If there is a word that comes to mind regarding the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its director-general, Muhammad ElBaradei, it is "premature."
The Nobel Committee, it seems, wishes to continue its record of going out on a limb, encouraging those it hopes will succeed, rather than most awards, which recognize success after the fact.
Such was the case, of course, with the ill-fated Nobel prize granted to Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yasser Arafat for the Oslo Accords. Is this another case of wishful thinking, of placing bets on misguided process that is headed for failure?
Even as this question hangs in the air, however, there is a sense in which this prize can be seen as advancing the cause of a safer world: it is a powerful vote for the principle that Iran's bomb must be stopped.
"At a time when disarmament efforts appear deadlocked," the Nobel committee explained its choice, "when there is a danger that nuclear arms will spread both to states and to terrorist groups, and when nuclear power again appears to be playing an increasingly significant role, IAEA's work is of incalculable importance."
ElBaradei and the IAEA represent a consensus within the arms control and non-proliferation field that Iran's drive for nuclear weapons must be stopped. This consensus has little to do with the position of the United States and even, arguably, exists despite that position. It exists because if Iran, the foremost sponsor of terrorism in the world, is allowed to have nuclear weapons then the entire non-proliferation edifice will collapse, like a dam with one too many cracks.
It is this principle that Iran must not obtain nuclear weapons that is even more important to establish than the means for achieving such an end. The prize for the IAEA, for example, should send a strong signal to China and Russia that if they try to block a US and European effort to impose UN Security Council sanctions on Iran, they place themselves outside the global consensus.
That the US and UK, we hope with the support of France and Germany, will now press harder for effective sanctions against Iran should go without saying. It is in the hands of these nations, and the IAEA itself, whether this Nobel prize will in few years seem to have been either prescient or a cruel joke.
After all, it is reality that counts. If Iran succeeds it developing nuclear weapons, it will be a tremendous and probably fatal failure for the IAEA as an organization. Even more importantly, of course, it will be a failure of the international system and of the West to defend itself against a threat to the security and independence of all free nations.
A nuclear Iran, besides being a direct threat to Israel and other countries, would become the linchpin of the global terror network. The famous "nuclear umbrella" that was spread over Europe during the Cold War would suddenly protect the terrorists themselves and the dictators who sponsor them.
Since the IAEA is an international organization that has long resisted distinguishing between democracies and dictatorships, and still has to pretend it does not, it is not surprising that it failed to stop Saddam Hussein from coming so close to building a bomb before the first Gulf War, and has so far allowed Iran to buy more time for its program.
But at the end of day it is not the IAEA or the UN or any organization that matter, but the governments in the US, UK, France, and Germany. If these four nations are determined to raise the price Iran must pay for its program to unacceptable levels, they have the collective diplomatic and economic, not to mention military, power to do so.
If they do not, a misdirected peace prize will be the least of the world's problems.