February 20, 2006
Brazil's Nuclear AmbitionsBy LTC Joseph C. Myers
Brazil is a continental country with a complicated 'geostrategic depth.' Americans tend, at our peril, to pay insufficient attention to its politics and justifiably large ambitions. We may not have that luxury in the foreseeable future. Brazil appears to be taking steps in the next few weeks which could eventually enlarge the small but growing club of nuclear powers. The implications are profound.
Brazil's national security policies have been characterized by three historical driving instincts; the first: to exert sovereignty over the whole of its vast, rich but thinly populated geographic interior; second: to develop economically and militarily to obtain a deserved regional leadership position; and finally to become an important global actor.
It was no accident that at the turn of the 20th century developing military institutions in Latin America turned to the great European powers on which to model their own national security doctrines and modernize their forces. It was not simply because of cultural and immigration ties, but principally because they found similar security challenges and requirements.
Thus the Prussians and Germans wielded early influence on the Chilean and Argentine militaries, both sharing long borders with potentially hostile neighbors where the ability to mobilize and move military resources to face threats required centralized and detailed planning along the lines of the German general staff developed under the doctrines of the great Field Marshall von Moltke. On the other hand Brazil, primarily settled along its coast line, was shielded by its dark and mysterious interior. Brazilians turned first to the French, whose colonial experiences in Africa, exploring and developing that vast 'dark continent' mirrored Brazil's own situation, while its Luso—African culture was resonant with certain aspects of French practice.
Settlement, development and defense of the Amazon region have been a mainstay of Brazilian security doctrines. In 1997 the vast SIVAM project 'System for Vigilance over the Amazon' was completed. The network of radars is designed to monitor the airspace over the Amazon for air traffic control purposes, including illicit overflights; it also includes radars for meteorological and weather monitoring and analysis. Defense of the Amazon from migratory incursions for the illicit extraction of minerals, drug trafficking and spill—over insurgent activity from Colombia are all real issues for Brazil.
Nonetheless, this sense of insecurity of the interior has engendered a certain level of paranoia over threats to Amazon from foreign invaders and imperialists coveting its vast resources. To the extent the military has a formal defense plan for the Amazon, it includes a strategy of attrition and delaying guerrilla warfare to halt any cross—border invasions.
On the other hand, as the saying goes, 'just because you're paranoid does not mean someone is not out to get you.' Global environmental concerns from the UN and various special interest groups—from rational to extremist—often do speak in terms of the Amazon as a global environmental interest and resource. Intellectually or specifically, such rhetoric implies challenges to Brazil's sovereignty over the region. Those flinging about such rhetoric include former senior US political leaders, namely Al Gore.
Brazil, along with Argentina, has sought greater economic integration within South America, and promotion of MERCOSUR has been a priority. The MERCOSUR regional trading bloc includes Uruguay and Paraguay. It was established as counterbalance to US free trade initiatives and dominance in the Americas. The US remains however, the largest bi—lateral trading partner in the hemisphere, with China slowly chipping away at our position. Worldwide trade liberalization has improved the internal trading markets and exports within the MERCOSUR partners and associative members.
Brazil's foreign policy also is marked by outreach across the South Atlantic to Africa and is developing close cultural and economic ties to those countries directly across the ocean, all part of its regional power identity. This is a deserved position for a country of the magnitude of Brazil.
But one part of Brazil's reach for international power identity has been its efforts at developing nuclear weapons during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Brazil transparently terminated this program in 1996 and signed the nuclear non—proliferating treaty in 1998. But Brazil likely retains the technological capacity and know—how to produce and deliver a nuclear weapon. They just have not crossed that threshold for the many geopoltical and security complications doing so would entail.
But recently, according to a Knight Ridder article, Brazil is poised in the next several weeks to produce large quantities of enriched uranium.
The Resende plant near Rio de Janiero, where the uranium will be enriched, was originally denied access to United Nations IAEA inspections by the government of Brazil. That impasse was partly resolved in late 2004. Nonetheless, according to Lawrence Scheinman, a former U.S. arms control official, Brazil's nuclear fuel needs, more than 120 tons of enriched uranium a year, don't warrant the country launching an industrial facility, such as Resende, especially with global supplies of the material running high. '
Meanwhile the father of Brazil's nuclear weapons program, Rex Nazare Alves, currently sits on the advisory committee for National Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN) of the government of Lula da Silva. Previously a consultant in the Institutional Security Office (GSI) of the Presidency of the Republic, he was promoted to be a representative to 'Deliberative Commission' the most important Brazilian nuclear policy group that provides both oversight and veto decisions for CNEN. According to Brasilia Correio Braziliense, Alves was part of Brazil's secret 'parallel nuclear program' in the 1980s; involving nuclear design and construction and unspecified classified funding of the program.
Former Science and Technology Minister Roberto Amaral says that he was unaware of the involvement of Rex Nazare Alves with the secret parallel nuclear program when he appointed him to the Deliberative Commission—odd since Amaral was already on record stating Brazil should be free to 'master all aspects of nuclear technology' along with campaign statements by President Lula da Silva that the non—proliferation treaty is 'unfair.'
Contrasting Iran's nuclear programs with Brazil, White House spokesman Scott McCllellan stated
Trust is a strange choice of words in a world of increasing nuclear proliferation while Brazil's cooperation with IAEA still remains 'non—intrusive.' Brazil has not allowed officials to view the centrifuges in full at their Resende plant for fear of 'economic espionage.' Other experts conclude that full inspection may reflect illicit sources of technology. One outstanding mystery remains: whether AQ Khan had any influence on Brazil's nuclear programs, or for that matter contacts with Mr. Alves.
Is economics the only reason for Brazil to enrich uranium? Or could in fact the clandestine nuclear program of Iran be a driver in posturing Brazil more closely for a future nuclear weapon capability? One can hope that Brazil harbors no nuclear weapons ambitions which would be destabilizing and extravagant —when they have many opportunities and capabilities to contribute to regional and international security, and are doing so in Haiti now.
On the other hand, would Brazil tolerate a world of increasing nuclear weapons with the likes of countries as Iran and North Korea? For some analysts the answer is 'No.' Noted Brazilian economist Ricardo C. Amaral openly declared that Brazil should pursue nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantor of sovereignty.
Actually South Africa disassembled their nuclear weapons voluntarily, but his point stands as Iran moves forward with their program; a program whose international support should be rejected. One thing certain: a world with fewer nuclear weapons is a safer world, and that is a world Brazil can be proudest to promote.
Joseph Myers writes and speaks on national security issues.