The International Atomic Energy Agency is associated with the United Nations. Established in 1957, its intended purpose was to promote the peaceful use of atomic energy while inhibiting the spread of nuclear weapons.
Following World War II, opinions in the United States were divided, with respect to the awesome destructive power of the atomic bomb. Some, such as Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, believed that the basic physics involved in the bomb could not be kept secret and that the United States would benefit by sharing its knowledge with the Soviet Union in exchange for the mutual commitment not to develop more bombs. Others, such as Secretary of State James Byrnes, held the belief that the United States should actively protect its monopoly for as long as possible.
In early 1946, the Acheson-Lilienthal Report suggested international control of all fissionable materials. President Harry S. Truman delegated the responsibility for promoting the plan to former presidential advisor Bernard Baruch.
Baruch, who had served as the chairman for President Woodrow Wilson’s War Industries Board and as a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust," presented a revision of the Acheson-Lilienthal Report, or the Baruch Plan, to the first meeting of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission in June 1946.
The revisions virtually guaranteed its rejection by the Soviet Union due to a stipulation that involved a delay before the United States would begin dismantling its own weapons, probably for several years. During that delay, the United States would have an advantage with which to influence any negotiations.
That situation was intolerable to the Soviet Union. Unable to establish a basic understanding between the two great powers, the Atomic Energy Commission languished and finally expired in 1953.
Meanwhile, events showed that the atomic genie could not be kept in its bottle. The Soviet Union detonated its own atomic bomb on August 29, 1949. In response and over the objections from the U.S. AEC`s General Advisory Committee, the United States government launched a crash program to develop the "super," or hydrogen bomb. The first successful test was conducted in 1951. Within nine months, the Soviets had exploded one of their own.
Seeing no advantage to either side in an escalating arms race, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his Atoms for Peace speech to the U.N. General Assembly in December 1953. The speech again proposed international control of atomic knowledge and suggested that the atomic powers share their knowledge with the rest of the world for peaceful purposes.
This plan was warmly received and resulted in the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency on July 29, 1957. Its headquarters are in Vienna, Austria. Its board of governors consists of 35 nations that formulate decisions for the approval of the annual General Conference of some 130 member nations.
In order to control the spread of nuclear knowledge and material, the IAEA was initially empowered to enter into agreements with non-nuclear nations for inspection and reporting. The first of these arrangements, called "safeguards," was concluded in 1959 with Japan. Nations that accepted safeguards became eligible for increased technical cooperation for peaceful purposes with the United States.
Unfortunately, although strides were made in the promotion of peaceful uses, the IAEA was unable to prevent the continued race to use atomic science for military ends. However, as the development of the inter-continental ballistic missile demonstrated that no one anywhere could feel safe from the effects of nuclear weapons, the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union began to see the need for some agreement.
The Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, better known as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, came into effect in 1970. It defined two categories of nations: Nuclear nations were those who had already tested the bomb and non-nuclear nations were all others. The nuclear nations agree not to assist non-nuclear nations in the development of nuclear weapons.
Non-nuclear nations that sign the treaty are obligated to open their nuclear facilities to inspection by the IAEA and agree to safeguards guaranteeing that nuclear technology and materials are not diverted to military uses. Safeguards under NPT must cover all of a nation`s nuclear facilities, rather than just those negotiated with the IAEA as had previously been the case.
By 2003, virtually every nation in the world, 169 in all, had signed the NPT. Only one nation, South Africa, had gained acceptance by acknowledging and dismantling its weapons program. Only one nation, North Korea, has withdrawn from the treaty.
However, the IAEA has no authority to inspect facilities in countries that are not signatories to the NPT, so it has been unable to prevent the development and testing of atomic weapons by Pakistan and India. Israel is another non-signatory and, its generally assumed possession of nuclear weapons, remains outside the jurisdiction of the IAEA.
In addition, the safeguards to which each non-nuclear nation agreed involved inspections that proved inadequate. The realization that Saddam Hussein had set Iraq on a course of nuclear weapons development while under safeguards, led to a strengthening of the IAEA`s inspection authority during the 1990`s.
In 1994, Hussein expelled the IAEA`s inspectors from Iraq. In September 2002, President George W. Bush threatened Iraq with war if Hussein did not readmit inspectors and give them an unfettered opportunity to determine that Iraq did not possess a nuclear weapons program. Hussein reluctantly agreed in December and so in January 2003, IAEA inspectors returned to Iraq.
Although they found nothing, the United States declared this to be further evidence that Hussein was hiding his "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD) and invaded in March of that year. Subsequent searches have shown that the IAEA was correct and that Iraq had no WMD program at the time of the invasion.