Since its inception, the IAEA has had difficulty identifying clandestine nuclear programs on its own. Yet since the 1990s, and even more significantly since 2001, it has been at the center of media attention on non-proliferation issues. Each of its reports is commented on by the press and mobilized in various political discourses. How can this apparent paradox be explained?

This presentation looks at the causes of what has been described as a change in the IAEA's "safeguards culture" that began in the 1990s. This change is often presented as taking root in the first Gulf War (1991), with the discovery of the Iraqi nuclear program. This presentation aims to put the Iraqi case and its effects on the IAEA into perspective, in the context of the end of the Cold War and an evolution of the American political debate on non-proliferation issues.

Through a conceptualization of the role of international organizations which situates them in political spaces that go beyond their formal institutional boundaries, this research offers solid tools for understanding the role of the IAEA in contemporary crises, and the processes of production and use of its expertise.