November 21, 2022
BEIJING – Should the budget of the International Atomic Energy Agency be used for safeguard activities related to nuclear submarine cooperation of AUKUS? This should not be a question. But it is now.
In September 2021, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia established the AUKUS alliance, under which the US and the UK will provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarine technology. This is an act of nuclear proliferation and poses a challenge to the non-proliferation regime.
China and many other countries have repeatedly expressed concern over the proposed transfer of nuclear material involved in the trilateral pact as it is the first time that nuclear weapon states have blatantly proposed directly transferring nuclear material and technology to a non-nuclear weapon state.
It will set a terrible precedent if Australia is allowed to get nuclear material and related technology for military purposes. It will mean every country has the right to do so, which will undoubtedly render the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons meaningless.
First and foremost, the IAEA’s non-proliferation mandate and orientation must be upheld. The IAEA must recognize that the proposed activities of AUKUS represent a serious violation of the NPT. There can’t be a double standard on the question of nuclear non-proliferation.
An intergovernmental review and consultation process driven by IAEA member states must be upheld to address the safeguard issues for the AUKUS nuclear submarine cooperation. The IAEA cannot make a decision on this question without the agreement of the member states of the agency. Neither does it have the authority to secretly negotiate a deal with the three countries.
The IAEA’s mandate is from all its member states and whatever it does should represent their will. Preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and making sure nuclear energy activities are not used for military purposes are what the IAEA is for and thus what it must stand for. To safeguard the authority of the NPT, the IAEA must fulfill that function.
If the IAEA negotiates a deal and makes a decision on the AUKUS arrangement on its own, it will subvert its reason for being as it will be involved in the proliferation of nuclear weapons itself. In other words, by doing so, the IAEA will be acting as an accomplice of an illegal transfer of nuclear materials for military use, and it will itself become a violator of the NPT.
For world peace and the future of humanity, the IAEA must act responsibly. Its member states should work together to safeguard the authority of the NPT and that of the international non-proliferation regime, and save the IAEA as well.