Belmont Club

Predicting his own failure

In an interview in the Guardian, Mohammed El Baradei predicted there might be as many as 20 nuclear states in coming decade. He described the a feeling of “inequity” as the driver of nuclear proliferation. He lamented the fact that nuclear weapons conferred a feeling of safety and prestige upon its possessors. He called upon the major nuclear powers to deeply cut their arsenals.

The number of potential nuclear weapons states could more than double in a few years unless the major powers take radical steps towards disarmament, the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog has warned. In a Guardian interview, Mohamed ElBaradei said the threat of proliferation was particularly grave in the Middle East, a region he described as a “ticking bomb”. …

ElBaradei, the outgoing director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the current international regime limiting the spread of nuclear weapons was in danger of falling apart under its own inequity. “Any regime … has to have a sense of fairness and equity and it is not there,” he said in an interview at his offices in Vienna. …

“We still live in a world where if you have nuclear weapons, you are buying power, you are buying insurance against attack. That is not lost on those who do not have nuclear weapons, particularly in [conflict] regions.” … When you see a lot of concern about the Middle East, it’s a result of people feeling totally repressed by their own government and feeling unjustly treated by the outside world. This combination makes it a ticking bomb.”

Baradei’s statements suggest that he is either clueless or surpassingly manipulative. The main driver of proliferation in the Middle East is the imminent Iranian nuclear bomb, which the Sunnis are hastening to equalize against. The secondary driver is the desire by Middle Eastern despotisms to buy insurance against Great Power intervention. It has little to do with feelings of injustice or a resentment at being “unjustly treated by the outside world”. Under ElBaradei’s watch, the sheriff model of nuclear weaponry, in which a monopoly of weapons of mass destruction was confined to a few powers, is in imminent danger of collapse. He in fact makes the self-serving prediction that it will collapse in spite of his efforts and not because of them. At the heart of the collapse has been the refusal of the sheriffs to forcibly prevent others from breaking their monopoly on nuclear weapons. The concentration of force among consensus authorities, which is at the heart of the sheriff model, was doomed from the moment a general armament became feasible. And now the breakout is near.

The leaders of the Western World, far from recoiling from their errors are hastening to compound it. “ElBaradei won global fame – and the Nobel peace prize for himself and his agency – by standing up to the Bush and Blair governments over claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. His relationships with the Obama administration, and to some extent the Brown government, are better, since both have embraced banning nuclear weapons. Obama has started talks with Moscow on mutual cuts in arsenals.” In their world that makes sense. As the number of nuclear powers is set to double, the sheriffs are melting down their shooting irons. I suppose that is the politically correct way of thinking. Gone is the day when people would instinctively understand this warning.

The Romans had a maxim: ‘Shorten your weapons and lengthen your frontiers.’ But our maxim seems to be: ‘Diminish your weapons and increase your obligations. Aye, and ‘diminish the weapons of your friends’.


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