Fox Among the Nuclear Chickens

The alert came today in a brief article in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant: Pakistan has been picked as chairman of the Board of Governors of the IAEA, the Vienna-based international agency charged as the watchdog against any use of nuclear energy for military purposes, even as at the same time it is supposed to promote it for peaceful uses.

For anyone reasonably informed about recent nuclear weapons history, the name “Pakistan” does call forth many associations – but all of them related precisely to the sort of nuclear misuse that the IAEA is supposed to stop. Admittedly, the Volkskrant piece does devote a full three-quarters of its exiguous length to listing some of these doubts: Pakistan has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; Pakistan has been locked in a dangerous nuclear stand-off with arch-rival India ever since first conducting nuclear explosions in 1998; the Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was primarily responsible not only for his own country gaining a nuclear weapons capability, but also (for a price) North Korea, Libya (since dismantled) and potentially Iran.

Still, the irony of another Pakistani being chosen to chair the IAEA’s governors was better captured by the lead paragraph in this report from the AFP (and not just because it’s in English):

VIENNA, Austria — Pakistan, which refuses to sign the nuclear [sic] Non-Proliferation Treaty and was home to a notorious nuclear smuggling ring, was named head of the UN nuclear watchdog’s governing board here Monday.

The AFP also judiciously supplements the previous reasons to doubt Pakistan’s anti-nuclear credentials with the additional fact that that country’s atomic weapons stockpiles are now the focus of widespread worry that they will somehow fall into Taliban and/or Al-Qaeda hands.

Yet, strangely, the tail-end of this AFP piece describes how many at the top levels of international nuclear policy find this new situation not to be at all unusual. “They are a member” of the IAEA after all, notes one diplomat, quoted anonymously. And the US ambassador to the IAEA declares that “The United States of America looks forward very much to working with the Pakistani governor as chairman of the board of governors.” In this light, appointing a Greenlander, say, to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization would be positively a breath of fresh air; at least no Greenlander has been known to go around burning grain warehouses to the ground.

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