THE NUCLEAR NON PROLIFERATION TREATY
The nuclear activities in Brazil – as in other countries of the world – have always had two derivations, civil and military. Like other technologies, nuclear energy can be used for peaceful or military purposes. It is not easy to draw a clear line separating them. For example, steel can be used for making daggers, that can kill, or knives for cutting food. It is for this reason that passengers cannot go into an airplane carrying knives, scissors or other objects of the same type, and inspections are carried out to prevent this to happen because they could be used for overwhelming the crew in case of highjacking.
Concerning nuclear energy, it is not too different: it was developed for producing atomic bombs with a terrible explosive power, but soon it was realized that it could also be used in nuclear reactors for the production electricity. How can these activities be separated and how to limit its use for peaceful purposes, preventing its use for military ends?
This challenge has been dealt with for almost 40 years through restrictions imposed by the great powers that developed nuclear weapons to the other countries. This was carried out through the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), signed in 1967, that has legitimated the possession of nuclear weapons by the United States, Russia, England, France and China, and tried to prevent other countries to develop them by restricting access to technology.
The NPT was the result of a diplomatic bargain: countries have given up the access to nuclear weapons in exchange of progressive disarmament of the great powers that over time would lead to the banishment of these weapons as it has occurred with bacteriologic weapons. Besides, they would benefit from the transfer of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
The NPT is actually an asymmetric treaty that divided the world in two groups: those that “have” and those that “have not” nuclear weapons. For some, this solution was considered equivalent to “disarming the unarmed” while the others armed themselves without limit. Actually this is not the only existing asymmetry in the world, evidenced by the fact that the average United States per capita income is tenfold (or more) that of the Indians.
The NPT success relative to its objectives was mediocre because India, Israel and Pakistan, that were no signatories to the Treaty, developed nuclear weapons. North Korea is still a mystery concerning this question.
Nevertheless, the NPT restrictions have been voluntarily accepted by many countries. Brazil is among them, as the Government decided in 1992 that the possession of nuclear weapons would not bring any advantage to the country.
Developing weapons would cause restrictions to imports of certain materials and equipment and more or less intense retaliatory measures from the great powers, as it has happened to Iraq, Libya, Iran and North Korea.
Brazil and Argentina gave up nuclear weapons by signing a pioneer and innovative bilateral cooperation agreement that created one agency – ABACC – that made Latin America’s Southern Cone a weapon-free zone and without nuclear menace. The two countries at the time have given a magnificent example of political maturity.
However, to dominate the nuclear fuel cycle, from enrichment to the production of weapons is not a very difficult task and the technical elite from different countries could do it with their own means if this political decision would be taken.
After the development of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan, the concern that other countries would do the same have increased and for this reason the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) carries out inspections to confirm that this is not happening.
The access to nuclear installations originated the recent Brazilian problems vis-à-vis the IAEA and the Brazilian restrictions regarding inspections have given rise to suspicions that the intentions of the Brazilian Government were not entirely pacific. The arguments used, namely that these restrictions only aimed at protecting the uranium enrichment national technology developed locally are not convincing.
This is an opportune occasion to deepen the discussion about the real NPT implications because in 2005 it will take place an international conference – that happens every five years – to revise its success and failures. Brazil has been one of the most active countries in this debate, together with South Africa, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand and Sweden that have made serious propositions to improve and democratize the NPT. These seven countries have organized themselves in a “New Agenda Coalition” in which our present Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, was very active. The coalition has advanced the ideas that the control of access to nuclear weapons regarding the countries that do not have them would be linked to the disarmament of those that have them, making the world less dangerous than it is today.
José Goldemberg is Secretary for the Environment of the State of São Paulo - Brazil
Graphic Edition/Edição Gráfica:
Tuesday, 11 November 2008.