A quick summary of the rest of ElBaradei’s talk at Harvard the other night, which focussed on issues of nuclear capability and proliferation.
He repeated several times that the IAEA is a flawed organisation, lacking sufficient funding or political support to do its job properly. It does not have enough ‘credibility’, he said, to have a real influence. This lack of resources particularly limits its ability to deal with unprotected nuclear material and non-state actors; as ElBaradei said earlier in the talk, his real concern is not the declared nuclear activity but the undeclared. ‘We know what to do and how to do it,’ he said, but underfunding was severely affecting their capabilities. An audience member asked if Iran’s nuclear programme had acted as a regional deterrent, actually preventing wars, and ElBaradei pointed out that Iran does not actually have nuclear weapons yet; its advance towards nuclear capability has not, therefore, acted as a deterrent but has raised concerns about regional stability and the nuclear ‘double standard’. There is no military solution (he emphasised this a lot), the only solution being building trust. Despite Iran’s lack of actual weapons, however, ElBaradei pointed out that Tehran’s real influence lies in its ‘soft power’, which is incredibly important in the region (and another reason why engagement is so important). Concern about the weapons programme is overstated and ignores the real issue, which is Iran’s ascendance as a regional power – nuclear weapons are a means to this end rather than an end in themselves.
Someone else asked how it would be possible to bring China and Russia on board, presumably in relation to sanctions. ElBaradei replied that the Iran issue is primarily a US-Iran issue and that the participation of China and Russia is less important as the ‘heavy lifting’ (he seemed fond of this phrase) will have to come from America. The US can provide the technology and trade agreements and will benefit first and most from the stabilising effect of an agreement with Iran. There was then a very interesting question from a guy who cracked his gum when he talked and looked less than impressed with the whole affair. He asked how we would find stability in a world without nuclear weapons – what the new security paradigm would be when the nuclear deterrent was removed. ElBaradei danced around this one for a bit, essentially saying what a difficult question it was, then answered that security is ‘creating an environment where you create a good disincentive to go to war’. He gave the example of the EU, where there is so much interaction and co-operation (and paralysis) that it would be ‘unthinkable’ for any of them to attack each other.
There were a couple of questions I’ve missed because they weren’t particularly interesting. I thought his points about soft power and the need for engagement were good, as well as his attempted solution to the problem of a new security paradigm. I disagree that Iran is mainly a US issue, though.