On our first day at the United Nations (UN) we received a briefing on the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organization that plays a vital role in contributing to international peace and security. The briefing was delivered by Ms. Tracy C. Brown, Public Information Officer in the IAEA New York Office who described the work of her office and then gave an overview of the organization and its role in the international community, including its activities in specific States. She prefaced her discussion noting that the preservation of nuclear expertise and policies concerning its applications are a priority for the Agency and its Member States as fewer young people pursue nuclear science and related careers. At the end of her presentation, she opened the floor to questions from the audience.
Ms. Brown noted that her office interacts with New York-based officials from the United Nations Secretariat, other international organizations, and permanent missions. Staff respond to public inquiries and report to IAEA headquarters on all matters concerning the work of the Agency. Topics addressed range from nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation to nuclear energy and sustainable development to the United Nations common system of shared practices concerning administrative and financial issues.
After the horrific events of World War II, various proposals were initiated to thwart the spread of nuclear weapons technology by promoting the peaceful uses of the atom. One such policy was unveiled before the international community in 1953 by United States President Eisenhower, in his “Atoms for Peace” speech before the eighth session of the General Assembly. Therein he proposed the creation of an international authority to control and develop the use of atomic energy.
With the support of other States, the IAEA became a reality in 1957 as an autonomous intergovernmental, science and technology based organization in the United Nations family that serves as the global focal point for nuclear cooperation. Its statutory mandate is to promote the peaceful application of atomic energy for the benefit of humanity, while simultaneously guarding against the spread of its use for military purposes. Over time, this mandate has evolved into three major activities or “pillars” as they are known in the Agency: nuclear technology, nuclear safety and security, and nuclear verification.
Per its founding document, its Statute, and per formal agreement with the United Nations, the IAEA reports annually to the General Assembly. It also reports to the Security Council on an ad hoc basis in instances where international peace and security are threatened.
Ms. Brown reminded the group that the Agency, as a multilateral institution, is composed of several different sovereign Member States, each with its own views on what is in its Government’s best interest and that of the Agency. Decisions are made usually by consensus, to a lesser extent by voting.
All 145 Member States meet once a year in September in Vienna in a forum called the General Conference to approve the program and budget and to decide on other matters brought before it by the Board of Governors, the Director General, or Member States.
Major policy decisions are made by a Board of Governors which meets five times a year and consists of 35 Member States. It makes recommendations to the General Conference on the accounts, program and budget, and considers applications for membership. It also approves safeguards agreements and the publication of safety standards and has the responsibility for appointing the Director General with the approval of the General Conference.
The Director General, currently Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, oversees the day-to-day activities of the secretariat composed of over 2,200 professional and support staff from more than 90 countries and headquartered in Vienna, Austria. In addition to New York, the Agency has a liaison office Geneva, two regional offices in Tokyo, Japan and Toronto, Canada, and two international laboratories and research centers in Monaco and Seibersdorf, Austria.
Via its technical cooperation program, the IAEA ensures the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology are shared by all. It involves the provision of technical assistance and the exchange of information on the application of peaceful nuclear technologies conveyed in the form of in-country technical projects and the provision of experts and training to over 80 primarily developing Member States. It focuses on those projects that aim toward the achievement of sustainable national development priorities by assisting Member States in achieving self-reliance in numerous fields where nuclear techniques offer advantages over others, or where nuclear techniques can usefully supplement conventional means. A good example of the former is in the use of radiation for plant breeding, which has produced a long chain of success stories: wheat varieties bred to thrive in dry climates; cocoa trees resistant to local viruses; barley that can flourish at high altitudes; or various fruits and vegetables bred for higher nutritional yield. In addition to improving food, agricultural and animal productivity, nuclear techniques are used in evaluating and solving human health and environmental problems, and in improving electricity production, among other uses.
As regards the second pillar, Ms. Brown noted that the international community considers nuclear safety and security to be national responsibilities. The IAEA is at the center of international efforts to promote safe and secure practices in those areas. It does so by promoting binding international conventions and internationally accepted safety standards. The ultimate aim is to protect people and the environment from harmful exposure to radiation.
In the security area, the focus is on helping States prevent, detect, and respond to terrorist or other malicious acts involving nuclear material or facilities. The Agency provides nuclear safety and security assessment, advisory and evaluation services. Examples include the cooperation and support agreements between the Agency and Brazil and the Agency and China in helping them to address nuclear security concerns in preparations for the 2007 Pan American Games and the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Assistance ranged from supplying radiation detection equipment to conducting training programs on nuclear security awareness for security officers.
The third pillar of the IAEA is its safeguard system, also referred to as its inspection and verification system, which consists of legal and technical measures whose ultimate objective is to verify that individual States are in compliance with their promise to maintain exclusively peaceful nuclear programs and to provide an early-warning if they are not. Although not perfect, Ms. Brown said that nuclear verification attempts to provide a measure of assurance and to build confidence among the international community about the status of a particular State’s nuclear program. She noted that the IAEA does not have powers to impose its inspections on any State and that the Security Council is the sole international body with enforcement powers under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.
Thus, a precondition for the implementation of safeguards is the conclusion of a formal, legally binding agreement by the State with the IAEA. In signing a safeguards agreement, a State is issuing an invitation to inspection. Most, but not all safeguards agreements in force today, she said, derive mainly from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), another vital tool of the nonproliferation regime.
In broad terms, she explained, the NPT is an agreement by non-nuclear weapon States to forego nuclear weapons, to put their peaceful nuclear facilities under the international safeguards of the IAEA, and to acknowledge those States’ rights to technical cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In addition, for nuclear weapons States, the NPT is an undertaking to pursue nuclear disarmament. The treaty is based on three key activities – nuclear nonproliferation, peaceful nuclear cooperation, and nuclear disarmament.
Under comprehensive safeguards agreements, States have an obligation to declare to the IAEA, all their nuclear material and facilities and to establish and maintain a system to account for them. For its part, the IAEA conducts on-site inspections and other measures aimed at verifying the correctness and completeness of the declarations made by States about their nuclear programs. The IAEA analyses all relevant information obtained through its verification work and from other sources to ensure consistency with State declarations, and then draws a conclusion based on its findings.
For comprehensive safeguards agreements, the IAEA’s safeguards system endeavors to detect and deter the diversion of a significant quantity of nuclear material from peaceful nuclear activities to the manufacture of a nuclear weapon.
Since their inception, safeguards have continually evolved, taking into account changes in technology and the political climate. The discovery of the clandestine nuclear programs of Iraq and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the 1990s demonstrated the limitations of traditional safeguards which until then had focused on the detection of the diversion of declared nuclear material. These examples were fundamental to efforts to improve the safeguards system to strengthen its ability to provide further assurance against the diversion and detection of undeclared nuclear material and activities. These examples led to the development of the Additional Protocol (AP), a supplemental model agreement which broadened the Agency’s existing inspection authority under comprehensive safeguards and called for more transparency. The additional protocol combined with a comprehensive safeguards agreement have become the new standard of international nuclear verification that is only effective when both agreements have entered into force and are being implemented.
Ms. Brown noted that Iran’s right to acquire peaceful nuclear technology is unquestioned, but not unconditional. Despite Iran’s promise under the NPT and its IAEA safeguards agreement to maintain an exclusively peaceful nuclear program, Iran’s failure to disclose information about its nuclear program to the IAEA have resulted in a breach of trust and loss of confidence about the program’s exclusively peaceful nature. An example of a breach of trust is Iran’s own admission that it had embarked on an extensive nuclear enrichment program without declaring it to the IAEA as required under its NPT and safeguards obligations. For its part, the Agency, under its mandate and pursuant to its safeguards agreement with Iran, has attempted to verify declarations made by Iran in order to provide some assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities, but is still not yet in a position to draw definitive conclusions.
To date, the Security Council has adopted three resolutions calling on Iran to suspend proliferation sensitive nuclear activities and imposing sanctions (voluntarily imposed country by country travel and economic restrictions on certain Iranian nationals and businesses). The resolutions request the Agency, among other things, to verify the demanded suspension and report back to the Council, which it did in February and May 2007 and is expected to do again in May 2008. Although it is not clear how the matter will ultimately be resolved, she said it is the position of the Agency that a peaceful resolution be reached.
When asked about the U.S./India nuclear cooperation agreement, Ms. Brown explained its basis and the major criticism to it. She noted that the agreement, which was concluded in 2006 and requires the approvals of both Governments’ legislatures, would end a U.S. moratorium on sales of nuclear fuel and equipment to India, part of a series of restrictions imposed by the U.S. after India first exploded a nuclear device in 1974. In exchange, India would agree to separate its nuclear program into separate military and civilian components and to subject the latter to IAEA inspection for the first time. India would also agree to abide by international nonproliferation agreements, such as those of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Critics charge that the exemption of "military" reactors from international inspection would undermine the nonproliferation regime leading States like Pakistan and Israel, who like India are outside the NPT regime, to insist on a similar deal, or might even cause other nations, within the NPT, to withdraw from the Treaty. They further argue that the agreement would essentially signal to States - that acquiring nuclear weapons could be a stepping stone to recognition as a major global player without any sanctions. Despite this criticism, the IAEA Director General welcomed the agreement characterizing it as “out of the box thinking.”
On the question of the DPRK, Ms. Brown said that although not a party to the Six-Party Talks, the IAEA has consistently expressed its readiness to work with all concerned towards a peaceful comprehensive solution that weighs the balance between the security needs of the DPRK and the need of the international community to gain assurance, ideally through international verification, that all nuclear activities in the DPRK are exclusively for peaceful purposes. The Agency supports the goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and normalization of the DPRK’s relationship with the Agency.
On the question of dual use, Ms. Brown said that uranium enrichment in and of itself is not contrary to international law; however, because of its dual-use nature it is considered a sensitive technology to be monitored in non-nuclear weapon States. It can be used to achieve both peaceful and military objectives, namely to make fuel for use in a nuclear power plant reactor and to make a bomb.
On the question of double standards, Ms. Brown said that tension in the nonproliferation regime is inherent between non-nuclear weapons States and nuclear-weapons States, and even between States party to and States outside of the NPT. This tension plays itself out when trying to reach consensus at international meetings, particularly the meetings of the NPT Review Conference and its Preparatory Committee, among others, where there has been an impasse for some time. Non-nuclear weapons States insist that they have continually made sacrifices toward the global good, while the nuclear weapons States have yet to move substantively towards nuclear disarmament. One State insists it will never be Party to the NPT because of its inherent inequity. Still others speculate that as long as there are “haves” and “have nots,” there will always be those who want “to have,” and are willing to take action on that desire most often as a deterrent.
In conclusion, Ms. Brown said that despite all the problems with the nonproliferation regime, the IAEA continues to play a key role in ensuring that the benefits of nuclear technology are shared globally, that peaceful nuclear activities are conducted safely, and that the international community is provided with a credible framework for curbing nuclear weapons proliferation and moving towards nuclear disarmament. She said the Agency’s ability to continue to carry out these functions effectively depends on the political commitment and financial support of its Member States.
Tracy C. Brown