1 September 2010

Expanding the IAEA’s nuclear security mandate

Jack Boureston

Jack Boureston is managing director of FirstWatch International, a
nongovernmental research group focusing on civilian nuclear developments, nuclear


Tanya Ogilvie-White

Tanya Ogilvie-White is a research fellow in the Nonproliferation and
Disarmament Programme of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London...

Expansion of civilian nuclear power means that greater international cooperation is required to ensure that terrorist groups do not acquire nuclear and radiological materials. The global nuclear security regime urgently needs to be strengthened; the authors write that boosting the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the best place to start. The IAEA established a nuclear security program in 2002. Recently, this program’s successes, including helping states repatriate highly enriched uranium to Russia and the United States, have prompted more national interest in the IAEA’s nuclear security assistance missions and led to more requests for advisory and evaluation services. If given the authority, the IAEA could verify the continuous level of nuclear security of member states and assess and coordinate the implementation of any actions that need to be taken. The authors write that the problem of the IAEA’s limited authority is tied to fundamental debates in the international community over how to deal with threats in a globalized world. Resources need to be pooled; expertise needs to be shared and centralized; and common standards need to be set, monitored, and enforced in the interests of a safer world. But not all states are convinced of this, and some are suspicious that states advocating global governance are using their power to dominate the global security agenda. The authors explore the expansion of the IAEA’s mandate and ask the pivotal question confronting the international community: How can states build consensus on the need to prioritize nuclear security?