Mohamed ElBaradei

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency

“The World Today: A Recipe to Save Ourselves”

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Anthony Marx, president of Amherst: Good afternoon. Welcome to Johnson Chapel, to Amherst College, graduates, families, friends. Today we welcome Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In accepting the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with the agency, he noted that “peace is not a single achievement, but it is an environment, a process and a permanent commitment.” Certainly ElBaradei’s outstanding career is a testament to his own lasting commitment to ensuring a more peaceful world. In 1964, two years after graduating from Cairo University, ElBaradei joined the permanent missions of Egypt to the United Nations, eventually rising to the rank of senior fellow in charge of the United Nations law program at its Institute for Training and Research. He earned his doctorate in international law from New York University in 1974 and arrived at the agency as a legal advisor in 1984. Twenty-four years later, he is serving his third term as director general.

Under his leadership, the agency has undertaken nuclear investigations in Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan, as well as efforts to help developing nations to harness nuclear power not for destructive, but for constructive, purposes—not for war, but for medical care and resource management. His worldwide accolades include not just the Nobel but also the Roosevelt Institution’s Institutes for Freedoms Award, the Golden Dove Peace Prize from the President of Italy and the Greatest Nile Collar, the highest decoration in his native Egypt. To that list, this weekend, we add an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Amherst College, a humble token of our recognition of the vital work of Mohamed ElBaradei, [who,] perhaps more than any other individual, stands between the precipice of nuclear disaster and the survival of the human species.

Mohamed ElBaradei …

ElBaradei: President Marx, let me thank you for your very kind introduction. It’s an absolute delight for me to be here at Amherst this afternoon. It’s a breath of fresh air for me to come back to college. To interact with young people. To see hope, to see the future. I’m very intimidated to speak at the chapel because I’m not a preacher and I can’t think of myself as one. What I do basically speak about is common sense.

I’m always baffled as to why, after two millennia, we are unable to follow common sense. To follow the basic values which we all share, irrespective of wherever we’re coming from. Whether we’re Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians, we all have the same basic core values: tolerance, decency, respect for each other, social solidarity, fairness, equity. These are the values for which two millennia we have been trying to follow with some success, with a lot of failures, lots of setbacks. Yet we cannot give up. We have to continue to endure. And for the young people, particularly for those who are graduating today, you are the future. We definitely have to make a difference. You will make a difference.

Coming here last night from Vienna, I [listened to] a speech by President Marx from last year, and I thought, “Good, I don’t really have to add anything.” He basically inflected exactly what I thought I should say. The first message is: You will continue to make a difference. This is an ongoing process. There never will be a “mission accomplished.” We will continue, always, to try to improve upon our mission. So don’t get discouraged. Don’t get to feeling a sense of smugness. Don’t focus, as he mentioned, on present [unintelligible], but always look to the future. More importantly, look behind you and beyond you. Look behind you to the person who has been left behind. Look beyond you outside the borders of this beautiful U.S.A. Always think that you are mortal. But mortality does not stop us from trying [to] build a better world for the next generation.

A few things you obviously know by now, but I should repeat them. One, that there is not a single problem we are facing right now that we can resolve on our own, no matter how large or powerful. Whether we talk about HIV/AIDS, arms control, food crisis, climate change, wars, conflicts, there is not a single problem, I would argue, that we can resolve on our own. Our borders have some meaning, but not much. Our borders really stretch us far to the human family to which we belong. The earlier that we come to the realization that we are one large human family, and that we will succeed together or we will fail together, the earlier we will be able to create a world where every human being has the right to live in peace, dignity and freedom.

Secondly, there is not a single problem we are going to be able to resolve without talking to each other, without dialogue. Whether I like or dislike the person or the nation, I need to understand where they are coming from. I need to speak more to my so-called enemies than [to] my friends. A policy of isolation, and not talking to each other, is a dead-end street. We know that at the personal level; we know that at the international level.

Third, use of force absolutely doesn’t resolve any single issue. In fact, it exacerbates wounds. Of course we have to have the weapons to protect ourselves, but only as a last resort, and only when we have exhausted every other possible means to resolve our differences through peaceful means.

Fourth, double standards. Last week I was in Davos and [unintelligible]. I told them that what I see from the developing part of the world, and out of [the book] someone was saying, “We are poor, but not stupid, and you cannot conceive double standards.” I think that’s something we need to understand. Double standards, in regard to wealth, power, security—you name it—are not sustainable.

Fifth, development, or prosperity, and security come hand-in-hand. I am speaking the way I am speaking today—which sounds a little bit odd because I am supposed to focus on preventing nuclear weapons spread and arms control—but I’ve come to realize that I can’t deal with the symptoms without addressing the causes. If you want to have a world that is at peace with itself, you have to start with poverty. Poverty, I mentioned again last week, is the most powerful weapon of mass destruction. Poverty usually is accompanied by lack of good governments, by oppression, and oppression ends in people feeling humiliated, angered, losing hope and faith. When you lose hope and you lose faith, this is a breeding ground for violence, civil war, interstate wars. When you have conflict that has been raging on for a hundred years, 50 years, 60 years, the temptation to acquire the big stick—which is nuclear weapons, like the major powers—it is very tempting. We still live in a[n] environment where the major powers rely on nuclear weapons as the ultimate club for power, for prestige, for deterrence, for protection. If I were to succeed, from being a fire brigade, putting out a fire out in Iraq, to have another in Libya and another one in Iran, then we really have to look at the structure. Not just deal with the symptoms, but what are the causes. We have to change, in other words, our mindset and go back to our original core values. What we are supposed to live by? Not simply use it in rhetoric, but practice that.

I’ll give you some numbers, which again—numbers are usually very good. They’re more convincing than a speech. We still have 4 percent of the world’s population living [on] under $2 a day. That is two out of every five people [who] live [on] under $2 a day. Around 10 million children under the age of five die every year. Twenty-five thousand children die daily because they are too poor to live. We still have 850 million people that go to bed hungry every night. Jim Morris, an American who used to run the World Food Program and a good friend of mine, told me that if he would have 1 percent of what we spent on armament per year—we spend around $1 trillion on armament—then no person would go to bed hungry.

Josette Sheeran, who is now the successor of Jim Morris, again another American, is begging around the world, to raise $3 billion for the World Food Program, to feed children in Darfur, in Iraq, the Congo. She was telling me that if these kids do not get adequate nutrition for one month up to the age of 2, they will be stunted for life. She is not able to get the $3 billion, and she was telling me that last Christmas, Christmas bonuses on Wall Street were $33 billion. I put these numbers to you because it’s not a question of ability to change—it’s really a question of willingness to change, disregard for sanctity of human life.

I just came back from Austria. Two Austrians have been taken hostage, and of course every single newspaper is writing about their story. In fact, my wife was just telling me today that they were writing a long story about the dog. I also have a dog, a cocker spaniel, and nothing against dogs, but do we know, do we write, do we care about the 300,000 people who died in Darfur? Do we really know the name of any single person in the numbers between half a million to 1 million people who died in Iraq? The 3 million people who got maimed during the war? The 4 million people who got internally and externally displaced? For us, these are numbers. The question should be: Are there lives that are more important than others? And if there are, if that’s the way we perceive or approach human life, are we really surprised if the other side doesn’t care about this? If we don’t care about them, “them” although they are part of us, why should they care for us? If we don’t treat them as human beings, why should we expect them to act as human beings? I always say we are not born as Mother Theresa or suicide bombers. It’s a question of the environment in which we are raised. Treat me as a human being, I’ll act as a human being.

There are a lot of other numbers about people in Darfur, in Rwanda, in the Congo, but I will not bother you with this. They are just horrible figures, horrible figures. People who have died, innocent civilians who have lost their lives, have nothing to do with the conflict. But I will give you just one last one. I was with Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the U.N., last week, and the U.N. tried to get into Darfur, when they’ve already had 300,000 people die, 2 million people displaced. The U.N. is trying to get 24 helicopters and 17,000 troops for peacekeeping. They are not able to get that. Twenty-four helicopters. So far, they only have an offer for 5 helicopters from [unintelligible] in Bangladesh. There are 400 helicopters ready to go in NATO, but they did not offer them.

So we have a problem, again, of security. I run a system, the non-proliferation, where countries have been told that we have reached a grand bargain in 1970. Those who have nuclear weapons committed themselves to move away from nuclear weapons. Those who do not have nuclear weapons committed themselves to not have nuclear weapons. Almost four decades after the non-proliferation treaty has been completed, we still have 25,000 warheads in existence. Many of them are on a minute launching-alert status. We still maintain a lot of these weapons on the so-called Cold War hair-trigger alert, by which decisions have to be made in a matter of minutes. There could be gross miscalculations, computer error, unauthorized launching, and yet the entire civilization can go to ashes because of that. If that’s the kind of security system we would like to live under, how could I go on and continue to preach to the others that nuclear weapons are not good for you? While all the weapons states are exceptions, are modernizing their nuclear weapons, are building new nuclear weapons, are even making plans to keep their nuclear weapons in infinity?

A ray of good hope, at least, was this year, when four people who are at the heart of national security, both Republicans and Democrats—Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, George Schultz and Bill Perry—came out with, in my view, a groundbreaking article saying that we need to abolish nuclear weapons. That it has become decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous. If these people, in their mature age, have come to that realization, we need to take that as a wake-up call. The greatest worry that I have is not simply that more and more countries will develop nuclear weapons, but that nuclear weapons, already active sources, will fall into the hands of extremists. If that were to happen, the whole concept of nuclear deterrence, mutual assured destruction, has no relevance, because for extremist groups, if they have to have nuclear weapons, they will use them. Ideology for them, sacrificing a life, is not part of the equation.

We need, as urgently as we can, to develop a security system that does not depend upon nuclear weapons. We have to de-invent the nuclear weapons. The argument that it is there, we cannot deal with it. We need to continue to work to develop, in our collective consciousness, a way to approach nuclear weapons the way we approach slavery and genocide: a taboo. Something that is unthinkable, if we are to decide to continue, survive and maintain our civilization.

Finally, the lack of effort to reach out. I mention again, dialogue. What I see now and what I worry about is the “circle the wagons” mentality, a bunker mentality. “This part of the world, say the Muslim part of the world, is practicing a violent religion, is a bunch of terrorists. Let us quarantine them.” That is absolutely, in my view, the wrong approach. If you want to empower the moderates, if you want to overcome those that are using religion or color or ethnicity for whatever sinister move, you need to reach out to the overwhelming majority of the moderates. The last thing you need there is weapons. I saw recently that there would be another package of $50 billion of weapons going to the Middle East, and I said, “The last thing you need in the Middle East right now is weapons.” What you need is an institution building education, science and technology. This is what this region or any other developing country needs, not weapons. It’s reaching out, it’s dialogue, it’s respect.

And yet, to have seen recently the situation in Gaza, when Gaza was subject to collective punishment. One-and-[a]-half million people could not get enough food or water, and again, that was a solution. Karen AbuZayd, who is the head of the United Nation’s Agency for the Relief of the Palestinians, told me the result of that was, in fact, that the most radical of the Hamas are now in the driver’s seat. You isolate people, you put the hardliner in the driver’s seat. You integrate people, you empower the moderates. These are simple lessons, which I hope we will try to learn from our own mistakes in the future and move forward.

The world has become—this is a cliché—a globalized world, as I mentioned. But we need to adjust our code of conduct, our ethics, our behavior to that reality. We need to understand that the world is not in good shape. We need to understand that we cannot just feel comfortable in our own little environment. We need to look, as I said, beyond and behind us to see who is left behind.

I will conclude by quoting Bill Clinton, who said, “We should be trying to build a world, in this unique moment in history, that we would like to live in when we are not the only big dog on the block.” Thank you very much.

Marx: We are open to questions.

ElBaradei: I would be happy to answer any questions you have.

Audience member: If you have some advice for the next president, what would that be? What advice would you particularly give on the problems in Iraq and Iran?

ElBaradei: I think, in Iraq, there is no military solution. The way I see it, it has to be a political solution. You have to engage the neighbors. I was telling the Arab government last week that you cannot continue to just sit on the fence. This is a regional conflict, it has to be resolved within a regional context. So my advice would be: Reach out. Try to find a political solution. Engage all the neighbors. That’s the only way to move forward.

Audience member: What do you see as the political future for Egypt?

ElBaradei: Well, I think it is uncertain. I mentioned last week that what I worry about there is the increasing gap between the rich and the poor. Democracy has not yet taken hold there. Democracy has to come from within. Democracy takes time—we all know that. But we have to take certain concrete steps in that direction. People have to feel that they are being treated fairly, that they have a say in who is governing them and how they are governed. When I mention people saying we are poor but not stupid, I mention the fact that people know the difference between genuine democracy and fake democracy. I still think Egypt has a lot to do, and the most important things to me are democracy, education, fair distribution of wealth. We have in Egypt right now, I think, seven or eight people who are on Forbes’ list of the richest 500 people in the world. That’s in a country where still the per capita income is $1,000. That’s something which is not sustainable to me.

Audience member: That’s the trouble. You say there’s so many starving children, yet the aid never gets down to the starving children.

ElBaradei: There’s two problems there. One is, are we giving enough? We are not. The overall official development assistance, as you call it, is 10 percent of what we spend on armament. It’s around $100 million a year, where you spend, as I said, $1 trillion on armament. Secondly, there are ways that you try to reach out [to] the end user, as they say, and there’s UNICEF, W.H.O., World Food Program. But there are problems. There are problems in countries, authoritarian regimes who like to confiscate the aid that’s coming.

But you have to use, as we all do, the carrot and the stick incentive and pressure to make sure that assistance reaches these people, these innocent children who are dying because of malnutrition. These are the issues that we should really be focusing on. As I said, we should not just be reading about it in the newspaper, but we should be focusing on how to make sure that every single human being is treated with the same respect that we treat our own immediate family. If you come to my office in Vienna, you will see a little citation from the Bible, when God asked about Cain, “When the first blood was shed, where was your brother?” And Abel answered, “I know not, I’m not my brother’s keeper.” And my answer, when anybody comes to my office, is until we answer that question in the affirmative, that “I am my brother’s keeper,” we will not have an enduring peace.

Audience member: You spoke about the helicopters, and only five were available for Darfur. What does that mean, and how do you make more available?

ElBaradei: Unfortunately, that means governments act out in a sense of shortsightedness, cynicism—that Darfur does not figure as part of the geopolitical interests of major powers. You will see helicopters going to Afghanistan, for example, because Afghanistan is harboring al-Qaida and has a linkage to national security interests. But when you have a country like Darfur, it’s a purely humanitarian case. The call for assistance is on deaf ears. We, the supposed international community, adopted some sort of responsibility to protect in case of humanitarian genocide. Yet, this continues to remain in the realm of rhetoric and not in practice, as we have seen now in Darfur.

Audience member: If you could go back in time and you could enter diplomatic service, what would you like to solve?

ElBaradei: I would not have gone into diplomatic service! Frankly, I was a diplomat for a while, but I felt very uncomfortable, in fact, serving one country. I started to feel comfortable being an international civil servant. I’m not accountable to anybody, yet I am accountable to everybody. I am working without looking to the national interests of any particular country, but for global common goods. That’s what I am today. But if you ask me, I would not have gone into international diplomatic service.

Audience member:  [Question too quiet.]

ElBaradei: There’s a lot the U.S. can do and, I hope, will do. One is, for example, to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty. That was, for a year, considered a jewel in the crown of the arms control system. Yet, it’s still lingering in the Senate. Why do we still have the option to test new weapons if we committed ourselves in 1970 to move away from nuclear weapons? And if the international code of justice said that this obligation means precise results, nuclear disarmament, we need a treaty to prohibit production of nuclear material for weapon purposes. A so-called cut-off treaty. For the last 10 years, negotiation has been completely stalemated. And most importantly, we need to see a drastic cut in the nuclear weapons arsenals. If you do that, you have the moral authority to go after those who would like to develop nuclear weapons. If we continue to say, “Do as I say and not as I do,” your call will ring hollow, and it is not sustainable.

Audience member: [Question too quiet.]

ElBaradei: I can tell you I am working on that report here this weekend. I’m serious—I’m not joking. I have to issue a report on Monday. I think we haven’t seen any concrete evidence today that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. As you saw, there was some intelligence assessment by the CIA and other intelligence agencies saying that they have worked on certain weaponization studies in the past, but that these studies stopped in 2003. That is the remaining issue for us which we are trying to clarify. Have they really worked in the past, or possibly continue, on some studies on weaponizaiton? But we haven’t seen actual concrete evidence on working on nuclear weapons. We haven’t seen nuclear material—that is the key to develop nuclear weapons—being diverted or underground produced. That’s why I continue to say: Yes, we still have some worries about Iran, but I don’t see Iran to be a clear and present danger today.

We still have enough time to deal with it diplomatically. We should not talk about use of weapons or arms or use of armed force. We should talk primarily about dialogue, about reaching out. I don’t think that any issue will be resolved before there is a comprehensive dialogue between Iran and the U.S. The issue of Iran’s so-called nuclear weapons, or whatever we are looking at, is really a question of regional security. The greatest concern about Iran right now is not about Iran today, as you see and read in the paper. It’s about Iran tomorrow. Should Iran have the technology, the enrichment technology, that could be used in the future to develop nuclear weapons? That is really a question of distrust, a question of confidence-building, about future intention. That’s not a question I can verify. I kept saying I can’t verify what Iran is doing today. I cannot verify what any country is doing. I cannot read the tea leaves about who is going to do what in the future. This is a confidence-building issue.

The only way to build confidence is through sitting around a table, as you are doing in North Korea. Trying to see how you’ll find a solution where you can build confidence. As long as there is no actual negotiation, I think we’ll continue to have this tension, this crisis, which we hopefully try to keep at an manageable level until we reach a position where we have a comprehensive dialogue. Dialogue, by nature, has to do with the regional security in the Middle East. So the Iranian issue, the nuclear issue, is the tip of the iceberg. It’s one aspect of a very complex process of peace and stability in the Middle East.

Audience member: Are you comfortable with nuclear [technology being] used for peaceful purposes?

ElBaradei: I am as comfortable as I am comfortable when I fly from Vienna to here. You take certain risks, obviously. There is risk. However, the technology has improved a lot in terms of thermal safety. But we have to continue to be very vigilant. We have to continue to be very alert to any weakness in the safety and security. But like with any other technology, it has its cost benefits. People make different decisions. In France, they rely on nuclear power for 78 percent of their electricity. In Ireland, they said, “No way,” or in Austria, where our agency is, they are completely anti-nuclear, saying, “We don’t want nuclear.”

However, the reality is, we are seeing more countries now expanding their nuclear power programs or embarking upon new introduction of nuclear energy as part of the energy mix simply because of concern of climate change, fluctuation of oil and gas prices, quest for energy independence. So it is not a perfect solution, but again, it’s a question of how do you make cost and benefits. If you need energy—and you do need energy—energy is energy for development. Without any energy, there is no development. You will have to take some risk, but you have to make sure you maximize the benefit and minimize the risk. That is what we try to do all the time. I don’t advise any country to use or not use nuclear power. I say I am agnostic on this issue, but if you make a decision to use it, I’ll have to [unintelligble] full force to make sure that you are using it safely, securely and only for peaceful purposes.

Audience member: Are you satisfied that the old Chernobyl-style reactors are now safe?

ElBaradei: Well, there are few left in the Ukraine and Russia. They have been, of course, in thermal safety, upgraded in a very substantial way. I’ll be more comfortable when these old reactors reach the end of their life cycle. But right now I think there have been hundreds of millions of dollars poured into these reactors to upgrade them to present-day safety standards.

Audience member: [Question too quiet.]

ElBaradei: North Korea has nuclear weapons, so I’m as worried about North Korea as I’m worried about any country that has nuclear weapons. But more, it’s a regime that is very much isolated.

I was there in Pyongyang recently, and I was told that 60 percent of the children in North Korea are stunted because of malnutrition. Sixty percent. That is a situation that obviously we need to change. North Korea has nothing to offer. The only trump card that they have is their nuclear weapon, and they’re trying to maximize whatever price they’ll get out of that. But if it was up to me, I’ll have to pay up to as much as they do in terms of economic aid, humanitarian assistance, to get rid of their nuclear weapon arsenal. And also from a humanitarian perspective, just make sure that people there are able to have a decent standard of life, are able to eat.

North Korea, unlike Iran, does not really have an ideology to project in its region. They are self-engrossed in themselves. It’s a regime for survival, if you like. That’s much easier to address, in my view, than the Iranian issue, because the Iranian issue is, like I said, very much a part of this complex issue of this whole issue of the situation in the Middle East. But North Korea: I think some progress is being made now. Chris Hill is trying his best to move on this issue, and it exactly proves my point. When North Korea was shunned, was isolated, they developed nuclear weapons. Whey you started talking to them, progress started to be made, and that’s the name of the game. Talk to whomever you think is your enemy.

Audience member: [Question too quiet.]

ElBaradei: You can make all of the above. You can help some of the poor people. There are a lot of charities that will welcome any contribution they get. I give a lot of speeches like this but, of course, unlike here, I get honorariums so … But I send all these honorariums to four shelters, four orphanages in Egypt. That’s not going to resolve all the problems in my own country, but at least I feel I’m making some contribution.

I speak up on some of these issues. You probably see that I’m one of the most vilified people on the face of the Earth, being told that you’re talking outside the box. But at least you can speak up. You can get engaged in security issues, this campaign now for abolishing nuclear weapons. Whatever you do, whenever you can help a human being in need, I think you are contributing. Contribution takes place in so many different ways and shapes. But don’t say this is the only way. And don’t think that you alone will do it. But if all of us will contribute in whatever we do, we’ll have a slightly better, saner, safer and more human world.

Thank you very much. Thanks. I’m delighted and honored to be here.

Marx: Let me just conclude by saying, I told the Director General that the college actually owns this strategic air command bunker, and that if he had called at the last minute to say plans had changed, that he couldn’t be with us, then that’s exactly where I was going to be heading. It is much more reassuring to know that Mohamed ElBaradei will be sleeping peacefully at the Lord Jeff tonight and working on his report for the World Community.

On occasion, this room has seen and touched history. We have again today, and as we will tomorrow, we wish you Godspeed.