Nuclear weapons should one day be entirely banned, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei said Tuesday at a talk on nuclear proliferation sponsored by the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.
ElBaradei, an Egyptian diplomat and the head of the IAEA since 1997, warned of the dangers of nuclear weaponry in a question and answer session at Luce Hall, which drew a standing-room-only crowd. ElBaradei was joined by Ernesto Zedillo, the director of the Center and the former president of Mexico. Students who attended the event said ElBaradei’s goal to one day rid the world of all nuclear weapons is praiseworthy, if somewhat idealistic.
ElBaradei said that while the power and prestige of nuclear weapons can be tempting to leaders, states — especially the world’s major powers — should be pushed to ban testing and begin to disarm.
He compared nuclear weapons to slavery and genocide, saying that while nuclear weapons have been politically acceptable at times in the past, they are detrimental to society and should be eliminated accordingly.
“It should be part of our collective conscious not to rely on nuclear weapons,” he said. “We invented nuclear weapons — we should be able to abolish nuclear weapons.”
ElBaradei said the proliferation of weapons has created a “growing sense of collective insecurity” that can be addressed by looking at the root causes, such as the continual reliance of the United States and Russia on nuclear deterrence.
In regard to the new nuclear threat from North Korea — which ElBaradei characterized as “blackmail” — the United States must engage in a dialogue instead of simply relying on sanctions that will mostly harm civilians, he said. He said he was pleased with Tuesday’s news that North Korea would re-enter 6-party talks later this year.
“It’s like a child going through a tantrum to attract attention,” ElBaradei said. “We need to bite the bullet and talk to our adversaries, whether we like it or not.”
He also said the international community should do everything in its power to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But an Iranian nuclear threat is still years away, and the United States should not “jump the gun” by reacting too harshly too soon, as it did with Iraq, ElBaradei said.
“People don’t want to be dragged into a situation where after using force they say, ‘Oops, we made a mistake,’” Elbaradei said. “We need to be much more careful.”
ElBaradei and the IAEA were joint recipients of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to discourage nuclear proliferation. But despite this honor, his tenure at the IAEA has been controversial.
The United States, upset with ElBaradei’s positions on Iraq and Iran, has tried to oust him as Director General for years, and reportedly tapped his phone calls with Iranian diplomats in 2004 in an effort to find ammunition with which to force him out of the organization, according to The Washington Post. The United States dropped its opposition to ElBaradei this spring, and he was elected to a third term as Director General in June.
Haynie Wheeler, associate director of the Center for the Study of Globalization, said ElBaradei’s visit is particularly relevant given current events around the world.
“It’s a time when there’s a lot of attention being focused [on] nuclear proliferation,” she said.
But some students said the Director General’s goal to destroy all nuclear weaponry is far-fetched.
While Zharna Shah ’10 said she thinks eliminating nuclear weapons is not viable in the short term, she said ElBaradei’s long-term goal is a noble one, even if it is not entirely realistic.
“I think it’s important to have ElBaradei’s idealism,” she said. “I think he’s justified in having it by the mere fact that if he didn’t, he probably couldn’t do his job on a day-to-day basis.”
Chanatip Metheetrairut ’08 said ElBaradei’s point that countries like North Korea try to develop nuclear weapons because they feel unsafe – not because they want or plan to use them – was reassuring.
The issue of nuclear proliferation has been a focus of the Center, Wheeler said. On Sept. 25, it hosted a lecture by former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, and last spring it hosted Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling and Javad Zarif, the Iranian ambassador to the U.N.