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U.S. To Boost Support for the IAEA (UPDATE: Video from Secy Clinton’s NPT Speech)

UPDATE II: The video of Hillary Clinton’s address at the NPT Revcon:



UPDATE: Via email, the State Department alerts that the announcement in question is a $50 million contribution toward a $100 million IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative for the developing world. It will “significantly expand support for projects sponsored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), addressing energy and important humanitarian purposes, such as cancer treatment and fighting infectious diseases, food and water security, and the development of infrastructure for the safe, secure use of civil nuclear power.” 

On Friday afternoon, Ambassador Susan Rice, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, and Ambassador Susan Burk (who is leading the day to day NPT review negotiations) held a press conference to preview the  United States position at the NPT review conference.  Check out this nugget from the Q and A:

QUESTION: (Inaudible) news. I wanted to ask you about what kind of pledges – you made references to additional resources needed for the IAEA and additional cooperation with countries under the element of the NPT related to civilian nuclear energy. Are you – can you tell us anything about specific plans on that score that you may have to offer? 

UNDER SECRETARY TAUSCHER: Last year and again in this year, we are working to support an increase in the IAEA budget both for nonproliferation activities and other forensic activities, also for their science lab. That is a very good science lab, but it’s gone under disrepair. So we’re interested in getting that up. And I can tell you that on Monday, Secretary Clinton will be making some announcements in her speech about other investments. So stay tuned.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? Just very briefly on the IAEA point, what about additional authorities that they’re going to need to carry this out?
UNDER SECRETARY TAUSCHER: Obviously, we want not only a fully funded IAEA, but one with teeth. So part of the opportunity at the Review Conference is to really understand what mechanisms we need because of these issues of noncompliance. What does the IAEA actually need in authorities and funding to accomplish what the world community wants it to, which is to be a credible watchdog?

So it looks like the Obama administration is making good on its pledges at the Nuclear Security Summit and in the Nuclear Posture Review to bolster the IAEA. We’ll have to wait until this afternoon, when Secretary Clinton addresses the conference, to see what exact form that will take. In the meantime, this seems to be a good opportunity to revisit an explainer post I wrote a few weeks back about why the IAEA needs strengthening.

Over the past ten years, the IAEA has transformed from a backwater international agency to the first line of defense for non-proliferation.  Along the way, however, its own members have failed to fully empower the IAEA to fulfill its new mission as the world’s “nuclear watch dog.” As a result, the IAEA is struggling.

How did we get here? In his famous 1953 “Atoms for Peace” speech, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called for the creation of an “atomic energy agency could be made responsible for the impounding, storage and protection of the contributed fissionable and other materials.” In 1957, the IAEA was established to do just that. And, for much of the Cold War, it remained a small international agency responsible for simply double-checking its member states’ own declarations on nuclear activity.  This changed with the end of the Cold War and the emergence of Iraq as a nuclear weapon state. Iraq’s proliferation was a wakeup call for the international community, which in turn sought to expand the legal and technical authority entrusted to the IAEA to forestall something like that from happening again.

Over the past decade, the triple proliferation crises of Iraq, North Korea, and Iran fundamentally changed what the international community required from the institution. The IAEA has effectively turned into a nuclear detective agency. But despite demands placed upon the organization, the agency still lacks the resources to excel at this role. A “CSI-Vienna” it is not.

Consider it’s budget. The IAEA is funded through a regular budget assessment from its member states–that is, its members pay dues and are thus given the privilege of sitting on its board of governors. For most of the last decade, these board members imposed a policy of “zero-growth,” meaning that even as the IAEA was asked to do more, its regular buget remained stagnant.  

In 2010 the IAEA’s regular budget amounted to about $420 million. For comparison, the budget of the U.S. Department of Defense is about $500 BILLION.  In 2008, an IAEA report found that the “safeguards budget” of the IAEA, which is meant to protect hundreds of tons of nuclear material in hundreds of facilities in scores of countries, is not more than the budget of the police department of the IAEA’s host city, Vienna, Austria.

An IAEA budget crunch threatens to undermine the agency’s political and technical usefullness for its member states. Remember: the value that an international organization like the IAEA adds to international relations is that it is considered independent from of any single member state. When it comes to technical analysis — like deducing if a particular nuclear site in Iran is capable of producing high-enriched uranium — part of the agency’s value rests in the perception that it comes to its own, independent conclusions.  The problem is, a spartan budget means that the agency lacks certain in-house expertise. For example, it has to outsource environmental sampling lab work to a small handful of labs in its member states. 

For much of the past decade, the previous IAEA director’s calls for increased funding have mostly fallen on deaf ears. (You may recall that there was no love lost between the Bush administration and Mohammed elBaradei.) President Obama, however, seems to understand the value of the IAEA. He has called on countries to double the IAEA’s budget over the next four years. In 2010, the United States increased its own contributions by 20%. Strengthening the IAEA was also featured in the Nuclear Posture Review — and the fact that the host country put it on the agenda of today’s summit bodes well for the prospect of an empowered IAEA.   

In the end, strengthening the IAEA is a matter of self-interest for its member states.  The international community has invested significant political and diplomatic capital into conclusions drawn by IAEA inspectors. Critical foreign policy decisions like whether or not to pursue sanctions are based on the IAEA’s scientific conclusions. It’s about time that the IAEA receives political and financial backing commensurate with its new and emerging responsibilities. It seems that we are finally on the way to getting the IAEA we deserve.


Security | | 2

Polio Outbreak in Tajikistan

It looks like I am at ground zero of a polio outbreak. In Tajikistan, where I live,  171 cases of acute flaccid paralysis have been reported by the Ministry of Health since January. (Acute flaccid paralysis is what they call it before the tests confirm it’s polio.) 32 cases have been confirmed as polio. Twelve people have died.

The WHO and the Ministry of Health are in rapid response mode. The government of Tajikistan plans to provide three supplementary doses of polio vaccine to every child in the country under five. That’s over a million children, and they plan to vaccinate all of them by June 5th. They have started in Dushanbe already, and they will expand into surrounding regions and throughout the country.

It’s not an over-reaction. The virus in question is the wild poliomyelitis virus. In other words, it hasn’t been caused by the vaccine itself. Gene sequencing indicates that the virus is most closely related to wild polio from Uttar Pradesh, India. We’ve already got polio in Pakistan and India. If Tajikistan doesn’t get on top of this, we could be looking at a polio belt from the subcontinent to Central Asia, with spillover into Iran and possibly China.

I think Tajikistan is going to put a stop to the outbreak. We just completed a national measles vaccination campaign last year, so the systems are in place. International donors are ready to support the immunization effort. We’ll see what it looks like a month from now, but this appears to be a problem that can be solved.

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Doing Food Aid Better (Part 1)

Food aid is contentious. It’s a field that is rife with controversy because, even though it constitutes a major cornerstone of foreign aid, designing and implementing food aid initiatives without creating negative externalities is very difficult.

For decades, organizations such as the World Food Program (WFP) have been donating millions of tons of food to populations in need.

While the value of giving food to starving people is not debatable, models of food aid procurement and distribution have been criticized.

One of the main criticisms leveled at food aid is that – other than in acute emergency situations — giving away food undermines local producers and sellers of agricultural products. This is particularly problematic when food is imported from abroad, as is currently the case in Haiti, for instance.

While organizations claim that, so far, local producers have not been impacted by the flooding of free food in Haiti — thanks to a combination of mitigating measures such as purchasing locally when possible and the providing of technical support to farmers – the risks of undermining local markets through the dumping of imported food have been well-documented.

In places where malnutrition and food scarcity are chronic problems – as is the case with several sub-saharan African countries – the international community has been responding with stop-gap measures.

For example, the current food crisis in Niger is being addressed through “cash-for-work programmes, low-price sales, cattle-feed distribution, cereal banks and targeted nutritional blanket feeding programme to prevent malnutrition.” And while these initiatives are obviously important and useful, they are also costly and achieve little in terms of preventing similar crises from occurring in the future.

Which is why when a new, critical initiative on global food security was launched last summer during the G8 summit at L’Aquila in Italy, it seemed as though efforts to tackle malnutrition and food insecurity were finally going to be improved, through the development and financing of more sustainable, relevant initiatives.

Specifically, the G8 pledged $20 billion toward food security in developing countries, with the goal of raising smallholder farmer productivity and increasing agricultural production. The six-page statement released on the occasion notes the desire of G8 countries to tackle food insecurity through systemic change, including improving physical access to markets for smallholder farmers, ensuring that protectionist policies are kept at bay, and encouraging better global governance for food security. 

The substantial pledge was welcomed as a significant step toward developing long-term solutions to global hunger.

Following the announcement last summer, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Kanayo F. Nwanze, noted that “In the past, food security was a mere bullet point at the G8. This time, world leaders have endorsed a concrete and wide-ranging initiative. They have recognized that food security has two dimensions: food aid for critical situations and sustained investment in agriculture to break the poverty cycle.”

And, last week, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) launched, as the first concrete initiative flowing from the L’Aquila commitments.

GAFSP is a trust fund administered by the World Bank. It is overseen by a steering committee and technical advisory committee made up of representatives from donor and recipient countries, as well as food and agriculture experts and implementing partners — such as IFAD – and regional development banks.

Initially capitalized at $880 million, this new fund is meant to replicate other successful global initiatives, such as the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

This is definitely a step in the right direction. The Food and Agriculture Organization notes that over the last few decades, the share of overall Official Development Assistance (ODA) for agriculture has been decreasing steadily, from a peak of 17 percent in 1979, to a low of 3.5 percent in 2004 (it rose again to 5.5 percent in 2007).

The infusion of predictable, long term financing options for governments of low income countries wishing to invest in developing their agricultural sector is good news.

Creating a new fund is a great first step – but it’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In my next post, I will attempt to shed light on how exactly the fund can support agricultural development in low income countries, and why it’s important investments in agriculture be considered in conjunction with broader poverty alleviation efforts.


U.S. Congress Working on Travel Ban for Female Genital Mutilation

Joseph Crowley (D-New York) and Mary Bono Mack (R-California) are asking their fellow members of congress to support a new law that would make it illegal to transport a minor outside of the United States for the purpose of female genital mutilation (FGM). According to a “Dear Colleague” letter obtained by UN Dispatch, the “Girls Protection Act of 2010″ would impose the same penalties on those who transported teenage girls abroad for FGM as if the procedure occurred in the United States. 

Numerous European countries have already passed laws, known as “vacation” or “extra-territorial” provisions, which make it possible to prosecute individuals who transport girls abroad to have the procedure forcibly carried out.current U.S. law does not sufficiently address the travel issue. As a result, young girls in the United States have a difficult time turning to the legal system for the protection and support they deserve.  Our legislation would amend existing law so that those who transport girls abroad for the purposes of FGM will face the same penalties as if the FGM had been carried out in the United States.

The letter is dated April 30th. I imagine that it will attract a number of co-sponsors.  Something to keep an eye on.

Women | 3

Everything You Need to Know about the NPT Review Conference

In this Bloggingheads conversation with Daryl Kimball, we preview the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty Review conference that kicks off at the United Nations today.  Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, discusses what is at stake, what the Obama administration is hoping will come out of the conference, and what role Iran might play as a spoiler in the negotiations. Our conversation is a pretty handy resource for people that want a handle on what will go down during the course of the negotiations this month.



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“We need to urgently transform the global energy system:” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Video)

On Wednesday, I mentioned a new report from a UN advisory group that called for access to modern energy services for the developing world, combined with an increased focus on energy efficiency.  The group released an exhaustive report on the some of the public policy options and private entrepreneurship investments that may help acheive those dual goals.  I just noticed that the UN YouTube people posted some clips from the press conference that introduced the report.  Enjoy,


Climate | 1 Comment

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