Vienna (Austria), May 15 (ANI): The outgoing director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed El Baradei, has warned that the number of potential nuclear weapons states could more than double in a few years unless the major powers take radical steps towards disarmament.
In an interview to The Guardian, El Baradei said the threat of proliferation was particularly grave in the Middle East, a region he described as a "ticking bomb".
He said the current international regime limiting the spread of nuclear weapons was in danger of falling apart under its own inequity.
"Any regime ... has to have a sense of fairness and equity and it is not there," he said in an interview at his offices in Vienna.
El Baradei has presided over the IAEA for over 11 years and is due to retire in November at the age of 67.
A bitter diplomatic battle is under way over his successor.
The IAEA director general is the custodian of a global arms control regime that is increasingly beleaguered. It was built around the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and the goal of restricting membership of the nuclear club to five post-war powers.
It has been under strain in the last four decades, with Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea developing weapons outside the NPT. But now ElBaradei says the system is in danger of collapse, with an abrupt spread in nuclear weapons technology.
"We still live in a world where if you have nuclear weapons, you are buying power, you are buying insurance against attack. That is not lost on those who do not have nuclear weapons, particularly in [conflict] regions," he said, and predicted that the next wave of proliferation would involve "virtual nuclear weapons states", who can produce plutonium or highly enriched uranium and possess the know how to make warheads, but who stop just short of assembling a weapon.
They would therefore remain technically compliant with the NPT while being within a couple of months of deploying and using a nuclear weapon.
He argued that the only way back from the nuclear abyss was for the established nuclear powers to fulfill their NPT obligations and disarm as rapidly as possible.
He said it was essential to generate momentum in that direction before the NPT comes up for review next April in New York.
"Slash the 27,000 warheads we have, 95 percent of which are in Russia and the US. You can easily slash [the arsenals] to 1,000 each, or even 500," El Baradei said.
"If some of this concrete action is taken before the NPT [conference], you would have a completely different environment. All these so-called virtual weapons states, or virtual wannabe weapons states, will think twice ... because then the major powers will have the moral authority to go after them and say:
'We are doing our part of the bargain. Now it is up to you.' ", he said. (ANI)