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Nuclear Security Today: The Global Context

by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei
18 May 2007 | Madrid, Spain
"Universidad Politecnica de Madrid"

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Earlier this year, four American éminences grises, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, George Shultz and Sam Nunn - all with a wealth of experience in defense and security strategies - declared that reliance on nuclear weapons as a deterrent is becoming "increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective". They called for urgent efforts to achieve a world free from nuclear weapons.

The following week, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that they were moving the hands of their famous Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight. "Not since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki," they reported, "has the world faced such perilous choices."

Between the scientists and the policy makers, the fundamental question that we need to answer has been framed: as an international community, as nations and as individuals, what kind of a world do we want to live in?

Introduction: The Evolving Nuclear Threats

In recent years, nuclear threats have become more dangerous and more complex. Illicit trade in nuclear technology has emerged as a serious concern. Countries have managed to develop clandestine nuclear programmes. Sophisticated extremist groups have demonstrated keen interest in acquiring nuclear weapons.

In parallel, nuclear material and nuclear material production have become harder to control. Energy security concerns and fears of climate change are making nuclear power more attractive. But with that, more countries are seeking to master the nuclear fuel cycle to ensure a supply of nuclear fuel. The concern, however, is that with mastering the fuel cycle - and the ability therefore to enrich uranium or separate plutonium - more and more countries become dangerously close to a nuclear weapons capability.

Then there is the threat of the nuclear weapons that already exist. Roughly 27 000 nuclear warheads remain in the arsenals of nine countries. Strategic reliance on these weapons by these countries and their allies undoubtedly motivates others to pursue them. And naturally, plans to replenish and modernize these stockpiles creates a sense of cynicism among many non-nuclear-weapon States - who perceive an attitude of "do as I say, not as I do".

But at its root, nuclear insecurity is but one aspect of today´s global insecurities. It is not uncommon to see world leaders from every continent wringing their hands over the many threats we are facing as a global community. These threats range from rampant poverty to energy shortages, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the civil war in Iraq, climate change, HIV/AIDS and terrorism. The list goes on.

What is striking is that, almost without exception, these are "threats without borders". They cannot be solved by any one country; by their nature, they demand global responses and collective action.

What is also striking is that these threats are all interconnected. Poverty is often coupled with human rights abuses and lack of good governance. These conditions result in a deep sense of injustice, anger and humiliation - which in turn provides an ideal environment for breeding violence of all types, from extremism to civil and interstate wars. And it is in regions of longstanding conflict and insecurity where countries are driven to pursue nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, in search of power and security.

I have no doubt in my mind that the threat of nuclear weapons — like the threats of poverty, extremism or civil wars — will not go away until we create a new paradigm for international security that recognizes the connectivity between the threats we face, and that takes full account of, and provides remedies for, the insecurities of all countries and peoples.

The Broader Security Challenges

Regrettably, our present security paradigm is blinkered, and has a distorted sense of priorities that lies at the root of many of the threats and insecurities we face.

Forty percent of humanity lives on less than two dollars per day. 850 million people go to bed hungry every night. Experts tell us that 20 000 people - most of them children -— die every day from conditions related to poverty, such as hunger and waterborne diseases. In other words, they are simply too poor to stay alive.

Yet despite these horrible figures, and the dire need for assistance, world governments spend far more on weapons of war than on development assistance. Over 1 trillion dollars is spent annually on armaments, while less than ten percent of that amount, roughly 100 billion dollars, is spent on foreign aid. In addition, many trade barriers make it difficult for developing countries to compete.

Our distorted priorities are also reflected in our uneven approach to the sanctity of human life. In the face of unfolding tragedy, the global community repeatedly comes up short. A glaring example is the Congo War, in which 3.8 million people were killed during the period from 1998 to 2003. Another painful example that is still going on is the tragedy in Darfur, in which hundreds of thousands have died and millions have been displaced, while the international community continues to be unable to reach agreement on the adequacy and composition of the peacekeeping forces that need to be dispatched.

A question that begs an answer is, why do we grieve less for these lost lives than for others? And why then should we expect them to grieve for us? In Iraq, for example, we have an exact count, with names, of every American and British soldier who dies. But comparatively little official effort has been made, until recently, to even count the far higher numbers of Iraqi civilians dying — the estimates range from 50 000 to 700 000 — much less to record their names.

Another sign of distorted priorities is our inability to resolve longstanding regional conflicts like the Middle East, the Korean Peninsula and South Asia. In the Middle East, the subjection of the Palestinian people to 40 years of occupation has only led to increasing polarization and militancy in the Arab and Muslim world. The lack of peace on the Korean Peninsula for over half a century has led, among other things, to increasing distrust and the development by the DPRK of nuclear weapons.

These and other conflicts could be solved. They persist because the international community, despite intermittent efforts, has not made the necessary investments nor mustered the needed resolve to achieve solutions.

The Crossroads

These threats, much like the nuclear threats I outlined earlier, continue to fester, and demand urgent action.

In my view, there are two options. Down one road lies what some are calling a "clash of civilizations" - a clash based on ethnicity, race or religion. Whatever the cause, it is a bleak vision of the future.

The second option involves working towards the establishment of a "Global Village" - a world in which all peoples and nations recognize their common destiny as neighbors on a shared planet, with shared core values, and with equal rights and opportunities.

The Opportunities

It is not too late to choose the second option. Let me outline some strategies and prerequisites for how we can move in that direction.

First, we should pursue strategies not only to create wealth, but also to share the wealth of the planet more equitably. A recent study by the United Nations University found that, as of the year 2000, the richest 1 percent of the world´s population owned 40 percent of the world´s assets. By contrast, the poorest half of humanity owned barely 1 percent of global wealth.

Practical steps could be taken to begin redressing these inequities. In addition to increased aid, we could do much to level the playing field. Every year, the European Union, the United States and Japan in total spend 260 billion dollars on agricultural subsidies. This in effect guarantees that farmers from poor countries are excluded from fair trade competition.

People from developing countries are eager to lift themselves out of poverty through trade. They should be given that chance.

A related strategy is to invest in more advanced science and technology to meet development needs. Cutting edge achievements in areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and information technology hold unprecedented hope for the future. But technology investments normally follow the marketplace - with the result that innovation tends to serve primarily the needs of developed countries. Developing countries often receive scant benefit. More emphasis should be placed on scientific and technological innovation that can address the problems facing the poor parts of the world. Medical remedies to combat malaria and other developing country diseases are but one example. They do not exist because they are not "profitable" investments.

Capacity building in basic science and technology is a prerequisite for helping developing countries address basic needs - to improve access to food, water, energy, healthcare, housing and education. At the IAEA, many of our activities are designed to build the capacities of our Member States in using advanced nuclear techniques for human development.

Let me give you one example.

Food security is among the most challenging problems facing poor countries. Boosting agricultural production requires enhanced crop varieties, effective pest control measures, increased soil fertility, and better soil and water management.

Under national and regional projects, the IAEA helps local scientists and farmers with nuclear techniques that support each of these goals. The idea is not only to boost food production, but also to sustain it while preserving the environment.

In the past five years, in Africa alone, six new varieties of crops have been officially released - plants with higher yield, improved nutrition, and more hardy characteristics for harsh environments. This includes new varieties of sesame in Egypt, cassava in Ghana, wheat in Kenya, banana in Sudan, and finger millet and cotton in Zambia.

Food security is just one area of IAEA assistance. We also help countries build advanced nuclear capacity to manage groundwater resources, combat diseases, improve nutrition, boost industrial productivity, and protect the environment.

Energy is also a major factor in development. Nearly every aspect of human development depends heavily on reliable access to modern energy services.

And the current picture, once again, is one of staggering imbalance. Roughly 1.6 billion people - one quarter of the world´s population - have no access to electricity whatsoever. About 2.4 billion still use biomass for cooking and heating.

To give a perspective: in energy-poor countries like Ethiopia and Eritrea, the per capita electricity consumption is about 50 kilowatt-hours per year. That translates to an average availability of about 6 watts for each citizen - less than enough to power a personal computer. By contrast, here in Spain, electricity is consumed at a rate per capita of 5200 kilowatt-hours per year - roughly 100 times higher.

On the nuclear front, a high percentage of the 442 nuclear power reactors currently in operation are in industrialized countries. However, of the 29 new reactors under construction, 16 are in developing countries.

More and more developing countries are expressing an interest in nuclear power. At the IAEA, we help our members to build capacity in managing their development of the energy sector. The goal is not to promote nuclear power; in fact, in many cases, nuclear is not the preferred option. Rather, we seek to promote the sustainable use of existing energy supplies available to each country, and to increase access to affordable energy services.

But advanced science and technology must also be guarded against misuse. In the nuclear arena, there are a number of aspects that must be strengthened.

On the nuclear security front, we must make it our highest priority to stem the illicit trade in nuclear and radiological materials. This means completing the ongoing work to secure facilities at risk, where such materials are used or stored. It means improving the ability of police forces and border guards to detect smuggling efforts. It means limiting the use of nuclear energy in the civilian sector to low enriched uranium fuel, which cannot as readily be used in weapons.

We should also create a mechanism to assure the supply of nuclear fuel for bona fide users. This would remove the motivation - and the justification - for each country to have its own uranium enrichment or plutonium separation capability. At the IAEA, we are working on developing such a mechanism, through the establishment of an international fuel reserve bank. In the longer term, the goal would be to bring all such operations under multinational control.

The IAEA itself should be strengthened. We play a central role in verifying that nuclear activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes. But our verification authority varies from country to country. The so-called additional protocol — a mechanism developed in the mid-1990s after the discovery of Iraq´s clandestine nuclear programme — gives Agency inspectors better access to look for undeclared nuclear materials and activities. But more than 100 countries still don´t have it in force. We should make it universal.

Our financial resources are also extremely stretched. The IAEA verification budget - the funds with which we are supposed to inspect nuclear activities around the world - amounts to about 130 million dollars. That falls well short of our increasing responsibilities and needs.

With more funds, we could purchase a lot more satellite imagery. We could beef up our laboratories with state-of-the-art capabilities, like fission track particle analysis - to help us track down and pinpoint the nature of undeclared nuclear activities, even long after the fact. We could bring on more inspectors, purchase improved instrumentation, and be more confident about staying ahead of the game technologically.

The political realities of recent years have made clear that IAEA inspections can be a critical component of decisions on war and peace. Making the Agency more effective is therefore critical to international security.

The international community is also in critical need of accelerated efforts on nuclear disarmament. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons requires parties to the Treaty to pursue disarmament negotiations in good faith, as well as negotiations "on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date". But today, 37 years after the Treaty entered into force, virtually all nuclear-weapon States are extending and modernizing their nuclear weapon arsenals, well into the 21st Century. Some even make statements about the possible use of nuclear weapons, or the development of more "usable" nuclear weapons. It is little wonder that many non-nuclear-weapon States are no longer willing to accept as credible the commitment of nuclear-weapon States to their NPT disarmament obligations.

What the weapon States consistently fail to take into account is the impact of their actions. Whether they choose to continue their reliance on nuclear weapons, or to renounce that reliance and move forward towards disarmament, their choices - their leadership - will have significant impact on the decisions and actions of other countries.

Each of the strategies I have outlined so far will contribute to reducing the threats and insecurities that now exist. Each is a much-needed step to contributing to global peace.

But as I suggested at the beginning, we will only succeed in building a "Global Village" if we begin to develop a new security paradigm. A system in which no country, or group of countries, needs to rely on nuclear weapons for its security. A system with effective global mechanisms for conflict resolution. A system in which longstanding regional tensions, like those in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula, are given the priority and attention they deserve. A system that is equitable, inclusive and effective.

But above all, a system that is people centred. I am convinced that, to achieve an enduring peace, our global security system must be focused on achieving "human security". The international community must be ready to defend the life, freedom and dignity of every individual - anytime, anywhere - whether the aggressor is an occupying force or a ruthless dictator.

This is not simply a moral imperative, but a prerequisite for our own security. If we view conflict through the lens of human security, and not simply in terms of "state sovereignty", we will quickly see the advantage of finding solutions through dialogue rather than through force. It is time to move away from thinking of dialogue as a reward for good behaviour - and to recognize it instead as an essential tool for effecting such behaviour. My enemy today could very well be my partner tomorrow. We will have to share resources, combat common environmental and health issues, and interact with each other on many levels. By reconciling our differences, we create the environment necessary for lasting peace and future cooperation.


From country to country, and region to region - whether we come from the North or the South, enjoy wealth or toil in poverty, speak Spanish or Mandarin, think of ourselves as Arab or Jew - whatever our background, ideology or station in life - we are the joint custodians of this planet. Many of the threats we face are man-made, the results of human choice, of human ingenuity gone awry.

But the final chapter of our civilization is yet to be written. I firmly believe that it is still possible to turn the page and start anew, strengthened by our shared values and made wiser by the tragedies of our history.