Jeffrey LewisRating ElBaradei

The United States is still trying out oust IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei.

Bush’s Candidate to Replace ElBaradei?

“They’ve already started lobbying in the capitals” for a no confidence vote, one diplomat told AP on condition of anonymity. “Whether or not they call for a vote depends on the support they will get.”

Diplomats accredited to the IAEA told AP that Washington “has a new candidate in the wings, who will be presented if the United States swings enough nations on the IAEA board of governors to back its demand for a no-confidence vote in the incumbent.”

This raises an important question: What the does the Bush Administration want in an IAEA Director General? The Bush Administration would probably prefer an obsequious fool, like the maitre d’ in The Triplets of Belleville (left). But what should the Bush Administration want?

The Carnegie Endowment’s George Perkovich has written an interesting open-memo to the IAEA Director-General (subscription required) in Foreign Policy that argues:

The IAEA should be neither a defender nor a prosecutor. Rather, you should be the world’s leading nuclear fact-gatherer-one not diverted or muzzled by concerns over where the facts might lead. The Bush administration’s political brutalization of international inspectors in the run-up to the Iraq war, and the subsequent evidence that Washington was wrong, make it difficult for you to remain neutral.

See: George Perkovich, “How to Be a Nuclear
Watchdog,” Foreign Policy, January-February
2005, pp60-64.

Many capitals are so resistant to the current administration’s bullying that they urge you to cook the books to produce reports that will forestall another Iraq-style showdown. But you must resist and let the facts speak for themselves.

Second, Perkovich tells the Director-General that “new rules are needed to ensure the dual international interests of expanding nuclear-power generation while preventing weapons proliferation”—particularly witht regard to uraniu enrichment and plutonium reprocessing—and that “helping to create these rules may do more to advance your agency’s mission than anything else you might accomplish.”

So, how does ElBaradei rate by these standards?

Perkovich suggests “some of the agency’s recent work gives the appearance of political trimming”—pointing to ElBaradei’s

  1. Ommission of Chinese and Pakistani assistance to Iran from a report to the Board of Governors, and
  2. Statement that “no evidence” existed to link undeclared Iranian nuclear activities “to a nuclear weapon program.”

But Perkovich admits much of the blame belongs to Washington’s “political brutalization of international inspectors in the run-up to the Iraq war” and admits that ElBaradei’s trimming in regard to Iran may have been “diplomatically shrewd.”

Not so bad after all.

As for the question of setting the stage for new rules, Perkovich gives ElBaradei credit for having “quietly planted the seed for such an initiative” by creating an Expert Group to consider new approaches. ElBaradei, in the days since Perkovich’s article was published, has begun caling for a five-year moratorium on new uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing facilities.

Judged by these two standards—political neutrality and stage setting—ElBaradei’s record is quite good, particularly in light of Washington’s campaign to undermine him.

Moreover, perhaps ElBaradei should not to follow Perkovich’s advice too closely. Perkovich suggests that “uncompromising vigor” in avoiding political questions “will force member states and the Security Council to stop shirking their responsibilities for enforcement, as they did in 2002 when the agency reported North Korea’s treaty noncompliance, but the Security Council, including the United States, did nothing.”

Perhaps the Director-General, however, ought to judiciously use the bully-pulpit conferred by the office. El Baradei has, in the past few days, attempted to draw attention to the the continuing stand-off with North Korea. These remarks presumably go beyond what Perkovich considers appropriate, but seem—to me—an important part of the effort to keep Six Party Talks alive.