Dr Mohamed ElBaradei on Global Security – Challenges and Opportunities

The Bomb 

Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), gave a lecture this afternoon at the LSE, in which – talking aloofly and rather uninspiringly about the challenges and opportuniteis of global security – he initially came across as the usual hardened UN diplomat and civil servant. But it was during the Q&A session that ElBaradei the man captured with refreshing frankness and a tinge of humour the LSE audience’s hearts.

I am reproducing some of the remarks I found most interesting below for your consumption.

  • On multilateralism: it is often said that multilateralism is dying. This is imprecise. Security multilateralism has suffered significant drawbacks over the last 10 years, but functional multilateralism – the one that created the WTO for example – appears well alive and kicking.
  • On North Korea: the ‘deal‘ wasn’t just due to Chinese sticks, but to a committment to renewed engagement by the US, together with hefty donations of fuel aid and food provisions, provided the vital carrots.  
  • On the rationale for still having an IAEA: the big boys (read: US, China) might be striking deals with the naughty kids (read: N Korea, Iran) on the block, so the IAEA might appear to be doing the dishes (read: be kept out of the negotiating table), but in fact it’s doing more than that, it’s cooking the dessert (read: monitoring compliance), and it’s the only one who has the qualifications for cooking it (read: it’s still recognised as the only impartial actor in the international nuclear security scene) and everyone loves a dessert (read: er…).
  • On nuclear energy and climate change: switching to nuclear energy that is clean, well controlled and safe might be a way to address the global warming challenge while meeting the energy needs of the world. Nuclear energy does not automatically lead to nuclear proliferation as some have argued. These are quite distinct for several reasons, including the fact that the technology to achieve nuclear weapons (such as fuel enrichment processes) is quite different to the one needed to produce atomic energy.
  • On Iran’s Bushehr deal with Russia: this is not illegal and for the reasons explained above it does not mean Iran is acquiring nuclear weapons.
  • On nuclear weapons: these should become a global taboo like slavery and genocide. Full stop.

And finally, the 3 key priorities for an enhanced IAEA:

  1. Stronger legal powers to enforce its mandate;
  2. Stronger committment by the political elites to move towards global nuclear disarmament;
  3. More cash.

We heart ElBaradei.

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