THINK globally

The Nobel committee announced on Friday morning that the winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize is Mohamed ElBaradei and the organization he heads, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This is the UN agency tasked with preventing the proliferation of nuclear technology and weapons. And while several recent winners were controversial, this one may be the worst choice in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize.

First, what exactly are the qualifications needed to win the Nobel Peace Prize? Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel said in his will that the prize should be awarded “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

By those criteria, there were two excellent nominees among the 199 candidates for this year’s Nobel Prize. Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari brokered a breakthrough peace deal between the government of Indonesia and Aceh rebels, ending a conflict that had raged for over three decades. That’s a genuine accomplishment in a very difficult area, which the Nobel Committee decided didn’t merit the prize.

Another good choice would have been Senji Yamaguchi, founder of Hidankyo, an organization that represents survivors of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Awarding Hidankyo the Nobel Peace Prize on the 60th anniversary of the bombings would have been a great way to acknowledge their tireless efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons, but the Committee passed over them as well.

Instead, they chose ElBaradei and the IAEA. While their mandate seems to fit with Alfred Nobel’s vision, even a cursory glance at the organization’s track record in fulfilling that mandate should disqualify them from serious consideration.

Before the Gulf War in 1991, the IAEA had no clue that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear program. Afterwards, the world was stunned to find out how far along he was in developing nuclear weapons. They also failed to detect Libya’s nuclear program, which only came to light after the most recent Iraq war.

Pakistan became a nuclear power without the IAEA’s knowledge, and Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan ran a nuclear supermarket for years, selling plans, centrifuges and fissile materials to anyone with cash. He was finally caught by U.S. and European intelligence services without any help from the IAEA.

North Korea weaponized their nuclear program right under the noses of IAEA inspectors, who were monitoring the very facilities that were being used to produce bomb-grade uranium. Once again it was outside intelligence agencies that blew the whistle on the regime’s activities, a huge embarassment for the IAEA.

But the Agency’s most egregious failure in preventing the spread and weaponization of nuclear technology began with its inability to detect Iran’s 20-year quest for nuclear weapons, exposed three years ago by Iranian dissidents living abroad. Since their nuclear program has been discovered, the Iranian regime has played the IAEA like a fiddle, using them as a buffer to prevent anyone from interfering with their progress towards the bomb. Iranian officials have openly bragged about turning a two-month negotiation into a two-year stalling process while their enrichment cycles race ahead.

The IAEA even plays into Iran’s farce, pretending along with them that one of the world’s richest oil producers has an urgent need for a multibillion-dollar “civilian” nuclear power system. And all this after Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council, said publicly that the second they get nuclear weapons they will bomb Israel.

The IAEA has been useless at best, as in the many instances when they fail to discover countries developing and proliferating nuclear weapons. But at worst they’re a big part of the problem, acting as a fig leaf for ruthless regimes as they race towards nuclear-power status while pretending to wrangle over agreements that are broken before the ink is dry.

The text of the Nobel Peace Prize states that the IAEA won the award “for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way.”

Only when Iran finally emerges as a nuclear-armed state will the world fully appreciate the important role that the IAEA plays in nuclear proliferation.

Neglected Story of the Week: The death toll from Saturday’s earthquake in the Himalayan region between Pakistan and India continues to rise, and rescue workers are being hindered by the difficult terrain. But there’s one element of hope for the future in this tragedy. Pakistan has agreed to accept aid from archrival India for the millions displaced on its side of the disputed province of Kashmir.

India’s generous offer to bring 25 tons of food, tents and medicine to Pakistani refugees was a wonderful gesture of goodwill towards its neighbor, and Pakistan’s acceptance of it was the right decision for the welfare of its citizens. Combined with recent conciliatory statements from both sides, this good faith initiative is an encouraging indication that the progress in Indo-Pakistani relations may be gaining momentum, to the great benefit of both regional powers and their peoples.


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