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UN Week – 1/16/2012

January 23, 2012

This blog entry is written by members of our blogging community and expresses those experts’ views alone.

by John and Douglas Carey

Contents of this issue: ElBaradei and the IAEA.

“My conscience would not allow me to run for the presidency or any position without having a real democratic system that implements the real concepts of democracy, not only its framework,” said by Mohammed ElBaradei  on January 14th.

His announcement brings to mind various images. I can see him sitting at a conference table in the classroom at New York University Law School where I was teaching an international law class. He was a serious student. That was long ago, when he was on the staff of the Egyptian Mission to the United Nations. He won a doctorate in law at NYU.

In more recent years, ElBaradei has distinguished himself as Director General of the International Atomic Agency, the IAEA. Just what that UN specialized agency is and does is not often discussed in detail. So let us do just that.

First, let’s look at the IAEA’s Mission Statement. It says that the IAEA “is an independent intergovernmental, science and technology-based organization, in the United Nations family, that serves as the global focal point for nuclear cooperation;

  • assists its Member States, in the context of social and economic goals, in planning for and using nuclear science and technology for various peaceful purposes, including the generation of electricity, and facilitates the transfer of such technology and knowledge in a sustainable manner to developing Member States;
  • develops nuclear safety standards and, based on these standards, promotes the achievement and maintenance of high levels of safety in applications of nuclear energy, as well as the protection of human health and the environment against ionizing radiation;
  • verifies through its inspection system that States comply with their commitments, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and other non-proliferation agreements, to use nuclear material and facilities only for peaceful purposes.”

The Statute of the IAEA was opened for signature in October 1956 and entered into force upon ratification by 18 states. Its seven authorized functions begin with this: “to encourage and assist research on, and development and practical application of, atomic energy for peaceful uses throughout the world; . . .”

Notably, the Agency is authorized: “5. To establish and administer safeguards designed to ensure that special fissionable material . . . made available by the Agency or at its request or under its supervision or control are not used in such a way as to further any military purpose and to apply safeguards, at the request of the parties, to any bilateral or multilateral arrangement, or at the request of a State, to any of that State’s activities in the field of atomic energy.”

“Special fissionable material” is defined as “plutonium-239, uranium-233, uranium enriched in the isotopes 235 or 233; any material containing one or more of the foregoing; and such other fissionable material as the Board of Governors shall from time to time determine; but the term ‘special fissionable material’ does not include source material.”

“The term ‘source material’ means uranium containing the mixture of isotopes occurring in nature; uranium depleted in the isotope 235; thorium; any of the foregoing in the form of metal, alloy, chemical compound, or concentrate; any other material containing one or more of the foregoing in such concentration as the Board of Governors shall from time to time determine; and such other material as the Board of Governors shall from time to time determine.”

Other provisions of the IAEA Statute provide for on-site inspections. This work requires expertise, and Article VII (C) requires that, “The staff shall include such qualified scientific and technical and other personnel  as may be required to fulfill the objectives and functions of the Agency.”

Needless to say, ElBaradei did not acquire knowledge of such scientific mysteries at NYU Law School. But a manager needs to have the ability to select and administer the work of personnel with skills unknown to him or her. And so it appears to have been with ElBaradei in his successful leadership of the IAEA.

Article VII (F) adds this important caution: “In the performance of their duties, the Director General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any source external to the Agency.” A wise precaution.

ElBaradei hints in his announcement that he is not done with presidential politics, only deferring it until Egypt has constitutionally guaranteed freedom and democracy. I personally hope to see my former student try again.

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