The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukia Amano has died in office. Amano was a highly respected international diplomat who will best be remembered for successfully implementing the Iran nuclear deal.

Indeed, it was a testimony to his immense diplomatic skill that both the foreign minister of Iran Javad Zarif and John Bolton lauded his professionalism and skill. Beyond Iran, Amano also will be remembered for updating the original mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency beyond the “Atoms for Peace” rubric envisioned by US President Dwight Eisenhower, who helped create the organization, to “Atoms for Peace and Development,” spelling out a broader role for nuclear technology in global development–particularly in global health and cancer treatment in the developing world.

 

Now there is a vacancy at the top of the IAEA. Who will replace the late Yukia Amano?

The IAEA is sometimes referred to as the UN’s “nuclear watchdog.” It’s most high profile work includes deploying teams of highly skilled scientists who monitor country’s compliance with international nuclear treaties and agreements like the Iran nuclear deal. The IAEA also provides technical support to countries as they development peaceful uses of nuclear technologies, like energy and cancer treatment.

The director general of the IAEA is elected to the post by the IAEA’s board of governors, which includes 35 countries. Amano was elected by the board in 2009. The bylaws of the IAEA stipulate that the board of governors elect the director general by two thirds majority, using a secret ballot. The next meeting of the board of governors is in September. Until then, the deputy director general Mary Alice Hayward, an American, will serve as the interim director general.

A key question now is who the United States might support as the next director general? Or, more specifically, what form that support may take and whether or not the US will seek to bully other countries into supporting its preferred candidate.

This question is poignant given how US National Security Advisor John Bolton approached IAEA elections when he was last in office during the Bush administration. At the time, John Bolton sought to push then-director general Mohammad el Baradei out of office, before he could seek a third term in 2005. el Baradei was publicly skeptical about Bush administration claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, before the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, el Baradei called for more inspections. The Bush administration launched its war anyway. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bolton was wrong, but sought retribution against el Baradei. He failed in that effort and the IAEA won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. El Baradei was elected to another term.

Much of the value of the IAEA derives from the impartiality that its technical experts bring to their work.

Assessments about a country’s nuclear programs that come from the IAEA are regarded as being less influenced by politics or the parochial interests of any single country. If the director general is viewed as a stooge of a single country his or her effectiveness will be undermined

Having a sober international diplomat, specifically not from the United States or a country with nuclear weapons, lead the IAEA offers a degree of credibility to the work of the agency. Yukia Amano, who was from Japan, brought just that to international affairs and the world was a safer place for it.

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