The day after the United Nations Security Council adopts a resolution on nuclear security, not only do the Iranians says that are building another nuclear reactor, but a neighbor in the Western Hemisphere says that Brazil should have nuclear weapons. While this is not the first time Brazilian officials make such comments in public places, what is most perplexing is the rationale justifying nuclear weapons for Brazil.
Brazil’s Vice President said yesterday that “a nuclear weapon has great importance” to prevent attacks on Brazil because of its extensive borders and maritime holdings. The border argument is laughable. Colombia, Suriname, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Venezuela are some of the countries bordering Brazil. The Amazon jungle and rainforest buffer provides plenty of “protection.” And it is even less clear what the maritime threats would be that would require a nuclear weapon. Invading marauders from the west African coast? Drug smugglers?
Alencar also told several Brazilian newspapers that Brazil does not have a program to develop nuclear weapons but it should have one. Taking the comment at face value, then why does Brazil refuse to open all nuclear facilities and research programs to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors? They seem to have let the Russian in. In November 2008, the Russian nuclear agency, Rosatom, offered Brazil advanced uranium refining technology and new nuclear power plants.
When Lula Da Silva ran for President the first time he said why should developing countries fight with a “slingshot” when neighbors, i.e., the United States and others, have atomic bombs? While Da Silva cooled this rhetoric after the 2002 election, and has not publicly made this argument, on or about mid-2000s Brazil announced it was expanding its refining capacity, building more nuclear power plants, but was not going to allow full and unfettered inspections by the IAEA. Some inspectors were eventually allowed to visit, but not at all of the facilities.
In 2007, a Brazilian four star General and former head of the Brazilian War College, said on Brazilian television that “if the government agrees, we need to have the ability in the future to develop nuclear weapons.” President Da Silva has also continued to criticize the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as do most leaders of developing countries, as an agreement tilted in favor of the U.S. and other advanced powers. Brazil is a close ally of Iran and supports Iranian nuclear efforts.
This has not been a good week for the Obama Administration on the nuclear non-proliferation issue. Not only did Iran play a major trump card, but a large South American power is tipping its toe in the nuclear political waters, yet again. With regards to Brazil, there remains a unsettling patchwork of words and deeds that show, at a minimum, that Brazil has left the nuclear research door somewhat open for both the civilian and military sectors.
The Obama Administration has a unique opportunity to re-craft U.S. policy in the Americas by adding non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology to the mix of issues. Topping that list should be Brazil. Brazil cannot have a nuclear weapon, period. Brazil must cooperate with the IAEA without restrictions. If we demand as much from Iran and North Korea, how can we not ask of it from our friends in the Americas? If Brazil has nothing to hide, it will be an easy process.