Discussion Paper: The IAEA’s Nuclear Security Role

Discussion Paper: The IAEA’s Nuclear Security Role

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Trevor Findlay

This is an excerpt from NTI's discussion paper, titled "The IAEA’s Nuclear Security Role." To read the full paper, download the PDF below.


According to Director General Yukiya Amano, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sees itself as the global “platform” for nuclear security efforts. On other occasions, it has been described as having a “central role.” The IAEA Medium Term Strategy, on the other hand, describes the Agency’s strategic objective in the nuclear security field as being “to establish and achieve global acceptance of an agreed international framework for nuclear security and support its application.” Some argue that if the Nuclear Security Summit process ends, the IAEA should inherit its mantle. Still others argue that the IAEA is irreplaceable; performs an important role well; and should over time be given greater authorities and resources, although not necessarily take over all the functions of the nuclear security summits. Others question whether the IAEA could ever become the “platform” for nuclear security given the reluctance of key member states to provide it with the requisite authorities and resources. Another school of thought contends that an international organization comprised of states should not play a central role in nuclear security, but rather a supportive one, with governments, the nuclear industry, and non-governmental organizations remaining paramount.

This paper is intended to stimulate discussion on the proper role of the IAEA in global nuclear security. It begins by outlining the current role of the Agency and the shortcomings that are in evidence. It then considers how the Agency might be strengthened in the short to medium terms. Finally, it considers what action would be needed to make the Agency truly the nuclear security “platform,” especially in relation to gaps in the current global governance system that it could fill.

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