Mark Hibbs on the Leaked IAEA Safeguards ReportPosted: June 10, 2013
So the nuclear nonproliferation blogosphere is lit up with the news of the leak of the 2012 IAEA Safeguards Implementation Report to Bloomberg and to Reuters last week. This also set the Twitterverse on fire, as Mark Hibbs reports in his piece over at Arms Control Wonk, which tries to dampen the hysteria and provide a pro-IAEA spin to the report’s revelations about how much of the IAEA’s budget and time have been spent on the Iran case.
I think in Mark’s apparent haste to explain some of the comments he made that were quoted in the report, he provides some rather superficial and ultimately erroneous analysis of the new report, blaming others in their analysis for “conflat[ing] the difference between compliance and performance evaluation.”
What I think Mark doesn’t see is the much more fundamental and underlying problem, which is that the concept of “compliance” with IAEA safeguards has been mangled and misused by the IAEA in its evaluations and reports for years.
The INFCIRC/153 CSA is very clear about how the system is supposed to work, and what standards the IAEA is supposed to use in their investigations and assessments. As readers of this blog will know, I have discussed the issue of the IAEA’s mandate extensively both here and in a Roundtable over at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
In brief, it is the IAEA’s now unfortunately institutionalized practice of exceeding its investigation and assessment mandate, that produces all of the problems of inconsistency, politicization, and error in the application of safeguards by the IAEA, including what Hibbs describes as “conflat[ing] the difference between compliance and performance evaluation.”
In the case of Iran in particular, the IAEA has gone beyond its mandate in deciding that it will not determine Iran is in “compliance” with its safeguards obligations, unless the IAEA can assess not only that no declared fissile materials have been diverted from peaceful to civilian use (which is the sole, correct CSA standard), but also that there are no undeclared fissile materials or related facilities in Iran and never have been, and that Iran has never performed any experiments of any kind the knowledge from which could conceivably be employed someday in the development of a nuclear weapon.
This standard is, of course, wildly incorrect, as I have taken pains to demonstrate.
Included in the mix of condemnable acts by Iran that has clearly factored into the IAEA’s unwillingness to declare Iran in compliance with its safeguards agreement according to this erroneous standard, are Iran’s failure to provide design information on the Qom facility, and the Arak facility, in what the IAEA considers a timely manner.
But wait, isn’t this a perfect example of what Hibbs means by conflating the difference between compliance and performance evaluation? As he explains:
In general it can be said with authority (and fully backed up by my historical files) that quite a number of states – and, importantly, mostly states with significant nuclear programs – have at critical times resisted efforts of the IAEA to require that they provide more information and access . . . . Does this record show that states as a matter of course have resisted taking on additional obligations to the IAEA? Yes. But does this resistance imply that these same states were cheating on their current safeguards obligations? No.
But isn’t that exactly what the IAEA itself is doing, when it takes Iran’s alleged failure to meet a subsidiary arrangement standard on design disclosure into account in making its determination of Iran’s “compliance” with its safeguards obligations?
Instead of looking to the IAEA’s critics as the conflators, Hibbs should look to his good friends at the IAEA itself (the ones who leaked the new report to him), which has been the primary author of the mess that has been made of the concept of “compliance” with IAEA safeguards.
This is why when the people who sent the Tweets Mark refers to, read the excerpts from the new safeguards report and see, for example, its observation that a number of other states failed to make reports of design information of nuclear facilities in accordance with the modified Code 3.1 standard, they think: “Wait a minute, that’s exactly what the IAEA has been criticizing Iran for, and why they say Iran is still noncompliant. Why aren’t there noncompliance reports on these other states, then?”
Again, it’s the IAEA that has conflated all sorts of erroneous things into their erroneous definition of “compliance,” and that’s what is producing this inconsistency.
And here is the problem of principle involved. To the extent that the IAEA has gone beyond its clearly delineated and limited textual mandate for investigations and assessment, found in the CSA, and into broader and more subjective standards for investigation and assessment (e.g. like the standard of “no undeclared fissile materials,” and the concept of “cooperation with the Agency”) the Agency has become increasingly susceptible to being co-opted and used for political purposes by powerful states.
This is why, when those same people read in the new safeguards report about how much of the IAEA’s safeguards budget is being spent on Iran, and what proportion of man-hours are being spent on Iran, they naturally think: “Ya know, the IAEA has found no evidence that Iran is doing anything illegal, and yet it keeps chasing ghosts and endless speculations, provided by Western national intelligence agencies, and is never satisfied, even after all this time and all this money being spent. And now it seems that there are a lot of other countries who are doing the same things the IAEA say are so condemnable about Iran. Something doesn’t add up here.”
And so they start to pay closer attention to reports about how much of the IAEA’s budget is provided by the US and its allies; how closely aligned with the US DG Amano was revealed to be in the WikiLeaks cables; and how much technical assistance the IAEA gets from the US in running its safeguards program. And they think: “Maybe this doesn’t add up because it’s not really about holding Iran to the same legal standards as other countries at all. Maybe this is really just one more way for the US to pursue its political agenda against Iran – whom it considers to be a grave threat to its chief Middle East ally Israel, and to itself – by using its influence over the IAEA to get the Agency to act as its proxy in criticizing Iran’s nuclear program. And maybe the IAEA is never going to be satisfied that Iran is in fact in compliance with its safeguards obligations, because the US doesn’t want it to ever be satisfied, and thereby recognize Iran’s legal justification for its peaceful nuclear program.”
And then they think: “Yeah. Now it does all add up. That really sucks. People should know about this.”