Raub Dakwale, Drew Martin, and Jon Miller discuss the effectin
Raub: Since 1957 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has acted with the United Nations to promote safe, secure, and peaceful nuclear technologies. One important role the IAEA plays today is regulating and reporting the nuclear capabilities of developing countries. Has the IAEA been effective in this capacity and is there a better method of regulation possible?
Jon: I actually think the IAEA has done a pretty good job in a very difficult situation. Since the IAEA reports to the UN, imagine trying to balance political pressure from the US with, for example, remaining objective towards Iran. It would be nice if international nuclear regulatory institutions were free of politics, but that's just not feasible.
That being said, I think there are two ways the international monitoring could be improved. First, the IAEA was not designed to solely be a regulatory commission; it was designed to promote peaceful cooperation in developing nuclear technologies (including energy, in medicine, etc). There are enough nations now with nuclear power that a separate body that focuses only on regulation could be warranted. Second, there is no mandatory rule that all states must have their weapons inspected and monitored. Many including myself have been critical of Israel for not being party to the NPT, but it is within their right to develop and maintain a nuclear arsenal. Somehow this loophole needs to be fixed.
Drew: A second area of reform should consider the differences between developing and developed nations. As it stands now, the IAEA solely monitors nuclear activity, but it doesn't help developing nations secure their material or weapons. I would propose changing the IAEA so that it can help with implementing PALs (permissive action links). PALs would help secure materials due the fact that they would complement the current security measures which usually are comprised of guards, guns, and gates (3Gs).
This would be a good area for the IAEA to pursue since this is usually a bilateral issue which requires great power patronage. For example, the US has quietly supplied PALs to Pakistan. In addition, after France developed nuclear weapons, the US and France played a version of "21 questions" to help France secure its materials without providing France the ability to improve their arsenal. The problem with this approach is that it is reactive and only secures material once it weaponized. The IAEA could step in once a country decides to pursue nuclear activity. If that country decides to share its technology or materials, the world would know that it is a cognizant decision that would require and explanation.
Raub: Why do you think that an independent nuclear regulatory commission is unfeasible? I agree that the IAEA could be more proactive in promoting the peaceful cooperation in the development of nuclear technologies. I like the idea regarding changing the IAEA to be more active in promoting nuclear security rather than just monitoring various countries' progresses.
Combining both of your ideas, do you think it is possible for the IAEA to become an independent third-party commission given authority by the rest of the world to shepherd developing countries into having safe and controlled nuclear energy/weapons programs? In regards to energy this would allow the IAEA and developing country to find locations in the country where these plants can be placed most safely in a health, environmental, and infrastructural sense. In regards to nuclear weapons this could be how the IAEA promotes PALs, safe storage practices, and the philosophy of minimal deterrence in general. Furthermore if this version of the IAEA were to become a respected and legitimate third-party actor, it could act discretely and work privately with developing countries so as to make those countries more comfortable with implementing the IAEA's recommendations. Essentially they would be a guardian for the world, disinterested in any political squabbles going on in the world and existing only to help the world by promoting the peaceful and safe development of nuclear technologies.
Jon: I think you just described what the IAEA does and was designed to do. The IAEA does report to the UN Security Council and General Assembly, but is an autonomous organization. I think it is a respected, successful, and legitimate third-party actor.
The issue I see with the "guardian of the world" role is that current nuclear issues are inseparable from politics. Take any of the current nuclear debates: the US demands things from Iran that the US itself would never agree to allow, and that the IAEA does not require, but the IAEA, being the regulatory body, must moderate. This is not an issue of regulation, but rather of international politics between the US and Iran. Further, IAEA membership (as well as NPT ratification) is not mandatory for any country; as much as we dislike it, North Korea retains the right to develop nuclear weapons. The IAEA also encourages debate; once a year the General Conference meets to discuss policies and problems. It would be nice if a regulatory body could be just that, ensuring safety and promoting cooperation, but nuclear issues are inevitably wrapped in political controversy.
Drew: This is a good point. The IAEA is only as benevolent or as strong as its members permit. Instead of considering how the IAEA can be improved, maybe we should consider how its member states can improve their actions.
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