Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Victory for the Watchdog

The long drawn out election process for the next occupant of the 28th
floor of the A block of the Vienna International Centre to succeed Dr.
Mohamed ElBaradei was not a clash of personalities, but an extension
of the perennial search for the soul of the Agency, the eternal quest
for balance between the promotional and regulatory mandates of the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The victory of Yukia Amano
of Japan over its nearest rival, South Africa’s Abdul Minty is clearly
a victory for the “watchdog” role of the IAEA. The resistance to him
till July 2, 2009 by the developing countries stemmed from the fear
that he, representing as he does the only country in the world which
became a victim of a nuclear attack, would turn the Agency into a
ferocious watchdog rather than a benevolent advocate of atoms for

Amano, being aware of this perception, was careful enough to order his
agenda in a way that might reassure those who opposed him: “I will
dedicate my efforts to the acceleration and enlargement of the
contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity
throughout the world. I will work towards the enhancement of technical
cooperation and its related activities, the prevention of the spread
of nuclear weapons, and the overall management of the Agency.” But
nobody doubts that his agenda will be reversed in actual practice.
Prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons will be his highest
priority and the IAEA’s “other job” will recede further in the

Dr. Homi Bhabha, who chaired the preparatory meetings of the IAEA, had
shaped a carefully balanced mandate for the IAEA in 1956. The
objective of the IAEA is “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution
of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world”
and to “ensure, as 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.” But this delicate
balance began to get eroded as the Agency was given the additional
responsibility to monitor the implementation of the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Today, it is hard to remain focused on
the promotional aspects of the Agency’s work because it is perceived
as the instrument of non-proliferation. Even the budget of the Agency
becomes lopsided as voluntary contributions pour into the safeguards
budget, while the pledged contributions for technical cooperation get
dwindled every year. The original idea was that the Agency should give
equal importance to its three pillars—nuclear power, safety and

The IAEA is at the cross roads today because demands for technical
assistance to developing countries, who want to develop nuclear energy
for peaceful purposes are as pressing as the demand for measures to
deal with proliferation and nuclear terrorism. An eminent persons
group convened by the Director General to look at the prospects of the
IAEA in 2020 could not strike a balance because the group tended to
engage, to a large extent, on issues beyond the mandate of the Agency,
such as disarmament. The new Director General has the responsibility
to guide the Agency in the right direction, keeping as close as
possible to the mandate of the Agency. The developing world did not
believe that a Japanese non-proliferation expert will be the person
for the job at this time.

No statistics are available to see the percentage of success that
Japanese or Korean candidates have registered when they contest for UN
positions. Very few of them lose because they select the positions
after much thought and once candidates are put up; their Governments
go all out to support them. It was, therefore, a foregone conclusion
that Amano would win. As a candidate, he had impeccable credentials as
a specialist in non-proliferation and disarmament and had also served
as the Chairman of the IAEA Board of Governors. As the resident
ambassador to the IAEA, he knew his colleagues, who had to cast the
votes. In spite of these advantages, Amano had to struggle to get the
required number of votes to make it. Till the very end, there was some
expectation that the impasse would continue and the present incumbent
would be persuaded to stay till a consensus candidate was found.

Directors General have been elected by secret ballot in the past, but
the polarization between developed and developing countries was never
so acute or persistent as it happened this time. Amano was referring
to this when he said: “The tasks awaiting us will be tremendous, but I
am confident that a Director General who is trusted fully and actively
supported by all Member States will not fail to achieve the goals
enshrined in the Statute.” It will take the new Director General time
to get universal support, given the bitterness of the election.

The towering personality of ElBaradei and the unanimous support he
received during his three terms, crowned by the Nobel Prize for Peace
has set high standards for the Agency and its head. IAEA is, perhaps,
the only UN Agency, which has never been plagued by charges of
incompetence or corruption. The same integrity was evident in the
manner in which he handled sensitive and crucial matters throughout
his term. His steadfast opposition to the second Iraq war on the
ground that there was no evidence to show that it still had nuclear
weapons was a shining example of his impartiality, transparency and
wisdom. His single-minded pursuit of truth in the case of Iran was
subject of criticism by both sides in the dispute. While he was
considered soft on Iran by the United States, Iran made no secret of
its irritation over its persistence. His commitment to
non-proliferation was unshakeable, but he had no hesitation to support
and facilitate the India-US nuclear agreement. He gave great attention
to the development dimension of the IAEA and maintained its balance.
He leaves the Agency with an impeccable reputation, which will be a
hard task to follow by his successor.

The IAEA, with the global responsibility for promoting the peaceful
uses of nuclear energy, needs to reorder its priorities, considering
that its budget is less than that of the Vienna police force. Much of
its resources is spent in the safeguards area, leaving aside its
primary purpose of promoting nuclear energy in such crucial areas as
power generation, health and water. As the world moves towards “global
zero”, the IAEA should focus more on development. By the time the
General Conference formally appoints him in September, the new
Director General should win the confidence of the developing world.
The world has a major stake in his success.

July 4, 2009


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