Megan Garcia has penned a great little essay on “emerging powers” in nuclear politics in general, and Brazil in particular. Let me also plug her monograph, Global Swing States and the Non-Proliferation Order.
The subject is super important — one of the big ideas lurking in the back of my head concerns how the nonproliferation regime adjusts to the spread of manufacturing technologies. Americans like to list all the stuff that newly industrialized countries like Brazil must do to fully embrace nonproliferation, such as signing and ratifying the Additional Protocol. What Americans don’t like talking about is what we have to do in exchange — accepting that Brazil’s participation confers the right to help draft the rules. That’s probably the main reason I remain appalled at how the Obama Administration handled the May 2010 Zombie Fuel Swap with Iran.
Anyway, that’s my blog post. Megan’s post puts Brazil’s embrace of nonproliferation in some historical context, closing with a look at where the country’s domestic politics are today:
There has been a lot of buzz lately about what you might call ‘rising powers’ or ‘emerging powers’ or ‘the countries that seem to know how to have a lot of fun and also eat excellent food.’ Let me draw your mind from Turkish meze and Indian samosas to the role these countries are playing in nuclear politics.
Take Brazil, for example.
Although it’s slowed over the pew few years, Brazil’s economic growth is still giving China a run for its money (literally). The average rent for an apartment in Rio is somewhere around $2,000 a month, for goodness sake. And, to the chagrin of their neighbors, Brazilian leaders have had their eye on the coveted Global Leader moniker for quite some time; first via Lula’s fiery presence on the world stage and now with Rousseff’s quiet determination to keep economic development on course.
Brazil’s engagement with the global nuclear regime has been a complex one. Initially, Brazilian leaders didn’t want to join the Non Proliferation Treaty, and viewed it as discriminatory because it forced less developed nations into accepting permanent technological disadvantage. In the 1950’s Brazil negotiated with West Germany to buy three centrifuges but the U.S. and British occupation authorities blocked the deal. Under the Filho Administration in the 1950’s the U.S. normalized relations and sent research reactors to Brazil under the Atoms for Peace program.
Between 1964 and 1985 Brazil was governed by a military dictatorship that both acquired its own nuclear technology capacity and relied on technological assistance from the United States because of energy shortages and the 1973 oil shocks. Because the U.S. was unwilling to transfer the nuclear fuel cycle in its entirely to Brazil, the Brazilian government secretly negotiated with West Germany for nuclear power reactors, uranium processing facilities, conversion, enrichment and reprocessing technology. By the time the military regime ended in 1985 Brazil’s Navy had an indigenous program to develop a naval reactor, the Army was developing a large graphite-moderated reactor to create weapons usable plutonium and the Air Force had a program to develop laser enrichment and breeder reactors.
With the fall of the military regime and the emergence of democratic governance in Brazil, the country has emphasized the peaceful nature of its nuclear activities. Its 1988 constitution bans any use of nuclear weapons—a major step for a country that had been developing the capabilities that would allow it to develop a weapon if it chose to. Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello also sealed Brazil’s underground atomic test site in 1990, in part to improve relations with the U.S. (He snuck that move in before being impeached.) And in 1998 Brazil completed its accession to the NPT, despite heated internal debate about whether acceding to a treaty that many experts believed to be inherently unfair was worth becoming integrated into the global nonproliferation regime. (The internationalists won that argument.) Brazil also ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1998.
Brazil has been a stalwart champion of generating regional solutions to nuclear security problems. In 1991, after years of seeing each other as nuclear rivals, Brazil and Argentina created the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) to monitor each other’s nuclear activities and facilities and ensure that they were exclusively for peaceful use. While the IAEA and established powers believe that IAEA inspections go further than ABACC inspections, Brazil maintains that the system provides the highest guarantee of nuclear safeguards.
Which brings us back to today and Dilma Rousseff’s presidency. The question among many of the Brazilian colleagues I’ve spoken to is whether and how Brazil will engage on nuclear issues in the future, both directly with the P5 and in forums like the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The best thinking that I’d heard from those inside and outside the Brazilian government is that Lula and the Brazilian governing elite learned a lesson from the deal Lula and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan tried to make with Iran in May 2010. In essence, Lula and Erdogan stuck their necks out to encourage Iran to agree to a fuel swap proposal that they thought was backed by the P5. The permanent members reacted coldly to the deal negotiated by Brazil and Turkey, catching them off guard. Lula and Erdogan expected their role as mediators to be heralded and instead they got a public lashing. Heavily criticized by the Brazilian domestic press, Lula was lambasted at home as a pawn of the major powers.
In light of Obama’s earlier encouragement of Turkey and Brazil’s role in discussions with Iran, Lula and other Brazilian policymakers publicly and privately fumed when the permanent members of the UNSC disavowed the deal, saying things like, “the traditional centers of power will not share gladly their privileged status.” In the end, the UNSC adopted new sanctions against Iran, effectively taking the agreement negotiated by Brazil and Turkey off the table. The deal — and the subsequent Brazilian and Turkish decision to vote against UNSC sanctions — sent ripples through the established powers. Brazil and Turkey seemed to demonstrate that they could have an occasional seat at the negotiating table. Whether they want the seat given what happened in 2010 remains unclear.
Dilma is a much less public president than Lula was. She’s more of a Meryl Streep to Lula’s Charlie Sheen. Rousseff is more focused on domestic economic policy than public diplomacy. This seems to be in part because Brazil’s economic growth has slowed, and in part because of her background in energy and economic issues. With Rousseff’s less public persona than Lula, her penchant for focusing on Brazil’s economy, and the specter of the Iran fuel swap deal lurking in the background, it’s unlikely that she will attempt to mediate between problematic countries like Iran and nuclear weapons states. Whether Brazilian diplomats will mediate in a much less public fashion has yet to be determined.