Nuclear Secrecy Feeds Concerns of Rogues Getting Weapons

Here’s a great new piece by Jonathan Tirone, one of the very best reporters on IAEA matters. A number of important issues covered, including how the IAEA handles intelligence information – a theme also raised in the Russian statement I posted yesterday. Also some critiques of the IAEA’s institutional culture as it has evolved under the leadership of DG Amano, and the links between that culture and the credibility problems the IAEA is experiencing in the perception of some states.

I don’t know if anyone has ever wondered, but I know I criticize the IAEA a lot, and it might be natural to ask why. It’s certainly not that I don’t think the IAEA is an important international organization. Quite the contrary. I think the IAEA is a vital international institution, that at its best plays an indispensable role as an independent, technical safeguards body, able to bring some objectivity to disputes between states about the implementation of nuclear safeguards obligations. I think the IAEA, and former DG ElBaradei, deserved their shared Nobel prize for the exceptionally important role they played in the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

I criticize the IAEA not because I want it to go away, or be less influential. Exactly the opposite. I want it to retain its positive influence. And to do that, the IAEA has to take the constructive criticism that the people quoted in this article, and in the Russian statement, are offering about problems in the IAEA’s institutional culture and modus operandi, and actually make the necessary changes so that the IAEA remains capable of having that influence.


9 Comments on “Nuclear Secrecy Feeds Concerns of Rogues Getting Weapons”

  1. yousaf says:

    Quote from that article:

    “Tariq Rauf, a former IAEA official who is now a director at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. While the public is increasingly excluded from the scientific debate that shapes policy decisions, “the agency routinely allows secret information about nuclear programs to be given to select Western countries, which then leak it out,” he said.”

  2. yousaf says:

    My piece in FP regarding safeguards & secrecy failures: What is needed is a new NPT 2.0:

  3. Cyrus says:

    Robet Kelley on the allegations about Iran:
    “this time around the IAEA has signed on and they’re part of this innuendo and sloppy information that looks like they are also advocating for war.”

  4. Wang Tingliang says:

    With due respect, I am extremely uncomfortable with the label “rogue state”. From my point view, it is okay to accuse, say, North Korea, as being a “rogue state” while drinking at a bar with friends. However, it is ridiculous, outrageous and intolerable to use the phrase “rogue state” in serious academic writing, especially in the field of international law. Maybe it is okay to use the phrase the phrase in international relations. I do not know much about that field. But in serious academic writing of international law, it is absolutely unacceptable.

    Labeling any state as “rogue state” is a violation of the most basic principle of modern international law: equality of states. 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law provides that:
    “All states enjoy sovereign equality. They have equal rights and duties and are equal members of the international community, notwithstanding differences of an economic, social, political or other nature.
    In particular, sovereign equality includes the following elements:

    (e) Each state has the right freely to choose and develop its political, social, economic and cultural systems…”
    Oppenheim’s International Law states that nations are equal, “WHATEVER differences between may otherwise exists” (9th edition, Volume I, p.339). Therefore, any state (especially western states) shall refrain from accusing states which have different political, social, economic and cultural systems (for example, communist or socialist, Islamic, etc.) as being “rogue states”. One may accuse some states of violating international law, or criticized their human rights situation, based on solid grounds, but one can never simply put a label “rogue state” on any state.

    Wang Tingliang
    (A student of Dr. James Fry’s course “Arms Control and Disarmament Law” at University of Hong Kong)

  5. Wang Tingliang says:


    In the case of arms control law, instead of using the label “rogue states”, one can simply argue that North Korea, or Iran, or Syria has violated international law, and then explain which treaty or what customary international law he thinks those states have violated and why.

    Wang Tingliang
    (A student of Dr. James Fry’s course “Arms Control and Disarmament Law” at University of Hong Kong)

  6. Megan M says:

    I agree that in an ideal world there should be “a presumption of openness and transparency rather than denial of information” with respect to IAEA discussions (the former IAEA official quoted in the article). However, it’s also important that states are able to candidly participate in dialogue. Oftentimes, candid multilateral discussions amongst participants are hindered by an open, public forum. In any highly charged political context, compromises and concessions are often made behind closed doors. In any case, I highly doubt that the IAEA nuclear technical projects are “helping anyone make bombs” (as Henry Sokolski mentioned mentions in the article).

    • Dear Megan,

      You should check out IAEA’s TC help with Pakistan: IHS Janes also has a recent article showing oversights. You may also reference David Fischer’s official IAEA history, in which he warns that TC projects may unwittingly help produce the material for a weapon:

      “It was conceivable that an engineer who received IAEA training in certain aspects of nuclear technology, for example in radiochemistry, might put his or her expertise to work in a nuclear weapon programme, or that uranium ore found or mined with the IAEA’s help might,
      after processing and enrichment, wind up in a nuclear weapon.” –

      As for the necessity to give officials access to private forums where they can speak freely: Agreed. But what about the press and public? The unnecessary secrecy at places like the Safeguards Symposium only widens the gap between what people like CP Snow referred to as the “Two Cultures.”

      The IAEA should be bridging gaps of understanding between policy makers, scientists and the public. Regrettably, the organization’s turn inwards and increased insularity has alienated even those who care deeply about its essential role within international politics.

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