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November 9, 2004

Disarm nukes or face more dangerous parity through proliferation, ElBaradei says

By Dawn Levy

"We have come to a fork in the road," Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told a Kresge Auditorium audience Nov. 4 at this year's Drell Lecture. "Either there must be a demonstrated commitment to move toward nuclear disarmament, or we should resign ourselves to the fact that other countries will pursue a more dangerous parity through proliferation."

ElBaradei's talk, sponsored by the Center for International Security and Cooperation and titled "Nuclear Nonproliferation and Arms Control: The Road Ahead," also was broadcast to seven of the nine University of California campuses. His comments came two days after the re-election of President George W. Bush, who abandoned inspections of Iraq in favor of a "pre-emptive" war in 2003.

As head of the IAEA, ElBaradei oversees international inspections and enforces provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and related arms control agreements. For example, by Nov. 25, Iran must fully report to the IAEA on its nuclear program.

"Verification, supported by diplomacy, has been an important part of the success so far in Iran and Libya, and in that sense I can only hope that the continuation of the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear program will yield results that will include, inter alia, full IAEA verification," he said. (In 1992, IAEA inspectors claimed North Korea had not reported its full plutonium production. A decade later, North Korea threw inspectors out of the country and withdrew from the NPT.)

ElBaradei called the NPT "the global anchor for humanity's efforts to curb nuclear proliferation and move toward nuclear disarmament." It is the only binding agreement in which all five of the nuclear weapon states—France, China, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States—have committed themselves to move toward nuclear disarmament.

"The most disturbing insight to emerge from our work in Iran and Libya has been the revelation of an extensive illicit market for the supply of nuclear items," he said. The IAEA has identified more than two dozen companies and individuals involved in the black market, apparently without the knowledge of their own governments. Illicit activity highlights the shortcomings of national systems for oversight of sensitive equipment and technology, he said.

Nevertheless, ElBaradei recommended strengthening export controls. Much of the hardware used to enrich uranium for energy or weapons is "dual use," making it more difficult to control or even track procurement, he said. A country might develop nuclear energy for civilian uses. If threatened, however, that country may decide to use nuclear fissile materials in weapons.

Nuclear proliferation tends to arise in regions of longstanding tension, ElBaradei said. "Nuclear proliferation is a symptom, and these symptoms will continue to persist and worsen as long as we leave unaddressed the underlying causes of insecurity and instability—such as chronic disputes which continue to fester, the persistent lack of good governance and basic freedoms, a growing divide between rich and poor, and newly perceived schisms based on ethnic or religious differences."

Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, inspections had been working, ElBaradei insisted. But the inspection process had not been given enough time and its findings were not given due recognition. "It is true that the record and mode of behavior of Saddam Hussein's regime did not inspire much confidence," he said. "But it is also true that we had not seen any clear and present danger involving weapons of mass destruction, after months of intrusive inspection."

For millennia, security strategies have been based on boundaries—city walls, border patrols and the use of racial, religious or other categories to separate friend from foe. "Those strategies no longer work," ElBaradei said. "The global community has become interdependent, with the constant movement of people, ideas and goods. Many aspects of modern life—global warming, Internet communication, the global marketplace and, yes, the war on terrorism—point to the fact that the human race has walked through a door that cannot be re-entered."

Despite all this interdependence, we think globally in terms of trade but locally in terms of security. Every day about 800 million people, half of them children, go hungry, ElBaradei pointed out. Yet world governments spent $900 billion on armaments last year.

"In this century, in this generation, we must develop a new approach to security capable of transcending borders—an inclusive approach that is centered on the value of every human life. The sooner we can make that transition, the sooner we will achieve our goal of a planet with peace and justice as its hallmark."

To date, the international community has not succeeded in creating a viable alternative to the doctrine of nuclear deterrence as the basis for international security, ElBaradei said. "If there is any silver lining to this dark cloud, it is that the window of opportunity is still open."

ElBaradei recommended strengthening the credibility of multilateral approaches to resolving conflicts and threats to international security. "The system of collective security hoped for in the United Nations Charter has never been made fully functional and effective," he said. "This must be our starting point."

He recommended adding permanent seats to the U.N. Security Council. The Security Council's five permanent seats are held by the five nuclear states. Adding permanent seats would make the council "more representative of today's global realities," he said.

Thirty years after the enactment of the NPT, more than 30,000 nuclear weapons are still available for use worldwide. ElBaradei suggested rapidly reducing stockpiles and strengthening the protection of existing nuclear material.

"An essential benchmark will be that a concrete roadmap for verified, irreversible nuclear disarmament, complete with a timetable, and involving not only the NPT nuclear weapon states but also India, Pakistan and Israel, is at last put in place."

During the question and answer session, the audience members pulled no punches. Why is it that Israel's weapons are never up for discussion during arms control talks? one asked. (Perfect security for one country may mean perfect insecurity for another, and until there is peace in the Middle East, Israel can't give up its nuclear option, ElBaradei responded.) Is the former Soviet Union doing everything it can to secure its fissile materials? (Yes, but we're in a race against time; having a small number of highly secured facilities throughout the world would help.) Is total global disarmament possible? (Peace has to come before countries will give up their deterrents, but we need to look at the use of nuclear weapons the way we look at genocide or slavery—as taboos.) How can the Security Council, powerbrokers for the rich, consider the security needs of the poor? (As Chernobyl and 9/11 demonstrated, we mainly react to extreme outcomes; we need to take proactive actions toward parity and justice.)

Had the IAEA tried to influence the U.S. presidential election, asked political science graduate student Clint Taylor, when a memo that claimed some 350 tons of explosives went missing in Iraq was leaked to the media?

There was no reason to believe the leak came from his agency, ElBaradei responded. "Once the story became public knowledge, of course I had to report [it] to the Security Council immediately," he said. "Then I was told that Bin Laden and I were trying to influence the American election. My answer to that is that some of the media need to mature and understand that there [are] other things happening in the world, and the world doesn't come to a halt when you have an American election."




Dawn Levy, News Service: (650) 725-1944,

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