The effects of a Japanese head of the IAEA

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.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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5 Responses to The effects of a Japanese head of the IAEA

  1. joel cairo says:

    i don’t disagree with your analysis but i think it leaves out some big questions.

    first the IAEA has no enforcement mechanism except to refer trouble-makers to the UN. so the idea of a Japanese IAEA head getting tough with the DPRK is not particularly likely to result in any real change. all they can do it make the same impotent condemnations that everyone else is making and then wait for the UN to take action.

    we are no closer now to getting the DPRK to adopt the additional protocol that started off the nuclear crisis in 1992 and Amano is not likely to change this.

    second it seems to me that the big issue here is not the specific nuclear crises in Iran and the DPRK but the overall issue of access to the nuclear fuel cycle. given that Japan is one of the only non-nuclear weapons states to have reprocessing capability and that other countries (South Korea notably) are very interested in developing this capability it will be very interesting to see what Amano does.

    last i think there is an interesting dynamic here for the representative of a country that relies on America’s extended deterrence to head a non-proliferation body.

  2. Chirol says:

    Finally! Thank god Baradei is out. Good riddance to his dangerous ineptitude and bias.
    My second thought is what will happen if Japan finally decides to go nuclear? They’ve been taking baby steps in that direction and it’d only take several months to produce a bomb. Of course nothing is definite, but it definitely buts Amano in an interesting position.

  3. Adamu says:

    Pure speculation as usual, but do you think the recent revelations by an ex-diplomat that yes there was actually a secret pact with the US to store nukes in Japan had anything to do with this appointment? Maybe Amano made some enemies when he moved up the ranks.

  4. Aceface says:

    ” but do you think the recent revelations by an ex-diplomat that yes there was actually a secret pact with the US to store nukes in Japan had anything to do with this appointment? ”

    The pact was on allowing US vessel with nuclear weapon visiting Japanese port and crusing Japanese waters.Not store them in Japanese soil.

    China will probably respect the IAEA because it strengthen the UNSC where China has power and Japan does not.Plus IAEA chief being Japanese may help strengthen anti-nuclear mentality among Japanese public which ultimately benefits Beijing.

  5. Adamu says:

    Yes “store” was not quite the word I was looking for.