2009 Delta Prize for Global Understanding

Vienna, Austria

by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

University of Georgia, Atlanta, USA
2009 Delta Prize for Global Understanding

President Michael Adams, President Ed Bastian, Professor Gary Bertsch, Professor Betty Jean Craige,

I am absolutely honoured and humbled to accept the Delta Prize Award for Global Understanding. As I listened to the music today, I thought there is really nothing more for me to say. What did they say? "Let there be peace and let me be the first one to start it." "You will never walk alone; make our garden grow." That is really the message of where we should be. We should work for peace. We should work together and we should work for prosperity and economic development.

Global understanding is not really a luxury, it is an absolute imperative. It is a necessity. It is a way to survive in this interconnected world. Global understanding, to me, means that we need to understand that our diversity is our strength. We need to understand that our core values are exactly the same whether we are Hindus, Muslims, Christian or Jews. We need to understand that we cannot afford not to work together, because we are either going to succeed together or are we going to fail separately.

This is, to me, what global understanding means. Aida, my wife, and I have spent equal parts of our lives in Cairo, in New York and in Vienna. We have come to realise that, no matter how different people are in terms of nationality, language or ethnicity, at the end of the day we are exactly the same: one human family. We have the same hopes, we have the same aspirations and we have the same sense of decency that we all would like to share. But reaching human understanding requires that all of us work for it. Each of us has to play his or her part.

In my area of work, we face two main challenges - inequity and insecurity. Inequity is something that plagues our globe. We have 900 million people - 900 million people - who go to bed hungry every night. We have 1.4 billion people who live on a dollar and a quarter a day. One third of humanity lives on less than two dollars a day. One percent of us own 40% of the world´s assets. Fifty percent of us own just one percent of the world´s assets. It would be foolish to think that we will have peace amid this kind of inequity, this total disparity between "us" and "them." As Betty Jean Craige said: We can´t afford to say "us" and "them." We have to say "we". We have heard talk about no child being left behind. I would say no human being should be left behind. That is the way for us to survive.

Insecurity is the other main challenge which we face. Wars are raging around the globe. There are festering conflicts that have been with us for decades. We see the steady erosion of international norms and international law. The reliance on nuclear weapons harks back to the Middle Ages or earlier, to the days of "Who has the biggest club?" These are the challenges we are facing. Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, yesterday gave a speech on the nuclear order and the necessity of establishing a multinational nuclear fuel cycle. He mentioned four global challenges: global poverty, global security, global climate change and of course the global financial crisis. In all this, he stated - and I fully subscribe to this - that we must have an environment of cooperation and not confrontation, an environment of collaboration and not isolation. That is the only way to go.

In the IAEA, we deal with both inequities and insecurities. A good part of our work is like that of a caring mother. We try to deal with those who are left behind. Many of you probably do not know that a lot of our work is in the developing countries, helping people to get radiotherapy machines to treat cancer, to manage their groundwater so that they have enough clean water, to produce better yields of different varieties of food, to use nuclear techniques for measuring pollution to make sure that seas and oceans are clean. This is a good part of the bread and butter of our work. It is not much reported because we are often referred to only when there is a crisis. We are talked about as a watchdog. Yes, we bark sometimes, but at many other times we are a very docile dog, trying to help people in need.

Insecurity is a major challenge. We live in a world which still relies on nuclear weapons. This is simply not sustainable. I cannot continue with a straight face to go around the world telling countries that nuclear weapons are not good for you, while there are nine weapon States saying "the world is a dangerous place and we have to rely on nuclear weapons and to continue to modernise them." That is not a sustainable system. Many people do not like to hear what I say. But I have to continue to say it because I have a responsibility on my shoulders. I need at least to make people aware that this system of security we have is not a sustainable system.

The good news is that finally the fog has been lifted. President Obama, upon his election, made a firm commitment to work for a world free from nuclear weapons. The so-called quartet - Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Bill Perry and Sam Nunn - my good friend Sam Nunn - have come forward to say we have to go for a world free from nuclear weapons. That is not idealism; this is simply a practical way to save ourselves. Why? Because the technology is out of the tube and if we continue the way we are, more and more countries will have nuclear weapons. The odds that nuclear weapons will be used, accidentally or intentionally, become much much higher. More worrying is the prospect of an extremist group acquiring nuclear weapons because they would simply use them. The so-called concept of deterrence does not figure in their ideology. For the international community, this is a wake-up call that we need a change of mindset.

We need to look for a new system of security that does not depend on nuclear weapons. That is not going to be easy, but it´s the way we have to go. There is absolutely no excuse, 20 years after the end of the Cold War, for still having 27,000 warheads. We still have nuclear weapons on Cold War status alert. Every country has the right to acquire the nuclear technology that enables it to develop a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks. That margin of security is absolutely unacceptable. It is unacceptable that, with all the advances we have made in areas such as information technology or biotechnology, we still, in the area of international security, live by the values of the Middle Ages. That is something we need to address and address aggressively.

As I said, I saw a clear glimmer of hope when I saw Barack Obama committing himself to nuclear disarmament, when I saw Henry Kissinger and company - and yesterday Gordon Brown - committing themselves to nuclear disarmament. Finally, we see light at the end of the tunnel and the possibility that we will have a system of security based on cooperation and not confrontation. Based on empowering international institutions, based on learning how to resolve our differences through peaceful means.

I always refer to the European Union, the 27 countries who are now working together as one. They play tricks on each other all the time, but they will never think to use force against each other because they have much that binds them and the mechanisms, the institutions, to resolve their differences in a peaceful manner. My dream, I often say, is to see the world transformed into a bigger European Union, into a world where we emphasize what we share together and understand that all that we think separates us is simply superficial. Ethnicity, nationality and language add to our cultural diversity, but they are not really what we are about. What we are about is that we are one human family of 6 billion people. We need to continue to see how we can work together for the sake of our children and our grandchildren.

Travel is a great way of improving global understanding. I am grateful to Delta for realising that, if we want global understanding, we need to encourage people to travel. I see that very clearly with my son and my daughter, who were born in Geneva, went to primary school in New York, high school in Vienna and college in London. For them, colour, nationality and ethnicity are totally irrelevant. Their best friends, who were Japanese, Ethiopians and Afghans, were just human beings. This gives me a sense of hope. That´s the kind of world I would like to see. I´d like to leave our children a world where they think of themselves as part of one human family with the same core values. That is the only way we can survive.

I´d like to end by citing the Bible. When the first blood was shed, God asked Cain "Where is your brother?" and Cain answered defiantly "I know not. Am I my brother´s keeper?" Until we come to realise that every one of us is his brother´s and sister´s keeper, we will not have peace and security.

Last update: 17 November 2014