Weakening of the International Atomic Energy Agency Control Regime Within the Context

*Source: Bloomberg ©


Weakening of the International Atomic Energy Agency Control Regime Within the context of Recent Nuclear Developments


When the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1968 entered into force in 1970, compliant states, which do not possess nuclear weapons, were given certain obligations. According to the treaty, these parties have accepted to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to undertake inspections in order to avoid the shift from nuclear energy to nuclear weapon programs and to maintain the transition to nuclear energy to be immune from nuclear weaponization. However, in cases of non-compliance to the Article VI of the Treaty on ‘disarmament’ of nuclear weapons, some states that do not possess nuclear weapons began to seek for nuclear power. These states have banned the access of the Agency to the facilities where the nuclear activity has been taking place and declared war on potential providers of weapons of mass destruction, having operated independently from the Agency. These actions have damaged the control regime of the Agency and brought a new direction to the disarmament regime, causing the risk of the spread of nuclear weapons. In order to avoid the politicization of the process of regime change in certain states under the rubric of weapon regulation, hesitations against international inspection agencies have to be eliminated. In this respect, to support the disarmament regime, priority should be given to international inspections and to receiving trustable intelligence on the nuclear activity of states, which do not possess nuclear weapons.


21st century is noteworthy in terms of the declaration of the first preemptive war against Iraq by the U.S. and Allies in 2003 due to the infringement of certain obligations about disarmament held by Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).[1]The Iraq War that began on 20 March 2003 has caused serious concerns about the spread of nuclear weapons.  Until 2003, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) continued the inspection and control of weapons of mass destruction, which had earlier been initiated by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) in the 1990s.[2]The incompetence of the inspections under both commissions and Iraq’s unclear position about obeying the disarmament pledge has naturally led powerful states to doubt the existence of secret weapons. For this very reason, the U.S. rejected the comprehensive control regime that took place in Iraq right before the invasion. On the other hand, the war played a decisive role to prove the fact that the presence of suspicious chemical and biological weapons in Iraq was not discouraging enough to avoid the attacks to Iraq. The invasion was also triggered by the withdrawal of North Korea from NPT on 23 January 2003 and the country’s on-going nuclear activity without having to deal with the UN Security Council’s enforcements.[3]The two aforementioned events, Iraq War and the withdrawal of North Korea from NPT, can affect the regime’s main incentive scheme. Therefore, after a glance at Iraq War and North Korea incidents, states non possessing possess nuclear weapons can further stipulate that the suspicious acquisition of nuclear weapons is the only precaution against preemptive wars declared by the U.S and other powerful states on those in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Another potential impact of war is that the concerns over the spread of nuclear weapons can lay an excuse for the change of the regime in the country in question. The United States’ involvement in Iraq has clearly supported this view. In other words, it is indisputable that the U.S. is preoccupied with changing the regimes in states, not with its enemies.[4]

The changes in the U.S. government by the end of the second term of President George W. Bush and the general policy of the U.S. on prevention of weapons of mass destruction and on regime changes has caused serious concerns in other states. Even though the Obama administration had different a political position for the last 7 years (‘There should be more resources and authority to strengthen international inspections. We need real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or trying to leave the treaty without cause. And we should build a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including an international fuel bank, so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risks of proliferation’[5]), the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection regime remained underdeveloped. As an international inspection association, which acts in line with various U.S. policies, the Agency cannot be deemed as successful now that the investigation on Iran (based on allegations that the country developed nuclear weapons) ended after 12 years. Thus, the discovery of Iraq’s pre-1990 nuclear program, which was obviously carried out during the inspection period of the Agency, the discovery of Pakistan’s underground activities and North Korea’s continuous ambiguous position on nuclear programs and show how the Agency’s reputation has weakened over the years. Finally, the 12-year investigation, which ended with the decision that Iran’s nuclear activities are actually peaceful, added to this weakness.

In 2003 after the Iraq invasion, the U.S.’s reluctance on providing access to the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to Iraq’s nuclear facilities greatly shook down the inspection regime. The erosion of the cooperation between the U.S. and the Agency and the U.S.’s attempt to plunder Iraq’s nuclear facilities have actually damaged the inspection regime and restricted the NPT reporting by states that do not possess nuclear weapons. On 5 June 2003, the U.S. Department of Defense held a brief meeting on access to the nuclear facilities in Iraq. During the meeting, it was made clear that the U.S. has enough resources to perform disarmament in Iraq without the inspections of/help given by the International Atomic Energy Agency.[6] However, when the U.S. discovered 380 tons of explosives in Al-Qaqaa facility, the Agency was requested to return to Iraq.[7]

The Iraq War actually assured that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction. Thus, despite the entire search, there was no sign of weapons of mass destruction, even though that was the reasoning behind the declaration of war. The inspection of this case by United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency are of great importance.[8]However, despite all, the combination of the UN Security Council’s enforcements and uninvited inspection regimes has caused Iraq to disarm completely before the war.[9]There are two messages conveyed by Iraq’s weapon program, which came to a halt because of the Gulf War or UN’s weapon inspections. On the one hand, the events in Iraq have proved that a reinforced inspection regime can produce an efficient and trustworthy intelligence system as well as having the ability to verify the disarmament pledges. On the other hand, the UN did not find any proof on Iraq’s secret weapon program after its seven-year weapon inspection. Yet, the U.S. tried to justify the Iraq invasion and military operations with the pretext of weapon controls and the removal of weapons of mass destruction.

The lack of concrete and absolute information on states’ weapon programs leads to poor analysis and weak policies[10]. This comment actually points out two important lessons to learn from the Iraq incident. Firstly, the best way to obtain and enhance information about a state’s nuclear program is through strong inspection and verification mechanisms. Secondly, failure to find any proof for any kind of shortcoming of a political should not form a basis to support prejudices. Unfortunately, the regime change realized in Iraq under the aegis of weapon controls have caused states to view weapon inspections merely as political acts.

In order to avoid this view and to support the monitoring and verification mechanisms about weapon controls, hesitations vis-à-vis international agencies regarding inspections need to be eradicated. Under the NPT regime, states should take every opportunity to ensure the development of International Atomic Energy Agency’s authority and inspection regimes. Moreover, this could build trust and cooperation about security and nuclear energy between nuclear powers and states that do not possess nuclear weapons under the NPT regulations.

It is important to note that this issue did not end with Iraq War and is still significant today. Therefore, in effect, bringing down the reputation of the inspections held by the Agency will erode the cooperation between states that do not possess nuclear weapons and the Agency. This will also deprive the international society of the most important benefit of the disarmament regime –to obtain secure and reliable intelligence about the states that do not possess nuclear weapons.

Assistant Professor Saeed Bagheri, Akdeniz University

Please cite this publication as follows:

Bagheri, S. (March, 2016), “Weakening of the  International Atomic Energy Agency Control Regime Within the context of Recent Nuclear Developments”, Vol. V, Issue 3, pp.26-31, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey.


[1] Official name Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Non-Proliferation Treaty) (NPT), Opened for signature in 1 July 1968 in Washington, London and Moscow with the suggestion of Ireland. With the signatures of the majority of large states, entered into force in 5 March 1970.  As of 2016, “190 states” comply with NPT. The number of states that signed is “93.”[Accessed 15 January 2016], Available at:


[2] After the Gulf War of 1991, UN Security Council has formed United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) with International Atomic Energy Agency under its no. 687 dated 3 April 1991 to prove that the mass destruction weapons in Iraq have been removed. In 1999, UNSCOM authorities were transferred to the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). For more info. Gunilla FLODÉN, Iraq: The UNSCOM Experience, SIPRI Fact Sheet, October 1998, pp.1-12, [Accessed 15 January 2016], Available at:


[3] Jean D. PREEZ & William POTTER, North Korea’s Withdrawal from the NPT: A Reality Check, Monterey Institute of International Studies: James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), April 9, 2003, [Accessed 15 January 2016], Available at:


[4]David BOSCO, The World According to Bolton, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 61, Issue 4, 2005, pp.24-31.

[5] Remarks by President Barack Obama in Prague.” Prague, Czech Republic, 5 April 2009, The White House Office of the Press Secretary, available at:


[6]Background Briefing on IAEA Nuclear Safeguards and the Tuwaitha Facility, US Department of Defense: News Transcript, 5 June 2003, p.3, [Accessed 15 January 2016], Available at:

http://www.defense.gov/Transcripts/ Transcript.aspx?TranscriptID=2726

[7]For more info. High Explosives Missing in Iraq, BBC News, 12 October 2004, [Accessed 15 January 2016], available at:


[8] Available at:


[9] For more info. Dana PRIEST & Walter PINCUS, U.S. ‘Almost All Wrong’ on Weapons, Report on Iraq Contradicts Claims by Administration, Washington Post, 7 October 2004, [Accessed 15 January 2016], Available at:


[10] Jon FOX, Intelligence Analysts Have Misjudged Nuclear Threats Since Day One, Ex-CIA Official Says, Global Security Newswire, 14 March 2007, available at:

http://www.nti.org/gsn/article/ inte lligence-analysts-have-misjudged-nuclear-threats-since-day-one-ex-cia-official-says/

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