The Future of the IAEA: A Conversation with Laura Rockwood

by Forum Staff

On Thursday, November 13 The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy hosted a panel discussion entitled “Why the International Atomic Energy Agency Won the Nobel Peace Prize.” Panelists included director of Harvard’s Belfer Center Graham Allison, former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, Columbia Law School adjunct professor and former legal advisor to the IAEA Larry Johnson, and Laura Rockwood, who served as the section head for non-proliferation and policy-making in the IAEA’s Office of Legal Affairs.

The Fletcher Forum Staff sat down with Laura Rockwood to discuss the future of the International Atomic Energy Agency in addressing nuclear weapons proliferation and her twenty-seven years of experience working with the organization.

FLETCHER FORUM: Following your departure from the organization, what are the biggest challenges to the IAEA moving forward?

ROCKWOOD: Following the election of President Rouhani, a new Iranian team met with the IAEA’s High Level Iran team with a view to making progress on outstanding technical issues, in particular as they relate to possible military dimensions (PMD) to Iran’s nuclear programme. These talks are continuing in parallel with the political level talks of the EU3+3 with Iran. Although some progress has been made in resolving these issues, there is still a lot of work to do. An extension of the political talks at the November 24 meeting of the principals is critical to further progress on the technical issues.

FLETCHER FORUM: What is the current state of the IAEA Board of Governors and its willingness to move forward new efforts in non-proliferation?

ROCKWOOD: The last two years have been a struggle to achieve Board acceptance of what has come to be known as the “State-level concept” (SLC). The concept, which has its roots in measures taken to strengthen safeguards following the discovery in 1991 of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear programme, involves the IAEA looking at the State as a whole, rather than at individual facilities, and taking into account all information available to it, in determining States’ compliance with their NPT safeguards agreement. Intensive consultations with Member States finally resulted in the Board in effect concurring in the Secretariat’s continued pursuit of the SLC. However, the debate on the SLC reflected the deep political divide within the Board, which does not bode well for further efforts to strengthen safeguards.

FLETCHER FORUM: Has the IAEA become too rigid over the past few years? Does it require innovative ideas to come up with solutions to the Iranian nuclear situation, or is this just a matter of political will?

ROCKWOOD: The IAEA has always continued to seek innovations in verification techniques. However, I don’t believe that the solution to the Iranian nuclear situation rests with innovative verification techniques – rather more with innovative political solutions to create an environment in which the resolution of the technical issues becomes possible.

FLETCHER FORUM: Given your distinguished career with the Office of Legal Affairs at the IAEA, what knowledge or advice would you share with students at Fletcher or young professionals aspiring to a career in international service?

ROCKWOOD: Don’t allow other people’s skepticism encourage you to give up on your dreams. Have goals, but be open to change – the most direct path to achieving those goals is not necessarily the only path. Look for a mentor, someone whom you trust and to whom you can turn for advice and counsel. If someone offers to help, take him or her up on the offer. And make sure to meet and stay in touch with people – you will be pleasantly surprised how your paths will cross at some unexpected time in the future.

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