Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 03/2010

Strengthening the IAEA: How the Nuclear Watchdog Can Regain Its Bark

Gregory L. Schulte

March 2010

Institute for National Strategic Studies


The United States has a great interest in the success of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), given the important role it can play in reducing the risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. Stalled investigations of Iran and Syria have put the credibility of the IAEA at stake. The agency detected neither Iran’s hidden uranium enrichment facility near Qom nor the reactor being constructed by Syria near al Kibar. These examples underscore the importance of strengthening the agency’s verification capability, by both increasing its authority and sharing more information. The IAEA can also help shape the global growth of nuclear power, ensuring the highest levels of safety and security, while discouraging the spread of sensitive technologies that can be misused to build nuclear weapons. The IAEA Board of Governors’ recent decision to establish a nuclear fuel bank in Russia is a step in the right direction. Success requires a new “Spirit of Vienna”—a willingness of delegates to work toward consensus on even difficult topics—surrounding the agency’s important role in nonproliferation. It also requires a conscious effort by the new Director General to remove the politics from IAEA business and return the agency to its technical mandate.