States Pass Resolution to Reform IAEA Board

November 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) member states have approved a resolution to give all states the opportunity to run for a seat on the agency’s Board of Governors.

The resolution, introduced by Kazakhstan, was adopted on Sept. 27 by a vote of 99-2, with 16 states abstaining, during the annual IAEA General Conference.

Kazakhstan’s deputy foreign minister, Kairat Umarov, welcomed the adoption of the resolution and called it a step toward “restoring justice” at the agency.

Serving on the Board of Governors gives a state more influence in the IAEA. The board has specific responsibilities for setting policy, including appointing the agency’s director-general, making recommendations on the budget, and approving safeguards agreements.

Under the IAEA statute, 13 of the 35 seats on the board are allocated to states with the most advanced nuclear programs. The General Conference elects the remaining 22 members from predefined regional groupings, with each group allocated a certain number of seats.

The statute does not include an automatic process to assign new states that did not join the IAEA in its original wave to regional groups or create new blocks. The regional groups can vote to admit new states, but some reject additional members because increasing the size of a geographic group can make vying for a board seat more competitive. Kazakhstan, for instance, was blocked from joining regional groups in the past, likely because its uranium export industry would make it a strong contender for a board seat.

As a result, 17 IAEA member states cannot be elected to one of the 22 board seats allocated by geographic distribution. The 17 states primarily include Central Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Island countries.

Kazakhstan described the current system as a “violation of the fundamental principle of equality.”

The resolution does not immediately assign the 17 states to a regional group, but it calls on member states to adopt an amendment to the IAEA statute that would require the board to adopt new regional lists that would include all member states. The amendment was introduced in 1999, but only 64 states have approved it. The amendment requires approval from two-thirds of the IAEA’s 174 members before it will enter into force. The resolution also expressed support for a “Group of Friends of Arealess States,” which is focused on finding opportunities for including the 17 states to participate in the existing regional groups.

China, Russia, and the United States supported the resolution. Laura Holgate, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, commended Kazakhstan for drawing attention to the problem and said all states should be able to join a geographic group. Other states have called for expanding the IAEA board to reflect the agency’s growth.