2003 Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi surprised the world by agreeing to dismantle
his country's secret weapons of mass destruction programs -- including efforts
to build nuclear weapons. He further said Libya would allow inspectors from the
world's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, free rein inside
Libya's decision was hailed as a triumph for the IAEA as well
as the United States and Great Britain, whose negotiators hammered out the deal
in what President George W. Bush called an effort of "quiet diplomacy."
The Libyan agreement also underscored the IAEA's reliance
on its 137 member nations to help accomplish its mission of peacefully stopping
nuclear weapons proliferation while aiding nuclear development for civilian use.
IAEA member nations take the lead in negotiations and make and enforce decisions
regarding violators of nonproliferation agreements.
successes like Libya, the 50-year effort to control proliferation by diplomatic
means has proven to be an extremely difficult task. Iran and North Korea, for
example, both signed agreements to disband or curtail nuclear development only
to be found secretly violating them.
IAEA efforts to convince nations to enter into nonproliferation
agreements and adhere to strict monitoring and verification have been described
as a classic "carrot and stick" scenario.
To join the IAEA nations must
sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and agree to cooperate with IAEA inspections.
As part of this pact, regimes can often expect warmer trade relations, economic
aid, and assistance with nuclear development aimed at peaceful purposes.
example, officials from European Union nations recently promised Iran a civilian-use
nuclear reactor, atomic fuel and various trade benefits in exchange for a promise
of full compliance with IAEA regulations. Those negotiations are ongoing.
that violate IAEA rules face the possibility of trade penalties, economic sanctions,
political ostracization and even military action.
The United States and
other nations have imposed economic sanctions on North Korea in response to its
pursuit of nuclear development and the IAEA has referred the matter to the U.N.
Security Council for possible further steps.
The United States cited U.N.
Security Council resolutions that authorized "serious consequences" when it invaded
Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein over Iraq's non-compliance with weapons agreements
and earlier resolutions.
Some nations have sought to avoid the penalties associated with violations and
reap the benefits of compliance by pursuing proscribed nuclear activities in secret.
A nation may also decide that its perceived interest in pursuing nuclear development
outweighs the risk of being caught.
Iran signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,
a requirement for IAEA membership, in 1970. But in 2002 Iranian officials admitted
to having run a secret uraniaum enrichment program capable of providing fuel for
nuclear weapons. Negotiators from Great Britain, Germany and France have since
been unsuccessful in their effort to work out an agreement that would bring Iran
back into compliance with international regulations and Iran has dismissed an
After signing several nonproliferation agreements in the
1990s, North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had re-started its nuclear development
program and ordered all IAEA inspectors out of the country. In January 2003, North
Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT. Since the break, negotiators from
South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China have unsuccessfully tried
to bring North Korea back into compliance.
South Africa, often cited as
a diplomatic success story, decided independently to secretly begin and later
end a nuclear weapons program. South Africa signed the NPT in 1991 but did not
fully admit to violations until 1993 when IAEA inspectors found evidence of past
weapons activity. South Africa said it had completely dismantled its own weapons
program by 1989. Since 1993 the nation has been cooperative with IAEA inspectors.
Complicated Diplomatic Picture
The IAEA's "carrot and stick" method
is an ostensibly simple method of rewarding cooperation and punishing non-compliance.
But the individual interests of the member and non-member nations have often complicated
The agency's inspectorate reports violations to its
35 member governing board, which is elected from the General Conference of all
member nations. The board has the power to take action against violators such
as agreeing to impose economic sanctions or referring violators to the U.N. Security
Council for further action, including harsher sanctions or even the use of force.
However, economic and political alliances among nations sometimes
shape IAEA and U.N. decision-making. In the ongoing case of Iran's
nuclear programs, some observers have said it has avoided a referral
to the U.N. Security Council because of its trade relations.
of the board, including the three European nations that cut the deal with Tehran
and Russia, want to sell technology to Iran, they want to normalize trade with
Iran. And Iran knows this," arms expert Paul Leventhal told the NewsHour in November
Some nations or groups of nations have also acted independently, banding
together outside the aegis of the IAEA or the United Nations to impose sanctions
against those they consider dangerous. All European Union trade pacts, for example,
include a nonproliferation clause.
Many nations also monitor nuclear development
through their own intelligence agencies, independent of IAEA inspections. International
inspectors have criticized the United States' and other nations' intelligence
services for not sharing more information on Iraq and North Korea.
In the case of Iraq, U.N. inspectors, including IAEA chief Mohammed
ElBaradei, cited troubling but inconclusive evidence regarding
Iraq's weapons programs and were calling for more time to do inspections
when the United States invaded in March 2003. Meanwhile, U.S.
intelligence agencies had informed President George W. Bush that
Iraq likely had weapons of mass destruction -- CIA Director George
Tenet reportedly said the evidence against Iraq was a "slam dunk."
To date no major weapons caches have been found, but separate
reports from inspectors appointed by President Bush have said
Iraq intended to reconstitute its nuclear and chemical weapons
As the Iraq war and the war on terrorism have shown,
armed conflicts and international political confrontations can also affect nuclear
development activities and complicate diplomacy. In January 2002, a few months
after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, President George
W. Bush said Iraq, Iran and North Korea constituted a dangerous "axis of evil"
that had supported terrorism. Both Iran and North Korea later cited the president's
statement along with the U.S. invasion of Iraq when defending their proscribed
nuclear development activities.
the Haves and Have Nots
The U.S. face-off with Iran and North Korea
highlights another major conflict in nuclear diplomacy. Clashes have developed
between nations that already possess nuclear arms and technology and those that
do not. Some of the latter with nuclear ambitions have complained they seek the
capability for the same reasons those already in the nuclear "club" did: a source
of renewable energy and a viable military deterrent.
The IAEA's ElBaradei has called this a clash between
the "haves" and "have-nots" and warned such a dispute was not a sustainable situation.
ElBaradei has called for a nuclear free zone in the Middle East and for the eventual
movement toward complete disarmament of all nations.
"As long as countries
feel insecure for whatever reason they still continue to try to proliferate and
develop weapons of mass destruction," ElBaradei told Newsweek in May 2004. "We
should not lose sight of the big picture, which is a system of global security
in which countries should not try to develop weapons of mass destruction."
recent report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the haves
and have-nots situation will inevitably result in instability and urged all IAEA
member nations to look seriously at the goal of universal nuclear disarmament.
Other conflicts have come from varying interpretations of the
NPT and other nonproliferation agreements. The treaty allows for
development of nuclear technology for civilian purposes. However,
experts have said ostensibly benign activities can bring a nation
perilously close to weapons capability. Iran has steadfastly maintained
that its nuclear activities are for civilian purposes.
ElBaradei has indicated that
there is a fine line between military and civilian nuclear programs, calling it
"mostly a question of intention". ElBaradei has also warned that strict monitoring
and inspections are the only reliable method for determining a nation's nuclear
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States has led an effort
known as the Proliferation Security Initiative that aims to further strengthen
restrictions and monitoring on all nuclear activity that could lead to weapons
production. Some of these efforts have been opposed by developing nations that
claim they go too far and will have an adverse affect on civilian programs.
the peaceful use of nuclear technology with the need to stop proliferation presents
a high stakes challenge to the IAEA and the international community. The IAEA
was born at the United Nations during the height of Cold War concerns over the
destructive power of the nuclear weapons face off between the United States and
the Soviet Union.
ElBaradei has said that a similarly grave threat exists
today, saying the world is now faced with the threat of the proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction
"It's exactly like terrorism," ElBaradei told the NewsHour
in March 2004. "There is no winner, there's no loser. It's either all we will
win or everybody would lose."