Monday, October 10, 2005

Kerfuffles over This Year’s Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Committee has awarded the to , 63, and the ( ), which he has headed for eight years. As always, some observers are happier about it than others. What is different this time, though, is the fact that the proponents and critics don’t line up in the usual way.

The Nobel Committee no doubt intended to strengthen the hand of the IAEA, which certainly needs more clout for dealing with States aspiring to nuclear status, such as and (still probably) North Korea — not to mention the known nuclear weapons States, which defer to no one.

We may assume that the especially dislikes the Nobel committee’s choice of ElBaradei — or even regards it as a deliberate affront. The IAEA had been responsible for inspecting Iraq, searching for weapons of mass destruction ( s) when still ran the country. They reported that no such weapons had been found, and were skeptical that any even existed, though they promised to continue the investigations.

At that point, however, Bush ordered the invasion of , having insisted that the country did possess WMDs. Afterward, of course, the US itself was unable to find any such weapons. Awarding the prize to ElBaradei can be seen as another attempt to humiliate Bush, who has also violated other agreements that aimed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Thus the recent review conference of the ended in total failure, and the summit in September was also prevented from reaching substantial agreements to improve the . Both of these debacles can be attributed to the influence of the US government.

Still, the only person in the Bush Administration who has reacted to this news was Secretary of State , who extended her polite congratulations and promised to cooperate with the IAEA.

On the other hand, some peace activists are conspicuously refraining from celebrating the occasion. A few feel that the award should have been divided between ElBaradei and his predecessor, , who had also staunchly defended the nuclear non-proliferation regime from the undermining attempts of the US government. However, that is a minor point.

A more important reason for questioning the Nobel committee’s decision reflects anxiety over the policies of the IAEA, and of course its leaders. Their purpose is not just to restrain the proliferation of nuclear weapons but also actively to foster the spread of peaceful nuclear technology. Insofar as the organization promotes such peaceful uses, it may actually cause future disasters.

There are compelling reasons to worry about “the peaceful atom.” The generation of electricity by nuclear reactors inevitably creates , which is potentially of great use to terrorists, besides being inherently dangerous, even in the absence of . All nuclear facilities are sources of nuclear contamination which harms the health of the population in the surrounding area. (See the reports of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Takoma Park, Maryland. .) Officials are doing the world no favor by promoting nuclear technology of any kind.

That critique is completely justifiable, as I read the evidence, which is abundant. Unquestionably, the harm done by “peaceful nuclear technology” has vastly surpassed its benefits. Yet I cannot fault Mohamed ElBaradei for this problem. It is not up to him to change the international agreements. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty explicitly offers the non-nuclear States access to for peaceful purposes, on condition that they not acquire weapons. By now, it is clear that this was a bad bargain — both because the nuclear States have not kept their side of the bargain by disarming their , and because the “peaceful” uses of nuclear technology do every country more harm than good. The NPT was a mixed blessing; we don’t want to junk it because it has served to inhibit the horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons. Yet it entrenches the right of all signatory States to acquire this “peaceful” technology, which had turned out to be so deleterious.

It’s not ElBaradei’s fault that we face this dilemma. It’s our own problem. We need a whole new regime for managing the world”s nuclear installations. Unfortunately, the impending energy shortage will make it even harder to negotiate such changes — yet it must be done. So let’s add that little item to this week’s to-do list.


Blogger Porlock Junior said...

There's one other point that no one seems to have noticed. When Linus Pauling got the Prize in 1962 for his struggle against nuclear-weapons testing, it got real, major hostility. Life Magazine took it as a direct insult to the United States, and CalTech didn't even congratulate its distinguished faculty member (and already Nobel laureate) on this new major honor.

And all he did was try to persuade this county (and the others) to make a policy change, which they proceeded to do. No one but a complete idiot could consider it a slap at the US government the way this year's Peace Prize is. (A very well-earned slap, but that's irrelevant here.)

To be sure, the country was largely populated by idiots, of the anti-Communist sort. I don't recall a hostile government reaction to Pauling's prize, though; coming up to date, the Bush crew deserves credit for taking this one so quietly.

So says Porlock Junior [alias Cousin Matthew], deploring all those ahistorical young whippersnappers in charge of public opinion.

2:28 PM  
Anonymous westslope said...

Yes, the Norwegians might have just kicked Bush Jr's legs.

The Norwegians themselves deserve a kick in the butt for the doomed from the get-go Oslo peace accords that I strongly suspect was the major contributing factor to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Funny how some of these rewards get so political. Consider Prof. Paul Krugman, America's most hated 'liberal columnist. Thanks to his controversial (and highly partisan) column in the New York Times, he will never receive the Nobel economics prize which he richly deserves for his most innovative and relevant work in the field of international trade and market power.

Incidentally, I'm a big fan of Paul Krugman and highy recommend everything he writes from applied theory to policy to op/ed. However, has anybody else ever noticed how he scrupously avoids writing about the Israeli-Palestinian issue?

8:01 PM  
Blogger Metta Spencer said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:44 PM  
Blogger Metta Spencer said...

Well, I wouldn't rough up the Norwegians for the failure of the Oslo Accords. Are you suggesting they should never have tried to mediate at all? What should have happened instead?

As for Krugman, I have to admit I don't read him regularly. I take the NY Times only on Sunday. But people are more polarized about him than anybody else I know. If you google him, you find piles of sites calling him a liar. Others, on the other hand, seem to adore him.

11:45 PM  
Anonymous westslope said...

There were no provisions in the Oslo Peace Accords to stop the settlement expansion. Not surprisingly, the peaceful lull was fully exploited by Israel to keep constructing ring roads, expanding settlements, intimidating Palestinians into selling their land. The Norwegians should have known it would not fly and ultimately end in even more violence. I suspect that Norway was trying to please the USA which in effect guarantees Norway's security vis-a-vis the Soviet Union/Russian Federation.

The raised expectations ultimately produced more violence.

Worse yet, Israel withdrew the settlements from the Gaza because they could not be militarily secured. Now we have Palestinian factions that believe they can militarily win against Israel.

Concurrently, Israel appears bent on retaining much of the West Bank (up to 40%) and all of Jerusaleum while many North Americans seem satisfied that the Gaza withdrawl was a concrete step towards peace, and things are somehow going better. That view is apparently not widely shared in the occupied territories and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Metta Spencer said...

Sigh. Westslope, the Israel/Palestine thing is so exhausting that I rarely even try to get into it. You may be completely right. Certainly the road-building continued. Whether the Norwegians should have anticipated that, I wouldn't venture to guess. I do rather doubt your statement that they were acting at the behest of the US government all along. Maybe so, but at the time, everyone believed that the US was irked by their intrusion into such matters. I remember seeing Clinton with his arms outstretched between Arafat and Barak, and thinking that he was hogging the limelight that he didn't deserve, since it was the Norwegians who did the job. But I could have been wrong.

1:18 AM  

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