Tariq Rauf: North Korean situation has been badly mishandled
Prague agenda interview with Tariq Rauf. He is the director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. He is an expert on nuclear non-proliferation issues, nuclear disarmament and nuclear security. Previously, Mr. Rauf was the Head of the Verification and Security Policy Coordination Office at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 2002 to 2011, and there he dealt with numerous cases like those of Iraq, Syria, South Korea and Libya, but also more extreme cases like those of North Korea and Iran. As a respected expert on nuclear security, Mr. Rauf was among the speakers of the Prague Agenda 2014 conference, where we posed to him several questions.
What do you think about the situation in North Korea? Are the steps that the western countries are taking helpful, and will they be successful in the end?
Yes, my view was a little bit different than that of the speaker. The North Korean nuclear file was also one of the files that I worked on, and I think the North Korean situation has been badly mishandled. Because of this bad mishandling, we have one more country that has tested nuclear weapons. Before 2006 they had not tested a weapon, but by that year North Korea had been put into the category of the “axis of evil” by the United States, and they were under Security Council sanctions, so it made it easier for the North Korean government to carry out the test. And from a non-proliferation and a disarmament point of view, this was a very bad development because India and Pakistan had already tested nuclear weapons in 1998, which means that instead of five, we had seven countries testing weapons, and now with North Korea, it is eight. So this is a historic fact that has now been created. And nobody is doing anything at the moment to prevent yet another nuclear test by North Korea.
Western diplomacy, unfortunately, has deteriorated because there is not much leadership here; you do not see big leaders out there anymore. And so it has deteriorated into name-calling, and anytime anyone doesn’t like anyone they impose sanctions on them. And it’s the average person who suffers, not the leadership.
What do you think about the Iranian nuclear program? Do you think that it is as peaceful as they claim?
The IAEA has been verifying it since 2002, since the allegations against it were made, and the IAEA has not yet found any nuclear material in military use there. Their obligation to the NPT is to use nuclear material only for peaceful purposes. So either Iran has a nuclear weapon program that is so well hidden that nothing has leaked out, which would be strange because so much other information has leaked out, or Iran might have been working on a weapon program until the period of 2002-2003, but then stopped working on it. That is very difficult to find out, but at the moment all the declared nuclear material in Iran is under IAEA verification, so I think the E3+3 dialogue is the best way to deal with this issue.
What does the Prague Agenda conference mean to you, and will this conference be useful for your own work? How?
Yes. It is good that the Prague Agenda conferences are being held because it keeps the issue of nuclear weapons on the table. And the Prague Speech by President Obama was historic in the sense that for the first time the head of a nuclear weapon state said very clearly that they wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons, although a timeline was not given, but a clear commitment was made to moving towards security in a world without nuclear weapons. Before that, there had been statements that hinted at it, but no one with the authority of the President of United States said it in so many words. So it keeps the issue alive, and it also means that by us having these conferences the United States is also reminded that this statement was made, and even though things have changed and the world is changing, nonetheless this is the commitment that was made and needs to be worked upon.
Yes, I think there were some sessions where the discussion was very useful. We got a little bit of a preview of the discussion between the Russians and the Americans on not only Ukraine, but also missile defense and strategic arms control. Some of the discussions held before had been between the Americans and the Russians only, and those outside the discussions didn’t know that many of their details, so this discussion now brought some of that information to people from other countries, so that they could also be aware of those issues.
Could the Prague Agenda, as an international meeting of experts on global nuclear issues, be a useful way to work towards global nuclear disarmament?
Yeah, I think so, definitely. At the moment it’s a small format, and it's primarily attended by academic people, but at some point it would become like the Munich Security Conference, where you have defense ministers and foreign ministers coming, but it also started off like the Prague Agenda and then they elevated the level of it. So the Munich Security Conferences are held every year, and some countries use that conference to make important statements, and it gets a lot of international media coverage, so one of the things the Prague Agenda could try to do in future years is get more media coverage of the discussions.
Interviewed by: Nicole Stelzerová
About the author
"My name is Nicole Stelzerová. I grew up in New Mexico, USA, but have been living in the Czech Republic for seven years. I am currently studying International Relations in Prague at Anglo-American University. I am very interested in world politics and international relations; therefore I decided that an internship at the Institute of International Relations would give me more insight into the field. Also, this internship gave me a great opportunity to attend a couple of big international conferences and the chance to interview Mr. Tariq Rauf."