Saturday, October 08, 2005

ElBaradei and the IAEA win Nobel Peace Prize

And the Nobel Peace Prize goes to...

Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency. CNN reports:

The U.N. nuclear watchdog and its head, Mohamed ElBaradei, won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their efforts to limit the spread of atomic weapons.

ElBaradei told CNN he was "overwhelmed." He said it was "a shot in the arm" for his agency and would strengthen its resolve in dealing with major issues like North Korea and Iran.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee picked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and ElBaradei, an Egyptian, from a record field of 199 candidates.

It praised ElBaradei as an "unafraid advocate" of measures to strengthen non-proliferation efforts. (Full citation)

The prize is to be split equally between the agency and ElBaradei. He promised the money would be spent on "good causes."

He told a news conference in Vienna, Austria, that the prize "sends a strong message" about the agency's disarmament efforts and will strengthen his resolve to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

"The award basically sends a very strong message, which is: Keep doing what you are doing," ElBaradei said. "It's a responsibility but it's also a shot in the arm."

This victory will surely be met with irritation, if not outright dismissiveness, from conservatives and other anti-U.N.ers who see ElBaradei as an obstacle to peace rather than a promoter of it. But even those who oppose President Bush on most fronts, including his handling of North Korea and Iran, the two most serious question marks (and exclamation marks) out in the nuclear community, may not care much for what seems like a politicized pick. At The Washington Note, for example, Steve Clemons, certainly neither a conservative nor an, responded unfavorably:

John Bolton must have a headache over this as ElBaradei was one of his targets when Bolton was Under Secretary of State. Bolton apparently screened intelligence intercepts of ElBaradei's conversations to find material to help block his efforts to serve a third term as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But as much as I find ElBaradei an interesting person, a celebrity-bureaucrat given his high profile, I haven't found him overwhelmingly successful in his job. We clearly have a collapse in the global proliferation regime. The IAEA may be doing all it can to reverse or stall trends, but still... success has not been very evident.

Perhaps this is a pat-on-the-back Nobel, a keep working hard carrot, a congrats-on-your-third-term "shot in the arm" as ElBaradei called it.

But still... this should have gone to someone who was making real sacrifices on behalf of global peace. Despite his being a reasonably good global civil servant, I don't think that ElBaradei cuts that profile.

Fair enough, but I would add this: When are Nobel Peace Prizes (or, for that matter, Nobel Literature Prizes, also highly politicized) ever given out on the merits? More often than not, they seem to be prizes with a message. The message here? Stick with the U.N. and its inspection regime as the best way to control nuclear proliferation. And its (possible) corollary: The U.S. (and the Bush Administration in particular) is wrong/dangerous/crazy (take your pick).

This is how
Outside the Beltway, a conservative blog, sees it, noting that ElBaradei and the IAEA won for "their opposition to the Bush Administration". Former President Jimmy Carter's win in 2002 was also seen as a vote against Bush, as The Agonist points out. The Heretik remarks that "Cheney’s sparring partners on WMD in Iraq just won the Nobel Peace Prize". The Mahablog agrees: "The Bushies must be mightily pissed". Indeed, if they even care.

Elsewhere, The Glittering Eye suggests that this was an award for effort, if nothing else:

[D]uring Mr. ElBaradei’s tenure at IAEA North Korea and Pakistan have developed nuclear weapons and Iran is on the brink. Job well done, guys! During the same period South Africa, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Romania, Argentina, Libya, Algeria, Yugoslavia, and Iraq have all abandoned nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons research for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the IAEA but everything to do with the changing geo-political situation and in one case, Iraq, war and another, Libya, fear.

History does not support the Nobel Prize Committee’s conclusions. So, the Committee now rewards aspiration rather than accomplishment.

It's tough to disagree with that assessment -- and I'm not about to. I wonder, though, if there isn't another side to the story. Though I agree that ElBaradei's win can be read as a strong anti-American message (at least in terms of the Bush Administration's policies towards Iran and North Korea), the Nobel Committee, rightly or wrongly, may be trying to support the IAEA at a time when its role is more important than ever and when, to quote The New York Times today, ElBaradei won a third term as chief of the I.A.E.A. earlier this year despite opposition from Washington" (and "overwhelming support from the rest of the world community"). Yes, this may be seen as proof of the Committee's anti-American (anti-Bush) bias, but:

The Norwegian Nobel Institute's prize committee said it hoped that the prize will strengthen the United Nations organization and refocus energy on nonproliferation in the wake of a failure to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at a United Nations conference earlier this year.

"The director general has stood out as an unafraid advocate," the Nobel committee chairman, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, said in making the announcement beneath crystal chandeliers in a small vaulted room on the third floor of the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo. He added that the I.A.E.A.'s work is of incalculable importance "at a time when disarmament efforts appear deadlocked, when there is a danger that nuclear arms will spread both to states and to terrorist groups, and when nuclear power again appears to be playing an increasingly significant role."

Mr. Mjoes said the award to Mr. ElBaradei was not meant as a veiled criticism of Washington or of Mr. Bush. "This is not a kick in the legs to any country," he told reporters gathered for the announcement. A former committee chairman described the 2002 prize to former President Jimmy Carter as a "kick in the legs" to Mr. Bush.

Of course he'd say that, I know, but, again, it could just be that the Nobel Committee is rewarding the IAEA's work, however much the success of that work may be called into question.

And here's another possibility: Could it not be that the Nobel Committee wanted to focus on nuclear disarmament in 2005, the 60th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? But, then, why not go for Japanese anti-nuclear activist and Nagasaki survivor Senji Yamaguchi? The Times again: "Mr. Yamaguchi, in Nagasaki, told Agence France-Presse that he believed he had been passed over because the Nobel committee didn't want to offend the United States. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. He said that Mr. ElBaradei and the I.A.E.A. should "work harder to stop the possibility of repeating the Hiroshima and Nagasaki tragedies in the future."

All this is speculation, of course. The Nobel Peace Prize is largely a political award with political ramifications and embedded political messages. And perhaps the corollary is as true as the overt message, that is, perhaps the pro-IAEA message is indeed coupled with latent (or perhaps not-so-latent) anti-Americanism. And perhaps, too, ElBaradei and the IAEA don't even deserve the award -- yes, merit matters. But is it so wrong that they won? Is it so wrong that the Nobel Committee has focused its attention (and the attention of the world) on an international body that aims to control nuclear proliferation through peaceful resolution rather than through war?

I'm hardly a fan of North Korea and Iran worries me immensely (see links below), and war may ultimately be necessary in both cases, but it's tough to say, I think, that ElBaradei and the IAEA aren't doing good work and shouldn't have been recognized for their efforts. Especially with our attention this year drawn back 60 years to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


For some background, see my previous posts on North Korea:
And my previous posts on Iran:
And my previous post on Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

Let me offer a pick for the Nobel Peace Prize: Ariel Sharon. Controversial, perhaps, but shouldn't he have deserved consideration?

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