Foreign Policy Blogs

Nuclear Warrior: The Age of Deception

The chap who deigned to take on the Bush Administration, refusing to kowtow to their demands that he provide evidence of Saddam Hussein’s imaginary nuclear weapons program, has published his memoir.

In “The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times”, Mohamed ElBaradei, three-term Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), details his proxy war against the U.S. in Iraq, decrying their direct dialogue with North Korea, while it refused talks with Iran. He also details his journeys to North Korea, his efforts to strengthen its inspection capability (which resulted in the Additional Protocol), and outlining the IAEA’s weaknesses.

But, I think many will focus on his proxy war with Washington.  Readers will no doubt vividly remember when ElBaradei took on the Bush Administration and became a pariah to the extent that, when ElBaradei was up for a third term, the “USG” supported another candidate.  Strongly, but unsuccessfully.

While I respect ElBaradei for refusing to pony up evidence that had no basis in fact, fighting to maintain the IAEA has an independent arbiter in the fight against proliferation, I can’t help but believe that, to an extent, he cut off his nose to spite his face.  While the Bush Administration’s war in Iraq didn’t win any global popularity contests, the U.S. government is the single largest financial contributor to the IAEA at roughly 25.5%.  They come in just ahead of Japan.  The U.S. also makes significant contributions to the not-so-voluntary Technical Cooperation Fund, or TCF, as well as in-kind contributions in the form of Cost-Free Experts.

During my time as the IAEA Desk Officer at the NRC, I struggled to find slots for U.S. experts in the IAEA roster, sensing a distinctly anti-American bias. I routinely pestered the State Department for the ability to make exceptions to the “using U.S. funds for U.S. experts” rule, jumping through myriad hoops in order to get much-needed funds to nuclear safety and security projects which the NRC found critical.  The staff were grateful, but the DG didn’t seem to acknowledge such largesse.  All the while, I had to dodge the perception that ElBaradei didn’t like the U.S. very much so he didn’t deserve our funding.

But, those of us who could see beyond the immediate political imbroglios that poisoned our relationship, the IAEA remained, and remains, a critical part of the goal of preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material.

For all his faults, ElBaradei raised the profile of this once-obscure UN-affiliated agency, garnering international attention and, in 2005, a Nobel Prize. Friends and colleagues at the Agency told me that all of the staff received a certificate acknowledging that the prize was also theirs.  Given the ongoing budget struggles, this was a nice way to bolster staff morale.

For more on ElBaradei’s book, check out Les Gelb’s review from last Sunday’s New York Times Review of Books.

NYT Book Review



Jodi Lieberman

Jodi Lieberman is a veteran of the arms control, nonproliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear safety trenches, having worked at the Departments of State, Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She has also served in an advisory capacity and as professional staff for several members of Congress in both the House and Senate as well as the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Jodi currently spends her time advocating for science issues and funding as the Senior Government Affairs Specialist at the American Physical Society. The views expressed in her posts are her views based on her professional experience but in way should be construed to represent those of her employer.

Great Decisions Discussion group