With the world’s attention diverted yet again, this time by the collapse of the myth of the Arab Spring as a democratic awakening, Iran’s nuclear program powers ahead. Again, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has demonstrated its inability, even under new and better leadership, to constrain rogue states determined to possess nuclear weapons. After the IAEA passed another toothless resolution in mid-September, Iran’s ambassador to the agency complained that the measure would “only complicate the situation and endanger the cooperative environment” between the two sides. And the head of Tehran’s nuclear program claimed that the agency had been infiltrated by terrorists trying to sabotage his work. That is chutzpah.
Born in 1957, the IAEA has two missions: promoting peaceful uses of atomic energy and guarding against the spread of nuclear weapons. Although potentially a significant adjunct to U.S. counter-proliferation efforts, the IAEA, to be effective, requires two essentials: a non-political technical staff that understands its role is to report facts, not to make policy, and member governments that are collectively serious about preventing proliferation. Unique because of the palpable connection between nuclear weapons and world peace, the IAEA, unlike other U.N. specialized agencies, is linked directly to the Security Council. When the Cold War gridlocked the Council, the IAEA’s role shrank.