Nobel for El Baradei


The award of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize to the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohammed ElBaradei, and to the Agency itself, is an outstanding decision. It underlines the fundamental importance of nuclear arms control and disarmament, recognises ElBaradei’s great courage, and responds to a dangerous distortion in world politics flowing from the current obsession with non-State, as opposed to State, terrorism.

Prior to the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the international community’s focus with respect to nuclear arms control was on strengthening and making universal the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and reducing the nuclear weapons held by the five acknowledged nuclear weapons States.

This approach was consistent with the basic compact expressed in the NPT: those that did not have nuclear weapons should never acquire them, and those that did have them should, progressively, get rid of them.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei

By these means, it was intended, we would end up with a world free of nuclear weapons. This process, while obviously difficult, was viewed as having the great virtue of being elementally fair.

The key obstacles on this pathway had been: the relative slowness of action by the weapons States on disarmament (although the US and Russia had increased the pace since the end of the Cold War); and the nuclear weapons programs of three non-Treaty States – Israel, India and Pakistan.

Potential solutions to these problems were agreed to at the five-yearly review of the NPT in 2000. At this conference, a program for nuclear disarmament was adopted by treaty parties; the nuclear weapons States made a new and additional pledge to accelerate their work on ‘the elimination’ of nuclear weapons; and the resolve to bring in the non-Treaty States was increased.

Then 9/11 happened and the Bush Administration began the process – which remains in place today – of subjugating every issue to its so-called War on Terror. This has had devastating effects on the nuclear arms control regime.

These things happened:

All pressure on India and Pakistan to step back from their disastrous competition in nuclear weapons came to an end. Pakistan, as the key neighbour to Afghanistan and with the power it thus exercised over the future of the Taliban, was embraced as a new best friend of the US.

A similar approach was followed with India. In the 2002 State of the Union speech, Bush named India as a new ally. In addition to the terrorism issue, the US also wanted the benefits of India on its side in South Asia, given its concerns about China’s growing strength. Last month the two countries signed a nuclear cooperation agreement.

Thus, any notion that India and Pakistan can be encouraged or pressured to join the NPT club is now dead. It follows from this – as well as for other long-established reasons, including US domestic political reasons – that the same is true of Israel, the other non-Treaty State with nuclear weapons.

Then there was Bush’s announcement in 2002 that the ‘Axis of Evil’- Iraq, Iran and North Korea – were to be hunted down because of their nuclear weapons programs. This unilateral action challenged the role of the multilateral nuclear arms control regime and, perhaps even more importantly, highlighted the need for fact rather than accusation.

Iraq’s program had been abandoned or either destroyed ten years earlier and statements otherwise prior to the invasion of Iraq have now been demonstrated to be fabrications.

Iran has been less than open to IAEA inspectors, but a report based on two years of study, published by the IAEA last month, stated that there was no clear evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. The chances are that Iran is pursuing such a program, but attempts to stop it without clear evidence will fail (link: Butler on Iran). The US has not been able to produce such evidence.

The North Korean case is being worked on diplomatically, with some success. If it holds any lesson, especially given the tragic nature of conditions in that State, it is that bullying will not work.

The latest review of the NPT was in May of this year. For the first three weeks of the four-week conference, the US refused to agree to its agenda, insisting that the commitments made at the 2000 review could not be discussed and that the only report that could be issued on the 2005 meeting was one which stated that it had taken place.

Four months later, the UN held its 60th Anniversary Summit. That meeting failed and the US succeeded in removing from the anniversary Declaration any reference to nuclear disarmament.

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Mohammed ElBaradei reported to the Security Council that the IAEA could find no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program. The US was furious and the then Deputy Secretary of State, now US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, led a campaign to deny ElBaradei re-election to his job. His proposal was that ElBaradei should be replaced by our own Alexander Downer.

The campaign was an abject failure. It gained no support and the US dropped it. ElBaradei was re-elected unopposed.

Mohammad ElBaradei is a man of integrity, intelligence and, above all, dedication to nuclear arms control. I remember my dealings with him with admiration. He was savagely attacked when he refused to participate in the fabrication of reasons for invading Iraq. That he is an Egyptian was used slanderously against him.

The spokesman for the Nobel Committee has stated that the decision to award him, and the IAEA, the 2005 prize did not reflect a desire to hit out at any country – meaning the US, of course. He said the decision underlined the importance the Committee attached to the task of nuclear arms control. The former assertion strains credulity somewhat, but the latter is admirable.

The US has divided the world into those States for whom it is acceptable to have nuclear weapons, and those for whom it is not. This is profoundly dangerous. The unfairness of this ‘nuclear apartheid’, as some have called it, strengthens the political argument against the orthodox nuclear arms control regime, and this greatly increases the value of the clandestine nuclear weapons industry. The activities of Pakistan’s master bomb maker, AQ Khan, in selling weapons technologies to Middle Eastern clients and North Korea, is the obvious case in point.

In its 1996 report, the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons identified the axiom of proliferation: ‘as long as any State possesses nuclear weapons, others will seek to acquire them.’ This axiom should now be expanded to include ‘non-State actors.’ A recently leaked MI5 report showed that there is now a thriving clandestine trade in nuclear weapons technology, centered principally in the Gulf and Central and South Asia.

The goal must be the elimination of nuclear weapons and a major obstacle to this is an unfair, discriminatory nuclear arms control regime. The surest course towards that goal is not the unilateral exercise of power, but the work of the IAEA, with its inspections and nuclear safeguards regime under the NPT. This is why the Nobel Committee’s decision is so deeply important.

To use Mohammad ElBaradei’s words, on hearing of the prize: it is sometimes necessary to speak truth to power.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.