Nonproliferation
Policy Paper

Nuclear Illusions: Argentina and Brazil

in Program

Latin America’s two leading nations have devoted considerable resources to nuclear development. Both have achieved significant progress toward independent mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle with potential military applications. Moreover, until recently, their nuclear development has been accompanied by a nuclear theology grounded in rejection of the basic tenets  of the non-proliferation regime. Specifically, the two nations opposed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, and refused to fully accept the obligations of the Tlatelolco Treaty establishing a Latin American nuclear weapon-free zone.

These policies have now been reversed; the illusion of an “independent” nuclear policy appears to have been discarded and both nations have apparently embraced the non-proliferation regime. The reversal in nuclear policies resulted from domestic political change and the evolution of Argentine-Brazilian relations. Nuclear confidence-building and rapprochement proceeded as part of a broad improvement of Argentine economic, political, and military relations beginning in the late 1970s. The return of civilian governments in the early to mid-1980s in both nations hastened the process. Enlightened presidents utilized the sensitive nuclear issue to stimulate and reinforce cooperation in both areas. While restrictive foreign export policies enhanced the difficulty and expense of the Argentine and Brazilian nuclear programs, they also reinforced the nationalistic nuclear theology of victimization by the advanced nations. Alternatively, the promise of positive inducements, including increased foreign investment and access to advanced technology, encouraged domestic forces to press for change in long-cherished nuclear policies.

This paper examines the background, implementation, and verification procedures of these dramatic policy reversals. It assesses the factors which led to the repudiation of long-held nuclear policies, and discusses their permanency

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