Faced with the threat of nuclear proliferation and the prospect of such weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, the head of the United Nations atomic watchdog agency has laid out a five-point plan of action ranging from tighter controls and protection of materials to strengthening the Security Council.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei called for placing sensitive nuclear operations such as the enrichment of uranium that can be used for producing both electric energy and an atomic bomb under multinational control.
“The five measures I have outlined – tightening controls, protecting materials, supporting verification, reinvigorating disarmament and strengthening the Security Council – are all necessary and urgent steps,” Mr. ElBaradei told a conference of German dentists in Karlsruhe over the weekend, in an address aptly called “Putting Teeth in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Regime.”
“But to return to my opening theme, all of these measures affect each other, and all will fail to protect us if the root causes of insecurity are not addressed. The longer we delay in placing sensitive nuclear operations under multinational control, the more new countries will seek to build such facilities.
“The longer we take to protect global stocks of nuclear and radioactive material, the higher the risk they will fall into terrorist hands. The longer effective verification authority is not universally in place, the more the potential for clandestine activity,” he added.
“As long as disarmament measures are not progressing meaningfully, efforts to strengthen nuclear non-proliferation will be poisoned by cynicism, and more countries will try to ‘join the major leagues.’ And the longer the Security Council is not acting systematically, equitably and effectively, as the guardian of international peace and security, the more its legitimacy will be undermined, and a sense of insecurity will continue to prevail.”
Detailing his plan, Mr. ElBaradei stressed the need to tighten controls for access to nuclear fuel cycle technology in an era of globalization which has made the industrial marketplace more complex and fluid than 30 years ago when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was drawn up.
“At the root of this measure is the concept of making these operations multinational, so that no one country would have exclusive control over the most sensitive parts of the fuel cycle,” he said. “It is urgent that the international community develop a unified approach on this measure and begin moving forward.”
On verification, he noted that 118 of the 189 countries that are party to the NPT have not yet adopted an additional protocol allowing more intrusive and announced checks that are considered essential following the discovery of a clandestine nuclear programme in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. He called on nuclear-weapons states to lead by example, and that this effort should be extended to the three countries that remain outside the NPT: India, Israel and Pakistan.
As for the Security Council, Mr. ElBaradei, who shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize with his agency, said that too often its engagement had been inadequate, selective, or after the fact. In the Rwanda genocide in 1994, “the Security Council was unable to move much beyond hand wringing, with the result that 800,000 people lost their lives in the span of a few months,” he declared.
“In the Second Congo War, the Security Council’s efforts in the interest of diplomacy and peacekeeping were not enough to prevent the deaths of an estimated 3.8 million people. And whatever the lessons learned from these admitted failures, the more recent case of Darfur continues to suffer from the inability of the Security Council to muster sufficient peacekeeping troops and sufficient resources to prevent the continuing atrocities.”
With regard to nuclear weapons, he noted among other examples that the Council asked India and Pakistan to stop further nuclear testing and the development of their nuclear weapons programme in 1998 without effect, and its 1981 request to Israel to submit all its nuclear facilities to IAEA safeguards was also not implemented.
“The irony is that we know the problems, and we know the solutions,” he concluded. “What is yet to come is the vision and leadership to overcome the hubris that threatens our mutual destruction, and to build a civilization rooted in the unity of the human family, the sanctity of all human life and the core values we all share – a civilization that is humane and just.”