At the invitation of Japan Focus, I wrote an article about the alleged nuclear facility in Syria.
Since the Syrians steadfastly deny that there was a reactor at al Kibar and the physical evidence has been bombed, buried, and dismantled into oblivion, I ended up writing more about the creaky Non-Proliferation Treaty regime that the International Atomic Energy Agency and its Director General, Mr. ElBaradei are charged with safeguarding.
The article is entitled Twilight of the NPT? and it’s available here.
The NPT was originally conceived as a disarmament/peaceful use of nuclear energy/better world kumbaya group hug sort of thing.
But that hasn’t really happened.
The current IAEA mission is more of a projection of US security concerns and an effort to protect the nuclear monopoly of the US and its friends and allies.
ElBaradei is caught in the middle as he tries to advance the IAEA’s traditional mandate of promoting safe and peaceful exploitation of nuclear energy and the United States—the IAEA’s biggest funder and most active stakeholder—uses the IAEA mechanism to impede the spread of any nuclear capability to our antagonists, especially in the Middle East.
ElBaradei and the Muslim nations of the Middle East appear to have a symbiotic relationship.
ElBaradei needs the Muslim nations to demonstrate the IAEA’s relevance in dealing with states that the US can’t or won’t negotiate with; and the Muslim nations need ElBaradei as their sole, shrinking portal to a legal, internationally acknowledged nuclear capability.
And, I suppose, one could say that the United States needs the IAEA for the imprimatur of international legitimacy it provides for Washington’s unilateral nuclear concerns, but the fact is that the US has spent more time and energy sidelining the IAEA than it has spent basking in the agency’s multilateral aura.
One of my favorite ElBaradei-related media quotes concerns the revelation that the United States’s NSA wiretapped ElBaradei’s phone in an unsuccessful search for dirt that could be used to deny him a third term.
It elicited a resigned shrug from the IAEA:
In Vienna, where the IAEA has its headquarters, officials said they were not surprised about the eavesdropping.
"We've always assumed that this kind of thing goes on," IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said. "We wish it were otherwise, but we know the reality."
Yeah, whatever. Fuggedaboutit.
As the Washington Post put it, “eavesdropping, even on allies, is considered a well-worn tool of national security and diplomacy”.
The message that nuclear wannabes in the Middle East would have extracted from this incident, other than the unwelcome image of a “well-worn tool”, would be threefold:
First, the IAEA is transparent, or at least highly vulnerable, to penetration by US intelligence services and the IAEA lacks the capability, funding, and/or will to protect the security of its communications.
Second, it should be assumed that the content of any communication and the result of any site visit will find its way to Langley or the NSA.
Third, any nuclear program, peaceful or otherwise, has to be kept secret from the IAEA during the planning and construction phases when it is most vulnerable to US challenge and disruption.
So, the conclusion I have drawn from Syria’s bizarre decision to build a secret nuclear facility within bombing range of the Israeli air force is that Syria wanted a nuclear capability and believed that if they built a facility small and plausible enough to be presented as a harmless civilian project, they could reveal it prior to fueling and get it blessed by ElBaradei and the IAEA with little more than a stern tongue-lashing (and, possibly, an understanding wink).
Of course, that possibility was forcibly pre-empted by Israel’s bombing raid.