By Dr R. Balashankar
The Age of Deception – Nuclear Diplomacy in the Treacherous Times; Mohamed Elbaradei, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, Pp 340(HB), price $27
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been receiving both bouquets and brickbats almost since its inception. But in the recent past, the conflict in Iraq, the near-eyeball-to-eyeball scene in North Korea and now Iran have brought into sharp focus how the powerful western nations attempt to manipulate IAEA and use its work to their advantage.
Mohamed Elbaradei was the chief of the IAEA for three terms at one of its most crucial times. The fact that he won a third term speaks for his calibre. Under him, the IAEA received unprecedented limelight. From being a monitor of safeguards of nuclear installations, the agency was repeatedly called to play the role of an arbiter. In his book The Age of Deception —Nuclear Diplomacy in the Treacherous Times, Elbaradei recounts the events of the years he was heading IAEA. The most momentous of course was the winning of the Nobel. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.
Iraq haunts the conscience of Elbaradei still. America and England had decided to go to war much before the IAEA inspection began. Without letting the international agency come to independent conclusions and sort out pending issues by dialogue, these two western powers, reluctantly supported by many others, manipulated the proceedings. This led to the IAEA being viewed with suspicion, as a mere instrument of the global powers to dominate ‘the others.’ Says Elbaradei “In the years since, multiple sources have confirmed that the premise for the March 2003 invasion — the charge by the United States and the United Kingdom that Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs represented an imminent threat — was groundless… To this day, I cannot read such accounts without reflecting on the thousands of soldiers who have died, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, the millions maimed or displaced, the families disrupted, the lives ruined — and I am astonished that there has not been more self-examination, more introspection on the part of the principal players.”
Elbaradei discusses the often-raised questions on the IAEA and answers them. He explains that the Agency is only an inspecting authority, like the beat constable with a stick. It could only check what was revealed voluntarily by the respective nations. If they chose to conceal, the Agency had no authority to dig up. The United Nations appointed a Special Commission to help the IAEA, to investigate the charges relating to Iraq’s biological weapons. Both the agencies were given carte blanche “anytime, anywhere” powers. But the US had its own designs. According to Elbaradei, America appointed into the UNSCOM men from its intelligence agencies, especially the CIA. Riding piggyback on the IAEA, these members of the UNSCOM, with their loyalty sworn to the US, manipulated the functioning, and the mandate of the mission. When the UN voted to attack Iraq, the same day the IAEA Board met. Elbaradei closed his speech with Adlai Stevenson’s quote: “There is no evil in the atom; only in men’s souls.”
It is during the Iraqi conflict that the UN took the greatest blow to its image of being an independent, neutral and objective forum. The UN offices were being targeted, indicative of the fact that it was clubbed with the ‘enemies.’ Elbaradei also bemoans the humongous loss of lives in the Iraqi war. Estimates, he says, put the toll at eight hundred thousand (eight lakhs) in the first three years of war. This does not include the “millions who were wounded and displaced from their homes and stripped of their livelihood.”
In one of the strongest terms ever, Elbaradei demands that those who are responsible for this should be tried for war crimes. “If we were to live by the rule of law, then the prosecution of war crimes should not be limited to those who lose — the Slobadan Milasevics of the world — or to the Omar al-Bashirs, who originated from poor and long-oppressed regions. Legal norms, to retain legitimacy, must be uniform in their application” he says, in a veiled reference to the persons in power in the US and UK who orchestrated the war.
In North Korea too, Elbaradei squarely blames the US, as it failed to deliver on its promise of giving power reactors in exchange for more transparent nuclear activities in the Asian country. North Korea, he says was in extreme levels of poverty. Rice allocation per person had fallen to two hundred grams per day, well below a minimally nutritional diet. The US by earning the faith of the country could have made an inroad and gained access, an opportunity it missed, says Elbaradei.
The former IAEA chief discusses in some detail the clandestine nuclear capability built by Pakistan. “Ruud Lubbers, the former Dutch prime minister, told me that the Dutch had wanted to arrest A Q Khan as early as 1970s, only to be told by the CIA not to. This was corroborated by other sources” he says.
Elbaradei joined the IAEA in 1984 as legal advisor and rose to the position of Director General by 1999. When he ended the second term, the Americans tried to campaign against him to stop him from coming back. But all the countries the US sought help in this declined. The biggest loser in all of America’s campaign against him and the IAEA was the credibility of the international institution that was functioning independently, impartially.
India’s nuclear history is also part of the nuclear debate. Elbaradei says that he argued in favour of adopting a new approach to such states as India and Israel which never joined the NPT and yet had not violated any agreement by going nuclear. In this context, he wholeheartedly welcomes the India-US nuclear deal.
Absorbing, revealing and exposing, Elbaradei’s book is a meticulous narration of events sans political comments. He has not taken sides, and yet his honest statements on the course of events uncover much of the secrecy that surrounds nuclear debates. His courage in standing up to powerful nations, on behalf of the organisation he headed is commendable.
The book is must read for all those interested and involved in international relations, diplomacy and defence. Elbaradei is also a recipient of the Indira Gandhi Price for Peace and founder of the National Association for Change in Egypt.
(Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 36 Soho Square, London W1D 3QY)