Yukiya Amano, a Japanese diplomat and long-time government specialist in arms control and nuclear nonproliferation, has been elected to be the next director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The end of three terms of Mohamed ElBaradei is an important change in itself. Yet I am intrigued by the potential effects of Amano’s nationality on nuclear nonproliferation over the next few years.
This news just broke, so the following is entirely speculation. I would like to start with the Japanese domestic perception, and work my way out.
The election was close, and has been somewhat followed in the Japanese media. The gaining of such a prestigious international security position will be welcome news for the Japanese politicians and pundits that have been longing for the elusive UN security council seat since the early 1990′s. Despite Amano’s internationalist CV and absolutely no indications suggesting Amano will use his position for the gain of the Japanese state, I am sure Japanese nationalists will be ecstatic that one of their nationals will be in a position to put pressure on North Korea. This will not work in Amano’s favour.
Amano is a professional diplomat that has been active on the international scene for many years. He is well-versed in in disarmament issues and was previously the Chair of the Board of Governors for the IAEA (2005-2006). Amano is a professional diplomat that has been active on the international scene for many years. Such nationalist maneuvering is below his integrity, I am sure. Yet wait to see how fast the KCNA paints Amano as a “Japanese reactionary” and accuses the UN of being a “bourgeois beast”. “We will thwart your frantic attempts to stifle us!” (or some such other insult as per the generator).
It will also be interesting to see how China will react to this news. Will China’s hatred of all things Japanese prod it to be more protective of the Hermit Kingdom? With the Norks launching more missiles again today, I can’t see China’s patience lasting much longer. But they still must keep their distance from Japan.
As for Iran, going by my minor experience in the country, the Japanese are well respected there. Japan has close energy relations with Iran. Throughout the 1990′s Japan hosted thousands of Iranian migrant workers. Furthermore, Japan has maintained active cultural exchanges with the Iranians over the years. This close relationship has prevented the Japanese administration from speaking out on the current uprisings in Iran so far. All this in contrast to the Islamic Egyptian ElBaradei. The Japanese, who have never had any imperial ambitions on Persia, and who are not “People of the Book”, are the ultimate neutral arbiters. Being Japanese, Amano might represent a clean break with the past. Back in 2006 foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki asked Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for Japanese participation in Iran’s nuclear power plants. A year before that I argued that Japan is well-positioned to engage with Iran.
Ideally the nationality of a representative of an international organization such as the IAEA should not be relevant. However this is not an ideal world. During Amano’s term as DG, we may see the effects of nationalism preventing progress on the Korean peninsula while simultaneously contributing to a breakthrough in the Middle East.