Former IAEA Director Stumps for Peace, Non-Proliferation
- By Ronnie Rittenberry
- Sep 11, 2012
"'No man is an island / Entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, / A part of the main.'" Those words, written by John Donne, were at the heart of Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei's keynote address here Tuesday, beginning another full day of activities at ASIS 2012. And though the former Nobel Peace Prize laureate did not recite more of Donne's poem, he might well have included the lines, "Each man's death diminishes me, / For I am involved in mankind" because those words verily formed the thesis of his speech.
ElBaradei, an Egyptian political activist and former director general of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (1997-2009), used the ASIS platform to note that global conflicts, while potentially dire, are not insurmountable but only if world leaders change their standard operating procedures and actually listen to each other.
"It is easy to get depressed if we look around us at the world today," he said. "The two major challenges we face today are inequity and insecurity, and these two are very much linked. . . . We are dealing with challenges of poverty and hunger at appalling levels. Human life is not equally valued everywhere."
ElBaradei noted that during his time as IAEA director general he made frequent visits to Egypt and tried to advise then president Hosni Mubarak to embark on a path that would lead the country to peace and prosperity, but the man would not listen.
"It was a sham democracy that was in reality a dictatorship," ElBaradei said. "His mind was closed, and thus democratization was unattainable."
Last year, ElBaradei was an important figure in the Egyptian revolution that resulted in Mubarak's ousting. "Things could have been different," ElBaradei said. "Instead of leading Egypt into a new age, he presided over its mid-life."
Ending the global proliferation of chemical and nuclear weapons will be achievable only if world leaders are willing to sit down and have dialogue, determinedly—and even hard-headedly—insisting on reaching an agreement through understanding and compromise, ElBaradei said.
"There are many complexities of Middle Eastern life that the West does not understand," he said. "It will not be easy, but it will be worth it if the end result is durable peace. The alternative is almost certainly a catastrophe."
Using as example the dialogues last century that successfully culminated in the formation of the European Union, ElBaradei said, "There's no good reason why something similar is not happening in the Middle East."
The only realistic way forward is for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work together, adopt a policy of negotiation and remain determined to keep talking until an agreement is reached, he said.
"Five decades of hostility have gotten us nowhere," he said. "Arabs and Israelis must be in it together. Honing an agreement will be painful and difficult, but they must be committed and stay the course. . . . It will no doubt be tension-filled and tedious, but it is necessary."
ElBaradei noted that of the 19,000 nuclear weapons now extant in eight countries (the United States, Russia, France, China, United Kingdom, India, Pakistan and North Korea), 4,400 are operational and 2,000 are kept in a state of high operational alert.
"I believe that the greatest threat facing the world today is an extremist group getting hold of nuclear weapons," he said, again expressing his hope for unilateral disarmament. "I do not expect to see it any time soon, but I hope it happens in my children's lifetime."
Overall, despite the serious challenges facing the world, ElBaradei said he remained optimistic.
"'They didn't know it was impossible, so they did it,'" he said, quoting Mark Twain. "I believe human beings are capable of overcoming unimaginable challenges. . . . Peace will always be elusive and fragile until all countries, large and small, rich and poor solve the problems of inequity and insecurity. . . . We must invest in more science and technology, and we must reach out across cultural divides in a spirit of understanding, leading to peace, freedom, and dignity, grasping that we have shared problems and that I am my brother's keeper."
At the start of the Tuesday morning ceremony, Rick Lisko, CPP, president of the ASIS Professional Certification Board, called for a moment of silence to remember and honor those who fell on the same day 11 years earlier. He noted that this year also marks 35 years of CPP certification, and he presented ASIS Organizational Awards of Merit to five companies: American Express Australia, Barber-Collins, Manitoba Hydro, Atlas Security and ISVI.
Ronnie Rittenberry is print managing editor for Security Products and Occupational Health and Safety magazines.