IAEA and Iran: colonialism in weapons inspectors’ clothing

Far from being politically neutral, nuke-hunting weapons inspectors are thoroughly in hock to Western interests.

Patrick Hayes

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Following a flurry of reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over the past week, alarms have been raised that Syria and Iran may be developing nuclear weapons. Yet regardless of whether the IAEA’s mundane findings really justify the scaremongering headlines, an important question needs to be asked: what is this officious UN-affiliated body doing poking its nose into these countries’ affairs anyway?

The answer, of course, is politics. That the IAEA’s role is far from politically neutral should not actually be a surprise to very many. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, weapons inspectors – headed by the former director-general of the IAEA, Hans Blix – engaged in a desperate, fruitless hunt for so-called weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) supposedly hidden somewhere in Iraq. The fact that they found precisely zero WMDs didn’t matter. Their repeatedly voiced suspicions provided sufficient substance for the infamous ‘dodgy dossier’ on Iraq’s military capabilities, which effectively paved the way for war in 2003. As Brendan O’Neill put it at the time: ‘Bush and Blair pulled the trigger in March 2003, but it was the inspectors who helped them load the gun.’

A decade on, it is far from clear exactly where weapons inspectors are now taking the world. But it’s no coincidence that the spotlight of the IAEA is now shining brightly upon Syria, following President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on protesters earlier in the year.

The IAEA’s concern? It was announced last week that a cotton-spinning plant in the city of Hasakah in north-eastern Syria looks remarkably similar to a uranium enrichment plant built in Libya. Apparently, it features ‘a large building surrounded by three smaller workshops in the same configurations’. There is also tenuous evidence suggesting that ‘rogue scientist’ Abdul Qadeer Khan, who developed Pakistan’s atomic-weapons programme, was in touch with Syrian government officials. Those investigating were ‘struck’ by the fact that there were even similarities between the parking lots of the buildings. Both had a ‘covered area to shield cars from the sun’ – surely not a rare phenomenon in the Middle East?

There is, however, no evidence that the cotton-spinning plant is now anything other than just that: a cotton-spinning plant. And, as the Associated Press points out, reporting from Washington: ‘Syria has never been regarded as being close to having developed a nuclear bomb. There also is no indication that Damascus continues to work on a nuclear programme.’

What is at issue now, apparently, is not that the plant is a clear and present danger, but the history of the cotton-spinning plant. As a nuclear-policy analyst for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington put it, ‘what is at stake here is the nuclear history of that facility… People want to know what did they intend to do there, and Syria has provided no information’.

But why should the Syrian government feel obligated to allow Western agents to poke their noses into every nook and cranny of its country because they have found a satellite image that shows something resembling a nuclear-power plant? Who are these ‘people’ who want to know what Syria’s intentions are, and what business is it of theirs?

Syria is not the only country in the IAEA’s sights. In a report published yesterday, the IAEA claimed that it had a ‘credible’ case that ‘Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device’. In anticipation of the report, Israeli government officials claimed in advance that its findings should ‘serve to galvanise international support for beefing up action [against Iran]’. With the report now in the public domain, demands will almost certainly intensify for Iran to cooperate more closely with the IAEA, giving them an access-all-areas pass to snoop around in the country.

In many ways, Iran’s foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi is right to characterise the IAEA as a body ‘under pressure from foreign powers’ and therefore ‘100 per cent political’. Certainly the IAEA, while notionally ‘independent’, has never actually been so. Established after President Eisenhower’s ‘Atoms for Peace’ speech in 1953, the organisation reports directly to the UN. And while its putative ‘independence’ rests on the fact it has its own international treaty (the IAEA statute), the United States acts as the ‘depositary government’ for this treaty. Far from being above the interests of Western powers, the IAEA is in fact subservient to them.

But the contemporary importance of the IAEA to the West also tells us something about the West’s own insecurity. In the past, the US or the UK would have been far more confident about asserting its interests on the world stage, wilfully and openly interfering in the actions of sovereign countries. But the clarity and moral authority of the West has now diminished. So at a time when Western powers are increasingly cagey when it comes to international politics – as evidenced by the confusion that reigned during its half-hearted intervention into Libya – the tactic of using weapons inspections provides a neutral, safety-first facade for intervention.

In many ways, this produces the worst of both worlds. The West still intervenes, but in a dishonest fashion, using the IAEA and UN weapons inspectors as a neutral, independent-looking Trojan horse with which to intervene in another country’s affairs. From the role of the UN’s weapons-inspection regime in Iraq onwards, it is increasingly evident that ‘weapons inspections’ act as a tool to administer a modern form of colonisation, where disobedient, unruly foreign nations are pushed around by their international superiors.

All of this, of course, takes place over the heads of those who actually live in the countries subject to the IAEA’s judgement, be they Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians or North Koreans, to name but a few. The IAEA, UN and all other insidious agents of Western interests should get out and leave the people of these countries to deal with the dictators, should they choose to. Not only will they be far better at doing so, they will do it for the right reasons – to liberate themselves and democratically forge their own future.

Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked. Visit his personal website here. Follow him on Twitter @p_hayes.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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