Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 15:00 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 15:00 | SYDNEY

Bringing Israel into the IAEA fold


Martine Letts

17 December 2010 14:40

Foreign Minister Rudd's apparently unscripted call on Israel to sign the NPT and to submit its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection has puzzled more than a few observers and commentators. At least one Israeli official is quoted as saying that Israel cannot submit its facilities to IAEA inspections because it is not a member of the NPT. Israel still maintains official ambiguity as to its weapons status, though some Israeli officials have admitted that Israel does possess a nuclear weapons arsenal.

We need to unpack Mr Rudd's comments a bit. He told John Lyons that 'our view has been consistent for a long period of time, and that is that all states in the region should adhere to the NPT, and that includes Israel'. This is consistent with long-standing bipartisan Australian policy. We voted in favour of the IAEA resolution at the General Conference entitled 'Safeguards in the Middle East', which was again adopted this year with 120 votes in favour, no votes against and 6 abstentions (including Israel and the US). This resolution calls on all states in the Middle East to adhere to the NPT.

On the other hand, we voted against a more specific IAEA resolution entitled 'Israeli nuclear capability', which singles out Israel. This resolution was defeated at this year's IAEA General Conference.

Australia has also called on the other Nuclear Weapon States outside the NPT, India and Pakistan, to adhere to the NPT. However unrealistic this might be, it represents longstanding bipartisan Australian policy. The real challenge is how to involve these three states in collaborating with the international community in global nonproliferation efforts and bolstering the NPT, whose authority is under strain. This was one of the objectives of the Australian/Japan International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.

The US/India agreement and the Nuclear Suppliers Group decision to waive its supply restrictions to India was based on the view that India was a responsible player which had not proliferated to other countries, and whose support was needed to stem proliferation. Similar argument could be made for Israel, given its record of not proliferating. Even Pakistan, where the proliferation record is poor, needs to be drawn in somehow. 

Rudd's comments are also consistent with international opinion. One of the key results of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, supported by the US as well as all other NPT members, was the endorsement of a set of steps to convene a conference in 2012, under the auspices of the UN and the US, UK and Russia and to be attended by all states of the Middle East, on the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction. 

Nuclear Weapon States, whether they are members of the NPT or not, can and do submit their peaceful nuclear facilities to IAEA safeguards. The nuclear cooperation agreement the US struck with India was premised on India submitting all its peaceful nuclear facilities to comprehensive IAEA safeguards. As imperfect as this agreement is, and noting that it has not yet been totally honoured by India, it confirms the fact that NPT membership is not a prerequisite to nuclear facilities being placed under safeguards. Even Pakistan has some of its non-military facilities subject to IAEA safeguards agreements.

In Israel, the IAEA also conducts inspections under a trilateral US/Israel/IAEA agreement whereby the IAEA verifies that nuclear material of US origin is not diverted for non-peaceful purposes. 

So while Rudd's call on Israel to submit its Dimona facility to IAEA safeguards is the first time an Australian official has made such a direct call, there is not that much distance between this statement and what Australia and most of the international community have already called for. Further, if Israel proceeds with its nuclear power plans, one would assume that it too would be called upon to submit its peaceful facilities to safeguards, including, perhaps the 'peaceful' part of the Dimona facility.

Image courtesy of IAEA.