NOBEL PRIZE MESSAGE: TIME TO STRENGTHEN U.N. SECRETARIAT NUCLEAR ROLE

 

NOBEL PRIZE MESSAGE: TIME TO STRENGTHEN U.N. SECRETARIAT NUCLEAR ROLE

15 October 2005

"At a time when disarmament efforts appear deadlocked, when there is a danger that nuclear arms will spread both to states and to terrorist groups, and when nuclear power again appears to be playing an increasingly significant role, IAEA's work is of incalculable importance," the Noble Prize Committee stated. It added that the nuclear proliferation threat must be met through the broadest possible international cooperation, which finds its clearest expression in the work of the IAEA and its Director General, Mohammed El Baradei. The choice was made out of an unprecedented list of 199 nominations. Besides a gold medal and an impressive diploma, the prize includes $1.3 million.

Until a few years ago, very few people took notice of the atomic agency. Except for tour guides showing visitors a chart of the U.N. specialized agency, even fewer U.N. staffers had realized it ever existed. One of its former directors, Swede Hans Blixt, placed it on the real international map. Mohammed ElBaradei, a methodical Egyptian, gave it geopolitical muscle. Both worked closely as a remarkable determined team during the run up for the war on Iraq. Their independent position, despite great pressure, strengthened their credibility. IAEA was then able to play a pivotal role in the most sensitive issues in handling nuclear capacity of North Korea and Iran. Particularly with the failure of the Non-Proliferation Treaty conference held last spring in New York, where no real effort was made to bridge wide differences, the Agency became the key international player. The weakest link currently is the U.N. Secretariat. Despite a number of dedicated staff, the Department of Disarmament Affairs, in its current status, could hardly justify its name. It had held good media seminars during the time of Yasushi Akashi, known as "Mr. U.N." in Japan. It reached a relevant role during the leadership of Jayantha Dhanapala, whose sterling work was mischievously interrupted. When he left, there was no one else internally with political acumen and professional standing to guide, propose, or influence key decisions. Secretary General Kofi Annan rightly noted when reviewing points presented to the recent Summit at U.N. Headquarters that the most regrettable gap was in the area of nuclear proliferation and disarmament. The Nobel Prize Committee, which projects the future as it recognizes past record and present achievements seemed to highlight the same need. Nuclear disarmament is key to world peace. While Mr. ElBaradei has his new term to serve at IAEA; it may be about time for the U.N. Secretariat to signal its relevance by strengthening its hand in that increasingly crucial field. And it may be worthwhile for key member states to keep that need in mind as they consult to select a new Secretary General.