In many respects, the International Atomic Energy Agency is the key piece in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It provides technical assistance and materials to non-nuclear states so they can use nuclear energy for civilian purposes and inspects civilian nuclear sites to ensure weapons aren't being developed. It'll play a critical role as President Barack Obama pushes his wide-ranging nuclear weapons agenda.
So it's no surprise that on the campaign trail, Obama said "the IAEA is understaffed and underresourced at a time when demand for its expertise are growing" and promised to double the organization's budget over the next four years (which would increase the United States' annual share to $225 million a year), to push countries to allow more thorough agency inspections, to deny nuclear technology to those nations that won't and to create even an even stricter level of IAEA inspections.
That's a lot of improvements for one agency. Let's break this down.
First, the administration is promising to double the organization's budget over the next four years. The IAEA's budget for 2010 is $453 million, only a 5.4 percent increase over 2009. The United States, along with the agency's then-director, Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, was seeking an 11 percent increase. The organization's other main contributors -- mainly U.S. allies in Western Europe and Canada - opposed the hike. Still, a preliminary budget document for 2011 does have an 11 percent increase included.
Two increases that small will make it difficult for the administration to reach its goal in Obama's four-year term. Starting with 2009 budget -- which totaled about $430 million -- would require an increase to $860 million by 2013. The 11 percent increase in 2011 would bring the budget to slightly less than $503 million. Over the final two years, the organization's budget would have to increase by a whopping 70 percent. If the IAEA's other contributors are unwilling to back an 11 percent increase, it's hard to imagine them supporting those much larger jumps.
But if the world economy recovers, more progress could be made. A British cabinet minister told Arms Control Today the current fiscal climate made large increases in the IAEA's budget "unrealistic." So look at this promise again in a few years, when tax revenues may have resumed flowing into government coffers.
Bringing the focus back home, is the United States doing its part? Not really. The United States' assessed contribution to the IAEA went from $94.1 million in fiscal 2009 to $100.2 million this year, and the voluntary contribution increased from $62.5 million to $65 million. That small increase isn't nearly enough to fulfill Obama's promise.
To a certain extent, this is out of Obama's control -- the assessed contribution is based on what the total IAEA budget is. If it increases drastically, the United States' share of the budget will as well.
So Obama's plan to double the agency's budget appears to be headed for trouble. But what about his other promises to improve the IAEA? One of them is convincing other nations to adopt the "Additional Protocol," which grants the agency the right to conduct more invasive inspections and inspect undeclared facilities.
The IAEA's Web site provides a record of when countries took each of the three main steps towards adopting the protocol -- when the IAEA's Board of Governors approved the protocol, when an agreement was signed and when the agreement entered into force. Looking at this, we can see that under the Bush administration, about 10 nations had agreements approved each year, about nine signed a document, and about nine were entered into force.
In comparison, Obama's first year was pretty shabby. Eight nations had protocols approved by the Board of Governors, six had documents signed and five protocols went into force.
But not all protocols are created equal. Botswana, for example, took all three steps under the Bush administration, but no one is anticipating Gaborone deploying a nuclear arsenal anytime soon. So who took steps in 2009? Two of the world's nuclear powers: India and the United States itself. But in both cases, much of the preparation and diplomatic work was accomplished by Bush administration officials.
Obama did get some backing in September while he was chairing the U.N. Security Council. Then, the body unanimously adopted a resolution drafted by the United States that called for, among other things, all nations to adopt additional protocols, which the resolution deemed "essential." So Obama could be creating a new standard.
As a carrot (or maybe a stick) for uncooperative nations, Obama also pledged to pressure the 46 members of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group to prevent the transfer of technology to countries who haven't adopted the additional protocol. The Suppliers' Group was founded after India used nuclear technology it had obtained for supposedly peaceful means to build a weapon in 1974. The group provides guidelines indicating when nations should export nuclear-related equipment or material to non-nuclear weapon states, and when they should worry the material may be used for weapons purposes.
The Security Council resolution also asks states to consider whether or not a county had adopted the Additional Protocol before making a sale. While this isn't the hard-and-fast agreement Obama promised, the unanimous endorsement of the concept is definitely a step forward.
The final part of the promise is calling for the agency to establish stronger standards that go beyond the protocol and allow them to locate secret facilities. But we can't find any specific mention of the stronger standards in either the Security Council resolution or in Obama's speech addressing nuclear weapons in Prague.
Obama promised to do a lot for the IAEA, but not much has been accomplished so far. He'll have chances to change this with two key nuclear non-proliferation conferences coming up in the first half of 2010, but getting other nations to agree to major hikes in the agency's budget looks like a pipe dream right now. He got major international backing for making the additional protocol universal, but the impact of the resolution remains unclear. For now, we say Obama's promise to strengthen the IAEA is Stalled.