THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
May 14, 2009
The Guardian (UK)

Mohamed ElBaradei Warns of New Nuclear Age

by Julian Borger

The number of potential nuclear weapons states could more than double in a few years unless the major powers take radical steps towards disarmament, the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog has warned. . . .

ElBaradei, the outgoing director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the current international regime limiting the spread of nuclear weapons was in danger of falling apart under its own inequity. "Any regime . . . has to have a sense of fairness and equity and it is not there," he said in an interview at his offices in Vienna. . . .

"We still live in a world where if you have nuclear weapons, you are buying power, you are buying insurance against attack. That is not lost on those who do not have nuclear weapons, particularly in [conflict] regions."

He predicted that the next wave of proliferation would involve "virtual nuclear weapons states", who can produce plutonium or highly enriched uranium and possess the knowhow to make warheads, but who stop just short of assembling a weapon. They would therefore remain technically compliant with the NPT while being within a couple of months of deploying and using a nuclear weapon.

"This is the phenomenon we see now and what people worry about in Iran. And this phenomenon goes much beyond Iran. Pretty soon . . . you will have nine weapons states and probably another 10 or 20 virtual weapons states." . . .

He argued that the only way back from the nuclear abyss was for the established nuclear powers to fulfil their NPT obligations and disarm as rapidly as possible. He said it was essential to generate momentum in that direction before the NPT comes up for review next April in New York. "There's a lot of work to be done but there are a lot of things we can do right away," ElBaradei said. "Slash the 27,000 warheads we have, 95% of which are in Russia and the US. You can easily slash [the arsenals] to 1,000 each, or even 500." . . .

ElBaradei won global fame - and the Nobel peace prize for himself and his agency - by standing up to the Bush and Blair governments over claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. His relationships with the Obama administration, and to some extent the Brown government, are better, since both have embraced banning nuclear weapons. Obama has started talks with Moscow on mutual cuts in arsenals.

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Jimmy Carter, "Saving Nonproliferation 'The United States is the major culprit in this erosion of the NPT'," Washington Post, March 28, 2005

Enver Masud, "Iran Has an 'Inalienable Right' to Nuclear Energy," The Wisdom Fund, January 16, 2006

"US-Iran: A New Age of Diplomacy?," The Wisdom Fund, April 1, 2006

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