Thursday, March 26, 2009

Election for Head of IAEA

Elections to see who will replace Egyptian Mohamed ElBaradei as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency are at a stalemate so far, locked between Japan's Yukiya Amano and South Africa's Abdul Samad Minty. Although I don't know much about either of the candidates themselves, I believe the choice would result in quite different directions for the IAEA.
A Japanese minister would likely be more concerned with countries interested in developing nuclear weapons capabilities, most prominently North Korea and Iran, and would take a hard line approach with them. For this reason Amano is preferred by the United States. The Bush Administration was frequently frustrated b ElBaradei's more diplomatic and nuanced approach toward Iran and North Korea.
A South African like Minty would probably be more focused on the goal of reducing existing levels of nuclear weapons and arms control measures. South Africa is the only country to have totally given up nuclear weapons (albeit partly because the white apartheid government didn't want to see their black successors have nuclear weapons), and remains a strong player in the Non-Aligned Movement, which actually expressed support for Iran's efforts to achieve nuclear power (though not weapons).
At a conference on over-the-horizon nuclear proliferation I helped run in 2007 a scholar suggested that one thing that might drive South Africa to re-develop nuclear weapons would be to express frustration at the state of the arms control/nonproliferation community, and potentially use them as a bargaining chip for future international treaties. (note, he didn't say this was likely, just possible).
All of this will have a profound impact on the focus and possible success of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty renegotiation. This is one of those small decisions that could have a big impact on world events in the years to come.

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