The International Atomic Energy Agency's head, Mohammed el-Baradei, has warned that the Agency faces an increasingly uphill struggle in its essential non-proliferation role due to a measly budget.
Opening the IAEA's annual assembly, Mohamed ElBaradei called for urgent steps to increase funding of the U.N. watchdog, modernise equipment and enhance its legal authority to verify the nature of nuclear programmes in suspect countries.
"We have really reached a turning point. Years of zero (real) growth budgets have left us with a failing infrastructure and a troubling dependence on voluntary support which invariably has conditions attached," he said.
"This is not just about money. We do not work in a political vacuum. Political commitment to the goals of the agency needs to be renewed at the highest level," ElBaradei told the IAEA's General Conference at its Vienna headquarters.
"It would be a tragedy of epic proportions if we fail to act (for lack of resources) until after a nuclear conflagration, accident or terrorist attack that could have been prevented."
The IAEA's budget, which at present stands at only 340 million euros ($490 million), must stretch to cover investigations of places like Iran, Syria (and soon maybe Israel -it's on the Agency's agenda finally), inspections in dozens of countries, testing, education programs and safeguard monitoring. El Baradei says that the Agency's work is presently "seriously compromised" by the lack of money.
Yet this might be OK with some nations, who apparently want the Agency hamstrung because they are consistently late in sending their contributions. Last July, the Agency warned that if some member nations didn't pay up quickly, it would be broke by September. In 2006, the Bush administration still owed the IAEA over a third of it's contribution, over $14 million. Enough money always does eventually come in to keep it operating, but there are suspicions that the money comes with strings attached, forwarding those nation's agendas in return.
Everyone says the IAEA is essential, but no-one wants to put their money where their mouth is. Maybe Obama should. It would be a good contrast to Republican zeal for bypassing arms control agreements and waving sabers at every opportunity.