Inside the IAEA: Keeping an eye on the watchdog

Inside the IAEA Keeping

October 15, 2009 19:49
4 minute read.
Ahmadinejad ElBaradei 248.88

Ahmadinejad ElBaradei 248.88. (photo credit: )


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Israel was one of the founding members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was established in 1957. At that time there were high hopes for this organization, established as a follow-up to President Eisenhower's vision of Atoms for Peace. It was to be a technical organization, with the objectives to: "seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world. It shall ensure, so far as it is able, that assistance provided by it or at its request or under its supervision or control is not used in such a way as to further any military purpose." These objectives are still valid, inscribed in the Statute of the IAEA, but their interpretations have strayed widely. From a highly technical organization the IAEA has become a highly political, technical organization. Because of the politicized situation, the IAEA General Conference (GC) was able on September 18, 2009 to pass a resolution that "calls upon Israel to accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards." The resolution did not call on India and Pakistan, members of the same IAEA region and two countries that carried out underground nuclear tests, to accede to the NPT, and there was no resolution reprimanding Iran for its continuous non-adherence to the requests of the IAEA for information on its suspect nuclear program. Interestingly, the vote on the "Israeli Resolution" was almost evenly split and was passed by less than a majority of the GC attendees (49 voted for, 45, including most of the Western countries, against, and 16 abstained). There is also an annual GC resolution discussing "The Application of IAEA Safeguards in the Middle East." The much discussed Iranian proposal for a resolution prohibiting attacks on nuclear installations was apparently withdrawn before it came to a vote. Because of the "regional system" employed in most of the UN family organizations, Israel was never given a seat on the IAEA's Board of Governors (BOG). According to this system, the seats on the BOG are allocated to geographic regions and nominated by the regional states. Israel geographically belongs to the Middle East and South Asia region, which also includes India and Pakistan. Israel, not being accepted by the others as a member of its region, is excluded from exercising its inherent right. This is nothing new, and in some of the organizations Israel found its place as a member of the European Region, in some cases of a Western group, and oddly enough, also at one time in the sports region of Oceania. This also did damage to the IAEA, e.g., when Israel, because of this discrimination, strongly and successfully opposed giving the task of hosting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to the IAEA. In the text of the CTBT, the place of Israel is assured. THE FIRST time Israel was singled out at the IAEA was in 1981, following the destruction of the Iraqi reactor that was under construction at Tuwaitha. At that time, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling on Israel to adhere to the NPT. This was followed by a similar IAEA GC resolution. In comparison, in 1998, following the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, there was a strong GC resolution condemning the tests and calling on all states to adhere to the NPT. India and Pakistan were never mentioned by name. The tests were described as having taken place in South Asia (the Middle East was not included in the definition of the region). Politics clearly dominates the issue. Egypt, the traditional leader of campaigns against Israel in international bodies, likely prefers that Israel not declare whether it has or does not have nuclear weapons. Rather, Egypt wants to make sure it will not have these in the future. Egypt well knows that the route to WMD disarmament is not through the formal adherence to treaties. Upholding treaties is possible only when it is in the basic interest of the treaty parties to do so. With Iraq and Libya having been caught red-handed, and with Iran rushing towards nuclear weapons, in spite of these countries being parties to the NPT, the situation in the Middle East is not very conducive towards regional nuclear disarmament. Is it reasonable to demand that Israel abandon its years-long policy of opacity? Even Egypt knows that the chances of this happening in the present state of affairs are very low. Thus the latest IAEA resolution is a part of the ongoing haranguing of Israel. In an additional deviation from the stated objectives of the IAEA, the outgoing director general of the IAEA took it upon himself to further politicize his appointment (he is designated in the Statute as the "chief administrative officer of the Agency") in voicing his opinion time and again that Israel must adhere to the NPT. In this political context, Israel will probably not take these resolutions, statements, and other politically discriminating actions seriously. According to the preamble to the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, "the principles of free consent and of good faith…are universally recognized." The free consent of Israel will not come about because of resolutions. Israel's actions will be decided internally, after due consideration and due process. The importance of the IAEA lies not in its political actions, but in its immense technical capabilities. It helps countries all over the globe in the application of nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes. It plays an important role in the application of safeguards, albeit limited in many cases. On the other hand, the IAEA suffered gravely because of the political overtones in its Iran reports. The GC did the IAEA a disservice in its discriminatory resolution on Israel. If it wants to be taken seriously, the IAEA must change its ways. It is up to the incoming director general to do this. Reprinted with permission of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. The author is a research fellow at INSS.

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