently multiple types of safeguards agreements in place between the IAEA and states. Under the NPT, all NNWS must have a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) in place with the IAEA based on the requirements outlined in INFCIRC 153*. A CSA provides for the IAEA's right and obligation to ensure that safeguards are applied "on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities within the territory of the State, under its jurisdiction, or carried out under its control anywhere."
Prior to widespread acceptance of the NPT and INFCIRC 153* safeguards, the IAEA used INFCIRC 66 safeguards. While NPT deliberations were still on-going, it became clear that NNWS with advanced civilian nucelar programs would never agree to INFCIRC 66 safeguards as they provided too much power to the IAEA Secretariat and required too many IAEA inspections. The concern was that these issues would hamper states' ability to turn a profit in the civilian nuclear markets. Thus, INFCIRC 153* safeguards were required for NPT signatory states with changes focused mainly on:
- Limiting inspectors to previously agreed upon measurement points
- Less frequent inspections
- Detailed activities that inspectors are allowed to perform
NWS are not required to have a CSA with the IAEA. However, concerns from NNWS that a lack of CSAs in NWS provides an economic advantage have resulted in Voluntary Offer Agreements (VOA). Under such agreements, NWS offer nuclear material and facilities in the civilian nuclear fuel cycle for IAEA safeguards. A VOA follows the same guidelines from INFCIRC 153*. All five NWS (U.S., Russia, China, France, United Kingdom) have VOAs with the IAEA.