In a globalized world, preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons is becoming a more confounding proposition than at any other time in our human history. As new countries, particularly in the developing world, are forced to manage technologies of proliferation concern, the traditional models of proliferation prevention are increasingly anachronistic. As the relevancy and legitimacy of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and other measures are increasingly questioned across the Global South, the International Atomic Energy Agency is a bright spot in global safety and security efforts.
Today marks the release of Stimson’s new report Beyond Boundaries: The Role of the IAEA in Balancing Security and Development Priorities in the 21st Century. Since its founding in 1957, the IAEA has undertaken multiple programmatic efforts designed to advance society through nuclear technology while verifying the technology’s peaceful and safe use. In an era of growing economic and technology interconnectedness, the IAEA is perfectly suited to serve as the focal point for global collaborative efforts to help prevent proliferation and ensure nuclear security. Yet over time, politicization of the agency’s mission has largely relegated it to the rarified status of “nuclear watchdog.” Governments committed to proliferation prevention have reinforced this belief by overemphasizing the IAEA’s security and safeguards mission.
Some governments, particularly those in the Global South whose rapid introduction to advanced technological processes and products most necessitate IAEA cooperation, have distanced themselves from the agency, unable to see how the IAEA could be useful in meeting their higher purpose needs—economic development, poverty reduction, and improvement of public health to name a few. Yet the Agency’s hybrid mission is an ideal candidate to meet 21st century proliferation challenges with a modernized toolkit.