Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, often described as the U.N.’s “nuclear watchdog,” criticized NATO earlier this week for encouraging nuclear proliferation. He urged NATO to drop any reference to nuclear deterrence in its new strategic statement, saying it encouraged proliferation: “You are sending a message to anyone around the world who reads your concept that they too need nuclear weapons,” he said. “The idea that nuclear is the supreme guarantee should be dropped because it’s absolutely the wrong message to the rest of the world.” ElBaradei also questioned the consistency of policy by NATO, which has committed troops to Afghanistan but has been unable to supply a single helicopter to help refugees in Darfur.
This criticism is all the more galling coming from an official who has bent over backwards to avoid criticizing Iran, which presumably would be a higher priority, given its failure to fully cooperate with his agency to resolve the problems that led to three rounds of sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. But last month, ElBaradei himself encouraged proliferation by suggesting that Iran may be seeking nuclear weapons technology in order to enhance its prestige and deter external enemies: “My gut feeling is that Iran definitely would like to have the technology… that would enable it to have nuclear weapons if they decided to do so,” he told the BBC. “[Iran] wants to send a message to its neighbors, it wants to send a message to the rest of the world: yes, don’t mess with us, we can have nuclear weapons if we want it,” said ElBaradei. “But the ultimate aim of Iran, as I understand it, is that they want to be recognized as a major power in the Middle East and they are. This is to them the road to get that recognition to power and prestige and…an insurance policy against what they heard in the past about regime change, axis of evil.”
Never mind that the Ayatollahs’ nuclear program dates back to the late 1980s, long before President Bush gave his “axis of evil” speech, which ElBaradei suggested may have motivated Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Never mind ElBaradei’s egregious criticism of NATO nuclear policy (and even its policy on Sudan!) in contrast to his kid gloves treatment of Iran. That is only to be expected from an officious, politically-correct U.N. functionary. One can only find hope in his much-belated “gut feeling” that Iran seeks nuclear weapons. After all, it was not too long ago that he said: “My gut feeling tells me that Iran has responded positively to my repeated demands that it scale back the program.”
Perhaps in the future Mr. ElBaradei will develop a “gut feeling” that he should focus his attention on nuclear proliferators, especially Iran, rather than on extraneous issues like NATO statements or Sudan. Unfortunately, on Iran’s nuclear program, he long has been the watchdog that didn’t bark.