Cooperative Oversight of Dangerous Technologies: Lessons from the International Atomic Energy Agency Safeguards System

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Safeguards are a central feature of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and of the era introduced with President Eisenhower"s December 1953 Atoms for Peace initiative at the United Nations. Their importance to a viable and effective international non-proliferation regime cannot be exaggerated. They are for all intents and purposes a condition sine qua non for cooperative development of civil nuclear energy and practicable international nuclear commerce. There is no identifiable and acceptable substitute short of some form of international ownership and control of the nuclear fuel cycle a formulation advanced as the Baruch Plan by the United States in 1946 at the onset of the nuclear age. In current times this approach is being revisited as the international community grapples with the challenges raised by the disappearance of the disciplines imposed on proliferation during the Cold War the increasing spread of nuclear knowledge; the diversification of sources of supply of nuclear materials, equipment, and technology, including the emergence of a nuclear black market; the prospect of states in regions of tension developing fuel cycle capabilities that puts them in a position to quickly proliferate if the political decision to do so is taken; and the rising threat of non-state actors (including apocalyptic terrorists) acquiring nuclear explosives or the means to produce them. Viable institutional arrangements may provide additive stability and security to international nuclear activity, but safeguards will remain a core constituent of an effective and credible non-proliferation regime. This essay explores the evolution and current status of international safeguards implemented by the International Atomic Energy Agency.


CISSM Working Paper