When the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was created sixty years ago, it was presented as a development agency turning nuclear swords into ploughshares. A small group of nuclear ‘haves’ negotiated the IAEA Statute between 1953 and 1957, securing privileged positions for themselves. Less-developed states were largely ignored during this process. Unsurprisingly, nuclear haves (states with advanced nuclear infrastructure and resources) and have-nots (everyone else) held different preferences about the main purpose of the IAEA: technology diffusion or nonproliferation.
Sixty years ago, on 23 October 1956, an international conference at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York adopted the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The document is almost as long as the UN Charter and remains the legal foundation of ‘the Agency,’ as the world nuclear organization is widely called. This H-Diplo/ISSF policy roundtable uses the anniversary as an opportunity to discuss the IAEA’s mandate and role in history and current affairs. Does the IAEA Statute, which was written in a very different context, stand up to scrutiny today? What does the answer suggest about the IAEA and institutions of global nuclear governance more generally? How can the IAEA be strengthened?