The ElBaradei Legacy
As the International Atomic Energy Agency's director-general, Mohamed ElBaradei stood up to the United States, prevented a widening Middle East conflict, and won the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet as he prepares to leave, the future of the agency is in doubt.
Editor's note: Many sources who spoke to the authors declined to be quoted for attribution. In the interest of reducing speculation about their identities, the editors decided that all sources interviewed for this article should be allowed to remain anonymous.
On June 4, 1997, at the end of a closed-door meeting held on the fifth floor of the Vienna International Centre, the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Board of Governors unanimously selected Mohamed ElBaradei as its next director-general. Nine months prior, when Hans Blix, the Swedish diplomat who had led the IAEA since 1981, told the board he was leaving, its chairman said he would look for a replacement from a developing country. But it wasn't expected that ElBaradei, a shy, circumspect assistant deputy director-general from Egypt, who avoided public controversy and who worked in Blix's shadow for 12 years, would succeed him. Thus, for many months, other candidates were in the spotlight. At the same time, however, little progress was made, as most of the advanced nuclear countries were waiting for the developing states to agree on a single candidate from their ranks.
Behind the scenes, the United States discreetly influenced the selection process, and by early 1997, Washington favored ElBaradei. "During the fall of 1996, we were looking in vain for a developing-world candidate we were comfortable with," says a former U.S. official. A key player in Washington's decision to support ElBaradei was U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA John Ritch, who, according to a former U.S. diplomat, told officials at the State Department and
Pentagon that ElBaradei "has knowledge, experience, and credibil¬ity. He's a guy in whom we can have confidence."
But that confidence was short-lived. When ElBaradei steps down as IAEA director-general in November-after three terms and 12 years of service-he will be leaving an agency and position that he significantly changed. Deep disagreements he had with Washington about the Iraq War, the Iranian nuclear program, and, more generally, the conduct of international affairs, encouraged him to depart from the agency's established ways. In fact, on that June day in 1997 when he was elected director-general, few could have predicted how assertive ElBaradei would be in global nuclear affairs over the course of his tenure. "Events can make the man, and that's what happened in Mohamed's case," says one long-time ElBaradei associate.
Calm before the storm.
Mohamed ElBaradei was born in Cairo on June 17, 1942, just as the world's first clandestine nuclear weapons program was getting started in the New Mexico desert. His mother has described him as having been lauded by his teachers and having been athletic enough to win a national squash championship. Young ElBaradei wanted to be like his father, a respected Egyptian lawyer; as a result, he enrolled at the University of Cairo's law school in the late 1950s. It was an era of revolution, and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's ideas of Arab socialism had taken hold of the region. ElBaradei graduated from law school in 1962, amid a wave of decolonization and on the eve of a number of devastating Mideast wars. At that time, the University of Cairo was attracting the region's future leaders: Gazi Al-Quasabi, now a powerful Saudi politician, graduated the year before ElBaradei, and it's possible that ElBaradei caught a glimpse of a young Saddam Hussein strolling the school's corridors during Hussein's first year of college.
ElBaradei later earned a PhD in international law at New York University, and when he returned to Egypt, he rose through its foreign ministry. During the 1970s, he served as a special assistant to Egypt's foreign minister and played an important role in the runup to the 1978 Camp David talks, which led to Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. In 1980, he left Cairo's diplomatic service to work for the United Nations in New York. He joined the IAEA in 1984, and by 1993 Blix had assigned him to the Department of External Relations and Policy Coordination-an IAEA branch that would grow in influence as the agency faced ever greater and more complex challenges and crises. These included the Chernobyl accident in 1986; the revelation of Hussein's clandestine nuclear weapons program in 1991; a showdown over IAEA verification in North Korea in the early 1990s; and South Africa's declaration in 1993 that its apartheid regime had secretly built nuclear weapons.
Through all of these developments, sources say, Blix relied upon ElBaradei for guidance and his legal, political, and technical knowledge of nonproliferation, arms control, and verification. But the two men's personalities couldn't have been more different. Former associates describe Blix as garrulous, eager to inject himself into internal matters, forgiving, tolerant, and comfortable with the press. Conversely, El-Baradei was considered cool, intellectually brilliant, somewhat bookish, ill at ease with journalists, and, occasionally, blunt.
The IAEA that Blix inherited in 1981 from his fellow countryman Sigvard Ek-lund was a relatively little-known technical agency associated with the United Nations. Eklund, according to a former IAEA legal affairs director, didn't believe in nuclear safeguards or verification. Under Blix, that changed. When Iraq's nuclear weapons program was discovered in 1991, Blix responded by building up the agency's Department of Safeguards and pushing inspectors to shift their focus from accounting for declared nuclear materials to searching for clandestine nuclear activities. Blix also began preparing the IAEA for a possible resurgence in nuclear power based on growing concerns about carbon-dioxide emissions and global warming. In addition, he expanded the agency's role in nuclear safety and technical cooperation.
In his first few months as director-general, ElBaradei tried to assure IAEA member states that his tenure would be one of continuity. Addressing the IAEA General Conference in September 1997, he said global warming led agency experts to conclude that future increases in nuclear power generation would be justified. Under his leadership, he added, the IAEA wouldn't undertake radically new missions and would fulfill its nuclear safety, verification, and sustainable development goals: "For international organizations to enjoy the confidence and support of their members, they have to be responsive to their needs; show concrete achievements; conduct their activities in a cost-effective manner; and respect a process of equitable representation, transparency, and open dialogue." Recalls one IAEA governor, "These were all things that we wanted to hear."
But ElBaradei also was keen to position his agency to be a bigger player in nuclear verification. ElBaradei told the 2000 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference that he wanted the agency to go beyond routine safeguards, promoting a leading role for the IAEA in verifying the destruction of weapons-origin fissile material and proposing an arms control verification fund to finance efforts that ensured fissile materials were indeed being shifted to peaceful uses. In addition, ElBaradei pursued a role for the IAEA in a proposed Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). He called such a treaty, "A pragmatic way to move forward toward nuclear arms control and nuclear disarmament," and he offered IAEA support toward "the achievement of this urgent and important goal."
By the end of his first term, ElBaradei had seized the moral high ground on global disarmament issues to a far greater degree than any of his predecessors. And while a former State Department official says some in the Clinton administration "were a little apprehensive about [ElBaradei's] disarmament message, relations with the IAEA could be described as business as usual."
Enter George W. Bush.
On January 20, 2001, George W. Bush became the forty-third president of the United States. That develpment, more than any other, influenced the rest of ElBaradei's IAEA tenure. According to a former U.S. official, "Bush and the people he came in with were basically allergic to everything ElBaradei and the IAEA seemed to them to stand for. The Bush people hated the United Nations; they hated multilateralism; they considered the IAEA to be just another U.N. agency; and they seemed to believe that ElBaradei was some kind of diplomatic front man for Egypt."
Shortly after taking office, Bush instructed his aides to look for a way to overthrow Hussein. This effort picked up after 9/11, when Bush administration officials began insinuating that Iraq had restarted its nuclear weapons program. As evidence, they cited intelligence reports that Baghdad had sought to buy uranium oxide and appeared once again to be developing gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment. Relations between the agency and the United States, according to IAEA diplomats, deteriorated when the IAEA learned in 2002 that the White House had circulated an internal talking-points memo that erroneously suggested that the agency had obtained satellite imagery proving that Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program.
On January 28, 2003, Bush reiterated the allegation that Iraq had sought to obtain uranium oxide from Africa in his State of the Union address. In February, Secretary of State Colin Powell briefed the U.N. Security Council about Iraq's weapons program, including the allegation that seized aluminum tubes were evidence that Baghdad had resumed uranium enrichment research. A month later, ElBaradei disputed these claims before the Security Council, maintaining that there was likely no connection between the tubes and centrifuge manufacturing. He also said that British documents that were the basis for the uranium-oxide allegation were forgeries. Blix recalled in his 2004 memoir that when he heard ElBaradei label the British documents forgeries, he thought, "Wow!"
Immediately thereafter, according to Blix's memoir, the IAEA came under fire from senior Bush officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. ElBaradei was undaunted, however, resisting increasingly desperate attempts by the
United States and Britain to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "He had the balls to go to the Security Council and tell them that the most powerful country in the world was wrong and that evidence was fabricated," says a former Western government official and consultant to ElBaradei.
Ignoring ElBaradei's plea to give him six months to prove that Hussein didn't have an active nuclear weapons program, Bush began the Iraq War on March 20, 2003. In the months that followed, the U.S. military quickly overran the country, capturing thousands of members of Hussein's government and finally, in December, the Iraqi dictator himself. Anticipating an apparent easy victory, "regime change" advocates in the Bush administration once again looked to the IAEA during the second half of 2003 to justify increasing pressure on another member of its "axis of evil."
On to Iran.
As early as mid-2002, the IAEA received information from member states that Iran was building a centrifuge plant at Natanz. The agency first visited the site in early 2003, and shortly thereafter, it began routinely reporting to the Board of Governors on what developed into a full-blown investigation by the Department of Safeguards. Nearly from the outset of this investigation, Washington urged the IAEA to cite Iran for noncom-pliance with its safeguards agreement. But the IAEA resisted external pressure, and the European Union (EU) became worried that Washington would act unilaterally against Iran. "From June  onward, it began to look like a replay of Iraq all over again," a former EU official says.
During the second half of 2003, ElBaradei was deeply troubled that the IAEA's investigation of Iran's nuclear activities, which was establishing that Iran had deceived the IAEA about its nuclear program for 18 years, could serve as a pretext for a U.S. invasion. Says one member of the Zedillo Commission, which ElBaradei set up in 2008 to chart the IAEA's future course, "[ElBaradei] was dealing with a situation that looked like it could escalate quickly. Bush had included Iran in his axis of evil list. No one knew how Iran would react. North Korea [in 2002] had thrown out the IAEA. [ElBaradei] saw his primary task as trying to convince Iran to allow his inspectors to stay in the country." The Zedillo Commission member adds, "[ElBaradei] began telling people that an invasion of Iran would be a worst-possible outcome."
All the while, the IAEA continued its investigation of Iran. It took three years for the Board of Governors to cite Tehran for non-compliance and to refer the matter to the Security Council after the 2003 IAEA finding that it had routinely failed to declare its nuclear activities. During this period, ElBaradei was blamed in some quarters for going soft on Iran, particularly in Washington. "He appeared to be pulling his punches," says one former Western ambassador who knows ElBaradei well. "It was up to him to tell the Board of Governors that the IAEA had to enforce the rules of the game that it lives by. He appeared not to have done that."
According to sources directly involved in the Iranian-IAEA deliberations, however, ElBaradei wasn't directly responsible for the delays in bringing Iran's infractions to the Security Council's attention. That, they say, was chiefly the work of France, Germany, Britain, and especially EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. The European powers launched a diplomatic initiative in 2003 to coax Tehran to halt its uranium enrichment program and consent to greater cooperation with IAEA inspectors in return for not being cited for noncompliance and not being referred to the Security Council. The three EU countries, a former ElBaradei aide says, took that step "in part to put them on the map in Iran" as opposed to the United States, which appeared to be mopping up in neighboring Iraq. Did ElBaradei directly encourage the Europeans in this regard during closed-door bilateral discussions? "I don't know, but sometimes it looked that way," a former U.S. official says.
Many sources point out that a decision to cite and refer Iran to the Security Council was up to the Board of Governors, not the director-general. Says one former IAEA official who has been critical of ElBaradei's record at the agency, "In late 2003, we missed a chance [to crack down on Iran]. But there were good [diplomatic] reasons why that didn't happen. It wasn't because of ElBaradei or the [IAEA] secretariat." Other sources say that while Washington kept pressing the IAEA to refer Iran, ElBaradei and his closest advisers were thinking ahead about what would happen once the Security Council was informed. Aides in the agency's Department of External Relations and Policy Coordination believed that Russia and China "would not agree to sanction Iran," one official says. "Iran could then ignore the United Nations, and we'd be back to square one, maybe without any inspectors in Iran."
Nonetheless, Bush administration officials objected that certain specific statements and actions by ElBaradei damaged efforts to halt Iran's enrichment program. Some nonproliferation advocates who were highly critical of Bush tell us that they agree with that assessment. U.S. officials complained that carefully worded IAEA reports to the Board of Governors and public statements by the director-general suggested that the agency had concluded Tehran didn't have a nuclear weapons program, at a time when France, Israel, Britain, and the United States believed the opposite.
In August 2007, a further development led to renewed criticism of ElBaradei- Iran and the IAEA agreed to a controversial "work plan" that would set a timetable to end the agency's investigation of Tehran's nuclear program. "For a lot of U.S. officials and some others," says one former U.S. diplomat, "[ElBaradei] crossed the Rubicon on this issue." The Institute of Science and International Security in Washington, a non-governmental organization that had strongly supported the IAEA's mission in Iran, concluded that the work plan set "an unfortunate precedent [in asserting that] there are 'no other remaining issues and ambiguities regarding Iran's past nuclear program and activities.' . . . The document also refers to [the] closing of files, suggesting that the IAEA or its member states could be blocked from raising the issue again, even if significant new information emerged. The idea of 'closing files' violates fundamental safeguards principles."
Controversial as it was, the work plan should be put into context. The IAEA serves its member states, of which Iran is one. The IAEA cannot capture and hold territory or parachute its inspectors into a country's facilities. Often, it has to accept suboptimal solutions for tactical reasons. With its authority limited by covenants and bilateral agreements, in crises, the choice at times can be simple-imperfect verification or no verification at all. Faced with these options, according to ElBaradei's advocates, he had no choice but to accept the work plan. One member of the Zedillo Commission, who admits that Iran had "basically drafted" the work plan, also insists that "it did result in the IAEA getting access to a lot of interviews [in Iran] and a lot of documents."
Concerns that an IAEA referral of Tehran to the Security Council could trigger U.S.-led military action gradually abated as Washington became bogged down in Iraq after 2003. By 2007, some IAEA officials were concerned that Israel-supported by the United States-might attack Iranian nuclear fuel-cycle installations that Tehran refused to idle in disregard of a 2006 Security Council order. Instead, in September 2007, Israel attacked a site in Syria called Al Kibar where Israel and the United States had concluded a secret plutonium production reactor was nearly completed.
A secret reactor in Syria?
After Israel bombed the site at Al Kibar, ElBaradei upbraided the United States and Israel for failing to provide the IAEA with intelligence they had obtained on Syria's nuclear program. (U.S. lawmakers were the first to be briefed in March 2008.) As he had done previously in Iraq and Iran, ElBaradei assigned the Department of Safeguards to probe allegations of Syria's undeclared nuclear activity.
Some sources at the IAEA suggest that ElBaradei's approach to Syria was informed by his support for an ongoing diplomatic initiative, involving Israel, Turkey, and the EU, to urge Damascus to abandon its support for Iran and for Islamic fundamentalists in the region. The IAEA successfully negotiated access to the site to take environmental samples. But for nearly a year after the attack, sources suggest, the IAEA secretariat discreetly urged board members to keep the matter off the agenda to buy time. During this period, they say, ElBaradei conferred with senior government officials whose countries were involved in protracted talks aimed at securing Syria's political realignment.
By September 2008, according to Western officials, the United States and its allies on the IAEA board made sure the Syrian issue would be formally discussed. But in late 2008, ElBaradei and the Bush administration clashed yet again over a Syrian request for technical assistance from the agency to pursue a nuclear power program. While the IAEA's Department of Technical Cooperation was prepared to provide the assistance, according to agency officials, Washington fiercely objected on the grounds that the country was suspected of having a clandestine nuclear weapons program. One U.S. official involved in preparations for a November board meeting in Vienna privately complained to us at the time that ElBaradei was meddling in opposition to U.S. interests over yet another nuclear program in the Middle East. At the meeting, ElBaradei angrily defended Syria's right to technical assistance on the grounds that neither the IAEA secretariat nor the Board of Governors had determined that Syria had violated its safeguard obligations.
As the Department of Safeguards analyzed its Syrian samples during the second half of 2008, it became clear that if the IAEA's analysts were going to achieve a breakthrough, they would have to return to sites in Syria. A senior ElBaradei aide tells us that in September 2008 the IAEA decided against requesting a special inspection-permitted under Syria's safeguards agreement with the IAEA-because the agency had yet to find suspicious nuclear material in its probe of the site. But even when tiny particles of processed oxidized uranium were found in the samples shortly thereafter, no special inspection was openly requested. A senior U.S. official tells us that Washington plans to raise this issue with the IAEA again this fall.
Politics and the prize.
ElBaradei's transformation from a U.N. technocrat into a highly visible international figure was assured when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. The prize was awarded both to the director-general and the IAEA. The dual award, diplomats say, reflected recognition by the Nobel committee that most of the work the IAEA performs goes on without any real contribution by its news-making leader. It also shielded the committee from attacks that the award was politically motivated to embarrass Bush. With the prize in hand, ElBaradei was even more willing to speak out on nuclear disarmament, equity in international affairs, and the future of the Middle East.
"It was crystal clear that he got the prize because he stood up to the United States on Iraq. He didn't compromise, and he didn't waver," a U.N. disarmament adviser says. "He had established that the credibility of an international verification agency was greater than that of [the U.S.] national intelligence services." A former aide asserts that ElBaradei's career "can be divided into two parts: before and after he received the prize." Others with long personal experience of ElBaradei maintain that such a verdict is too stark. One former ambassador says that even under Blix, ElBaradei "was keen to expand the role of the agency. He'd make a far-flung proposal, and then Blix would whistle him back. Mohamed always was more willing to intervene in a new direction than Blix."
With increased public awareness came increased media scrutiny. Soon after ElBaradei's election in 1997, the IAEA tried hard to control its public image, in part by providing privileged access to selected journalists and news outlets. Occasionally-as in 2005 when a BBC reporter whom the IAEA trusted aired some salty remarks by an IAEA inspector in Iran-the IAEA's aggressive media strategy caused diplomatic problems. At other times, the agency effectively leaked information to targeted reporters in retaliation for the Bush administration's campaign to discredit ElBaradei. "The irony is that ElBaradei was able to make an impact in part because he operated very much like the Bush White House-there was a lot of secrecy; he didn't feel there were many people he could trust. There was relatively little consultation with others, including with some deputies and department heads," one Zedillo Commission panelist says.
"There was a lot of talk at the agency about the need for transparency, but in some areas transparency was in short supply."
Supporting the U.S.-India nuclear deal.
In March 2006, five months after he won the Nobel, ElBaradei announced that he favored a highly controversial U.S.-India nuclear deal, which terminated sanctions on nuclear trade with India that had been enforced since Delhi tested a nuclear explosive device in 1974. In exchange, India put a limited number of its civilian nuclear power reactors and other nonstrategic installations under IAEA safeguards.
ElBaradei's advocacy for the U.S.-India deal, "was by far the most controversial position [he] ever took," according to one of his advisers. In 1998, ElBaradei had reacted to India's nuclear weapon tests by admonishing that more nuclear weapons would make the world less secure. But in 2006, ElBaradei reasoned that the U.S.-India deal "would bring India closer [to] efforts to consolidate the nonproliferation regime [and] assure India of reliable access to nuclear technology and nuclear fuel."
"That position was courageous and correct," says the U.N. disarmament adviser. "He understood it was important after all these years to get the world's biggest democracy inside the nonprolifer-ation system."
Unlike some of his other positions on international nuclear issues, ElBaradei's advocacy for the deal didn't receive unqualified support from his senior aides. Also, it was rumored that he had traded his support in return for Washington's backing in 2005 for a third term as director-general. (Leading Bush administration officials had let it be known that they were seeking an alternative candidate.) A former U.S. official firmly denies this was the case, however: "None of the U.S. people who were negotiating [the U.S.-India deal] had any connection to the IAEA or ElBaradei. It was done in secret, so he couldn't have known about it." Moreover, he adds, "ElBaradei had far too much integrity" to hinge his reelection on secret support for a U.S. foreign-policy initiative. Sources suggest that ElBaradei's firm support for the deal was intended in part to demonstrate his goodwill toward Washington despite the climate of bitterness, which perhaps reached its climax in late 2004 when it was revealed that the United States had tapped his phone. "He didn't want to be seen at the end of his career as anti-American," the former U.S. official says.
Many nonproliferation advocates, echoing U.S. complaints that ElBaradei's actions and statements in other matters went beyond the role of a U.N. technical agency head, charge that on the U.S.India deal ElBaradei took a position on a sensitive issue that wasn't for the director-general to decide. Says one former IAEA official: "He should have said nothing. His support damaged the NPT. [He] objected to double standards in international nuclear affairs, but the Indian deal is a glaring case where he encouraged a double stan¬dard. His advocacy intimidated a lot of states from opposing it."
A bigger agenda.
As the Nobel committee noted in 2005, most of the day-to-day IAEA activities take place without any input from the director-general, and because of that "there was a silent continuity [between the Blix and ElBaradei eras] covering a huge amount of the work going on around here," says one aide who worked for both leaders. Nonetheless, ElBaradei launched initiatives that followed directly from his conviction that the nuclear world order must change and that it, in fact, was changing. For instance, ElBaradei believed that population growth, along with a demand for an energy source that wouldn't increase carbon emissions and exacerbate climate change, meant that nuclear power seriously would expand in the future. (IAEA estimates project growth of as much as 95 percent by 2030.) Under ElBaradei, the IAEA made changes in the agency's nuclear safety and nuclear energy departments to meet future expectations that scores of developing countries would want assistance in setting up nuclear power infrastructures that were safe and accountable. The IAEA's experience with Iran, followed by revelations that A. Q. Khan in Pakistan had secretly spread that country's uranium enrichment know-how to a host of other countries, prompted ElBaradei to call for the establishment of multilateral fuel-cycle centers, which would allow countries to build and fuel nuclear power reactors without developing sensitive uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies that could be used to build nuclear weapons. And in the aftermath of 9/11, ElBaradei created a new nuclear security program at the IAEA that is responsible for improving international efforts to physically protect the world's nuclear installations and nuclear materials against theft or attack.
There also were ambitious changes in the IAEA's technical cooperation program to phase out activities that were becoming marginally less effective and to shift resources elsewhere, such as into disease prevention. Finally, ElBaradei followed through on Blix's plan to fundamentally change the agency's safeguards culture, launching a program in 1998 to establish "integrated safeguards," which linked states' existing comprehensive safeguard agreements to new commitments expressed in the Additional Protocol, a more intrusive instrument introduced in 1997 that permits the IAEA greater access to member states' nuclear activities. Some of these changes were resisted by members of the nuclear power establishment and diplomats who believed in incremental change.
ElBaradei had no illusions that his plans would be realized without a considerable increase in IAEA funding. He is credited with having convinced member states in 2003 to increase the agency's budget 10 percent-it had previously been restricted to zero growth since the 1980s. That said, ElBaradei has not succeeded in persuading member states to endorse his enlarged vision for the agency. According to the IAEA's own data concerning the volume of work it will have to accomplish in the next two decades, unless member states agree to provide substantially more resources, it will not be able to satisfactorily fulfill its existing mission-let alone the enhanced global role that the outgoing director-general has articulated. Specifically, the Zedillo Commission's conclusion that the agency would require double its present financing by 2020 wasn't supported by member states. In July, ElBaradei expressed deep personal disappointment that board members didn't approve an 11-percent budget increase. He said he regretted the "bastardization of an international organization that is supposed to be a spearhead of peace and security." At roughly the same time, non-aligned and developing states balked at allowing the IAEA secretariat to move forward on several fuel-bank proposals. ElBaradei and his aides had been pursuing this goal since at least 2002, when he published a widely read editorial in the Economist that outlined his vision for the future of the nuclear fuel cycle, which included fuel banks. Some IAEA staffers reacted to the rejection with bitterness. "This project was a gift to the developing world; they just didn't understand that," says one IAEA official.
The IAEA after ElBaradei.
As ElBaradei's tenure reaches its close, a deep and troubling divide has opened up on the IAEA Board of Governors between advanced nuclear states, including most of the states with nuclear weapons, and developing and non-aligned IAEA member states that make up a majority of the membership. On highly publicized issues such as Iran and Syria, consensus- essential to the demonstration of firm political will by the board- has evaporated. Once, decision making had taken place in a climate of unanimity. But after the IAEA's confrontation with the United States over Iraq and the Iranian nuclear program, sources say, the willingness of board members to compromise on critical issues has disappeared. A few sources assert that ElBaradei contributed to the loss of board consensus by hammering away on the need for fairness and equity in international nuclear matters-such as the nuclear weapon states responsibility to disarm as called for in the NPT. But most sources-including some former U.S. diplomats-tell us that it was the Bush administration's unilateral approach to issues that poisoned many board deliberations, not actions taken by ElBa-radei. Others blame the lack of boardroom agreement on the failure of member states to adjust to a multipolar world after the Cold War's superpower standoff ended.
For their part, disarmament advocates strongly endorse ElBa-radei's record, and some are worried that the next director-general won't continue his activist agenda. "In the next 10 years there could be multilateral disarmament negotiations, and in five years, a FMCT deal. But without a leader at the IAEA with ElBaradei's political commitment to these issues, that may not happen," warns one concerned advocate.
When the Board of Governors began looking for a successor to ElBaradei last fall, most advanced nuclear states deliberately sought a candidate who would scale back the IAEA's ambitions, diplomats from these countries tell us. They settled on Yukiya Amano, Japan's ambassador to the IAEA, a career diplomat not known for taking risks or assuming a high profile. Most non-aligned and developing countries supported Abdul Samad Minty, a South African nuclear diplomat who was intensely opposed by most advanced nuclear members. Unlike previous board elections, the 2009 contest was acrimonious and Amano was elected in June by a mere one-vote majority.
In July, Amano tried to reassure member states that didn't endorse him that he would heed their interests and that he wouldn't emphasize the nonproliferation agenda of advanced nuclear countries to the detriment of other states' development goals. The negative reception by developing states to ElBaradei's fuel-cycle initiative underscores just how many of these countries have a deep-seated fear that additional nonproliferation initiatives are intended to prevent them from enjoying the benefits of nuclear technology. It will be difficult for Amano to restore consensus, but if the IAEA is to fulfill its current mission-to say nothing of additional responsibilities-rebuilding trust on the board must be his top priority.
Without that effort, and unless it translates into greater political and financial support, ElBaradei's Nobel Prize may be seen in hindsight as the IAEA's high point before it began to decline. If Amano and the Board of Governors fail, ElBaradei's lasting legacy may be as a leader who could express a vision for a transformed and empowered IAEA, but couldn't find a path to realize it.
Andreas Persbo is the acting executive director of the Verification Research, Training, and Information Centre, or VERTIC. He holds a law degree from Stockholm University and has studied political science, economics, sociology, and anthropogeography at Orebro University.
In the 1990s, he served with the Swedish contingent of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon and the U.N. Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia. Mark Hibbs is an editor for Nucleonics Week and Nuclear Fuel, covering the Asia-Pacific and European regions. He has an undergraduate and master's degree in international economics from Columbia University and Cornell University, respectively. He has written for the Bulletin for almost 20 years on nuclear proliferation and nuclear security issues as they relate to India, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan, and Russia.