the Brink of a Nuclear Arms Race
with Mohamed ElBaradei, August 28, 2003
Mohamed ElBaradei, Director of the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), believes the world is on the brink of a new nuclear
arms race. North Korea could start nuclear tests any time. Iran
is also due to build its own bomb shortly. And the United States,
for fear of terrorism, is eagerly playing with fire, too.
[Stern] Mr. ElBaradei, talks have started in Beijing with North
Korea on the country's nuclear weapons program. Russia is already
setting up refugee camps should war break out on the Siberian
border. Are we on the brink of a nuclear war?
[ElBaradei] North Korea is currently representing the biggest
threat. Nearly everything that is evil seems to come together
in North Korea: the country is in the middle of deep economic
crisis. People are starving. The US Army is, so to speak, standing
next door, in South Korea. North Korea wants to survive. To this
end, it needs security guarantees and economic aid.
[Stern] And in order to get this aid, Kim Jong-Il is playing around
with the nuclear bomb?
[ElBaradei] I think someone like him is terribly afraid of a regime
change . . . [ellipses as published throughout]
[Stern] . . . as we have just seen in Iraq . . .
[ElBaradei] He is now trying to get the most out of the situation
for himself. This nuclear blackmail demonstrates a very alarming
development: war was waged on Iraq because of assumed weapons
of mass destruction. But there are talks under way with North
Korea, on its nuclear program. This is nothing but a call for
[Stern] Does North Korea have the nuclear bomb?
[ElBaradei] We do not know for sure. But it is not important either.
We know that the country has weapons-grade plutonium. This can
be used to produce nuclear bombs, within just a few months. And
it has the missiles for them.
[Stern] This sounds as if the threat was rather acute.
[ElBaradei] The world has become more dangerous. Today, we feel
much more insecure than during the times of the Cold War. Many
states feel threatened -- above all, in regions of conflict such
as Southeast Asia or the Middle East. We have to assume that Israel
has the bomb, as a result of which other countries in the region
[Stern] How great is the risk that weapons of mass destruction
are disseminated over the whole world?
[ElBaradei] In the past, nuclear weapons were seen as a deterrent,
they were the final step . . .
[Stern] . . . that guaranteed mutual destruction.
[ElBaradei] Yes. Today, there are serious discussions about the
actual use of nuclear weapons. In the past 10 years, at least
two new nuclear powers have emerged: India and Pakistan, two countries
that are bitter enemies. Today, nuclear weapons are more in demand
than ever. Dictators also want to survive.
[Stern] Is this also true for the regime of the mullahs in Iran?
[ElBaradei] For years, UN inspectors have been checking facilities
there. Nevertheless, nearly a year ago a secret nuclear facility
was discovered in the town of Natanz -- of which the inspectors
[Stern] Is Iran working on nuclear weapons?
[ElBaradei] This is what we are trying to verify at the moment.
[Stern] The facility in the desert near Natanz has been used to
enrich uranium. Why was its construction kept secret if it was
officially a civilian plant?
[ElBaradei] Natanz is indeed the critical point of our inspections.
Here it is possible to produce weapons-grade material. We have
taken samples and found traces of highly enriched uranium on centrifuges.
[Stern] . . . which is, in addition to plutonium, the basic material
for a nuclear bomb.
[ElBaradei] This worries us greatly. Should it turn out that Iran
is not using its nuclear program for peaceful purposes, this could
have disastrous consequences.
[Stern] What are your Iranian partners telling you?
[ElBaradei] They say these are gas-powered ultracentrifuges that
were already polluted when delivered.
[Stern] From where does the equipment originate?
[ElBaradei] We are unable to say at this point.
[Stern] Pakistan is regarded as one of the main suppliers in the
Iranian nuclear weapons program.
[ElBaradei] We cannot rule that out. Iran must disclose everything
and cooperate with us.
[Stern] Are we seeing the beginning of a new nuclear arms race?
[ElBaradei] The technology has long since been in place. Countries
are trading their knowledge and corresponding commodities on the
black market. Export controls are not particularly effective.
Above all, however, nuclear weapons have become thoroughly attractive,
because it suddenly appears that it will be possible to actually
use them. We must reconsider our entire policy of banning the
proliferation of nuclear weapons.
[Stern] A total of 188 states have committed to the nuclear non-proliferation
[ElBaradei] Nuclear weapons give you power. Those who have them
assume to have more security. They look more and more legitimate.
They are no longer outlawed.
[Stern] A few months ago, the US Senate resolved to finance research
into so-called mini-nukes.
[ElBaradei] These are double standards. On the one hand, the United
States says that the proliferation of nuclear weapons must be
fought. On the other, it perfects its own arsenal. This is not
acceptable. Under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty all states
are committed to nuclear disarmament, including the United States.
What is happening at the moment is the complete opposite. The
US Administration demands from other states not to have any nuclear
weapons, while it fills its own arsenals. Then, a few privileged
ones will be covered by a nuclear umbrella -- and the rest of
the world is left to its own devices. In reality, however, there
are no good or evil weapons of mass destruction. If we do not
give up such double standards, we will have even more nuclear
powers. We are at a turning point now.
[Stern] Is the United States, with its new armaments program,
violating the treaty on the adherence of which it insists when
others are concerned?
[ElBaradei] It is still just research. But this is bad enough.
I think this is not in line with the treaty the United States
[Stern] Does it mean that the United States is actually fuelling
the nuclear arms race in this way?
[ElBaradei] The five nuclear powers must send a clear message
to the world: we, too, disarm. We do not develop new nuclear weapons.
Either we take the risk emanating from proliferation seriously
or we have to live with the consequences. So far, we rather act
like firemen: Iraq today, North Korea tomorrow, and Iran the day
after. And then?
[Stern] But the United States believes that the nuclear threat
effectively helps to protect itself against terrorists -- rather
than by agreements no one keeps.
[ElBaradei] The agreements have always had just half-hearted support.
In addition, there are a whole lot of other and very effective
weapons. It is an illusion to believe that terror can be fought
with military means alone. Its reasons are poverty, social injustice,
and the suppression of human rights in brutal dictatorships. Dictatorships
that acquire weapons of mass destruction.
[Stern] This is your vision. How do you want to avert the dangers
[ElBaradei] We need more rights for UN inspectors.. They must
get access to all facilities, unannounced and unhindered. Do you
know how many states signed the relevant protocol? Just 35 of
[Stern] Assuming all had signed?
[ElBaradei] States should undertake to put their uranium enrichment
facilities under international control. This is the key technology
on the way to nuclear weapons. Sanctions only protract things,
they do not prevent the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction.
And we finally need strict export controls.
[Stern] How quickly are terrorists able to produce a "dirty
[ElBaradei] This is not particularly difficult. All you need is
TNT and a radioactive material. There are a great number of radioactive
sources in the world that are insufficiently secured. Dirty bombs
are no weapons of mass destruction. They are weapons of mass terror.
[Stern] Who is to assume responsibility in the struggle against
[ElBaradei] This, too, will be possible only with the help of
the United Nations. But the power of the world community is limited
today. The UN Security Council must not remain a nuclear power
club. It must be extended to include countries such as Japan,
Germany, India, and Brazil.. Neither does it help to pave the
way by force. This is what we are currently experiencing in Iraq.
We are all losing there: the United States, the United Nations,
and, again, the Iraqis themselves. The United Nations is no moral
authority in Iraq.
[Stern] Why not?
[ElBaradei] Over a period of 10 years, the UN economic embargo
punished the people, rather than the regime. The population was
at the mercy of the sanctions. The United Nations is not seen
as an organization that wants to help Iraq. This is probably the
reason for the dreadful attack carried out in Baghdad last week.
Sanctions must punish dictators, not ordinary people.
[Stern] And how is that supposed to happen?
[ElBaradei] There must be no difference between dictators that
are friendly toward the West and so-called evil ones. Forbid them
to travel. Freeze their foreign wealth. Force dictators to carry
[Stern] Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction were the material
reason for the war. None have been found to date. Has the world
been led by the nose?
[ElBaradei] It is a shame that we were unable to finish our work.
Now, it may turn out that no weapons existed in the first place,
and war could have been avoided.
[Stern] Now, with hindsight, do you feel you have been used?
[ElBaradei] No, not really. Experience in Iraq shows that intelligence
service information has to be taken with a grain of salt. Do we
really want to wage war on every country that is suspected of
developing weapons of mass destruction? I think that inspections
can really help. This, however, requires time and patience. Meaningful
inspections can prevent a nuclear holocaust.
ElBaradei isDirector of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
This interview appeared in in German in Hamburg Stern,
major independent, illustrated weekly magazine, on 28 August 2003.
The interviewers were Katja Gloger and Hans-Hermann Klare. [FBIS