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Monday, February 23, 2004

IAEA hunts for nukes 

The BBC reports that Mohammed El Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says that his organization "urgently wants to find out whether countries besides Libya have acquired designs for nuclear warheads."

El Baradei is in Libya, monitoring the dismantling of that country's nuclear weapons program after Libya revealed the existence of the program and declared itself willing to disarm.

And that is a key point: The IAEA has yet to dig up anything substantial on its own, anywhere. Ever. The only countries that have ever verifiably disarmed are countries that voluntarily admitted their weapons development and then fully cooperated with inspections. See South Africa and Ukraine. Now El Baradei seems to believe that the IAEA is set for some unprecedented successes:

Mr ElBaradei said finding out whether other countries had acquired nuclear weapons technology was "an important and urgent concern for us".

"I think we're coming to the conclusion that it's the same source of supply [in Iran and Libya]," the IAEA head has said.
And of course, they are reaching that conclusion not as a result of their own work, but by virtue of Pakistan's admission that A.Q. Khan had been selling nuclear secrets. I'll repeat what I said above: The IAEA has yet to dig up anything substantial on its own, anywhere. Ever.

Speaking after his talks in Libya, Mr ElBaradei said: "We agreed that we will make every effort to come to a closure on this issue hopefully by June, by our June [IAEA] Board of Governors [meeting]".
Why does El Baradei think his organization will succeed now, when it never has in the past? It is either incredibly optimistic or severely naive to think that in four months, the IAEA will have uncovered the international network of clandestine nuclear trading.

After all, for years the IAEA had no clue that Libya had a nuclear program, or that Pakistan was sharing technology, until those countries came forward voluntarily. (Spurred on, no doubt, by the consequences of noncooperation that befell Saddam.)

Do I think the IAEA has an important job? Absolutely. The spread of nuclear weapons is one of the top security issues facing the world today. But the IAEA alone will not get the job done. A strengthened nonproliferation regime with teeth, increased intelligence cooperation between nations and with international organizations, and the threat of force to stop proliferators are necessary to put real pressure on those who would spread this most deadly of technologies.

The IAEA is a vital part of the effort to stop nuclear proliferation, but it can't be the only weapon in the arsenal.
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