The Evolution of the Argentine-Brazilian Nuclear Rapprochement: Morning Session, Part 1 (cont.)

Dr. Ariel Levite

Thank you, Dr. Redick. I think your emphasis on the role that democratization and cooperation within and between the two countries, and the regional dimension to it, is something which maybe we should turn to later.

I would like to now introduce Ambassador Julio Carasales. It’s a privilege and an honor to have with us someone who has been so important in this whole process. Ambassador Carasales is a distinguished career ambassador of the Argentine Foreign Service. While he retired two years ago, he remains attached to the Foreign Ministry as an advisor, so I think there are some others in the hall who can sympathize with him in that respect. He has a long and distinguished career, serving as Deputy Permanent Delegate to the U.N. and to the Security Council, Ambassador to Denmark and to the Organization of American States, and Permanent Delegate to the Conference on Disarmament. He has also been Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs. Ambassador Carasales has written several books and a great number of articles on the Latin American nuclear experience. Ambassador, please.

Ambassador Julio C. Carasales
Argentine Foreign Ministry, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Let me begin by thanking ISIS and the Ministry of Defense of Israel for allowing me this opportunity to talk about an experience of great importance, which represents a particular important facet of our historical development. I also want to clarify that, while I am still a member of the Argentine Foreign Service, what I am going to say today, I say in my personal capacity, not as an official of the Argentine government. I will divide my talk in two parts. First, I will give an historical narrative of the main points of the development of the Argentine-Brazilian relationship. Second, I will reflect about what lessons we could extract from this experience, what the reasons were that led both governments to take such highly significant steps.

Professor Redick made reference to the long history of Argentine-Brazilian rivalry. I would stress the word rivalry, or the word competition, because we have to bear in mind from the very beginning that Argentina and Brazil were not enemies, just competitors for the leadership of South America. As Professor Redick recalled, we fought just one war in our whole history, and that war took place in the 1820s. After, our relationship had its ups and downs, but we were never close to war. We had a border dispute, like almost every country in Latin America, but we resolved that dispute at the end of last century by arbitration. Our last serious difficulty took place some 20 years ago regarding the management of the natural resources, water resources, of the River Parana, which flows from Brazil into Argentina. But we also solved that by negotiation and reached an agreement in 1979. Until that problem was solved, it was unrealistic to expect advances in any field, including the nuclear field.

The first attempt to improve relations between Argentina and Brazil in the nuclear field took place one year after the solution of the water dispute, in 1980, when the then-President of Brazil, General Figuereido, made a state visit to Argentina, then also under a military regime, led by General Videla. At that meeting, which took place in May 1980, several agreements were signed, including an Agreement on Cooperation for the Development and Application of Peaceful Nuclear Uses of Nuclear Energy.

Policy makers in both nations realized that nuclear development was a field in which it was proper and promising to cooperate. But the process that began in 1980 faltered, because the attention of both governments was concentrated on internal political and economic problems and on the common transfer of power to civilian hands. In addition, the 1982 South Atlantic War diverted concern from bilateral relations.

We had to wait several years for the real process to begin, which I could divide in two phases. One phase, between 1985 and 1989, involved a purely bilateral approach. During the second phase, from 1989 to the present, the bilateral process was made international in the sense that both countries entered into international agreements.

The political climate to undertake the building of a new and vastly improved relationship between Argentina and Brazil became propitious when civilians assumed the leadership in both nations. Presidents Raul Alfonsín of Argentina took power in December 1983 and Jose Sarney in Brazil in March 1985. It must be emphasized from the very beginning that nuclear affairs were not envisaged as isolated from the broader context of Argentine-Brazilian relations in general. On the contrary, the political leadership of both countries began to view the nuclear issue as one important part of a whole process. The two civilian presidents met in Foz de Iguazu, which is a border town between Argentina and Brazil, in late November 1985 and initiated a process of economic integration and close political cooperation.

I would briefly mention all the important steps which were taken on economic affairs. Both presidents signed an act of Argentine-Brazilian integration in 1986. In 1988, they signed a treaty, not just a bilateral declaration, but a treaty on integration, cooperation and development. This was considered a significant milestone because of the sweeping character of the treaty and because the treaty was ratified by the Argentine Congress with the support of all political parties. This suggested that the rapprochement with Brazil enjoyed wide approval, unthinkable ten years before.

Simultaneously, with the economic process of integration, another process began to take form in the nuclear field. It was an integral but distinct part of the whole new Argentine-Brazilian relationship. At the November 1985 Foz de Iguazu meeting, a Joint Declaration on Nuclear Policy was issued that stressed the exclusively peaceful purposes of the nuclear programs of both countries and the intent to cooperate very closely in this area. This declaration, and this is very important, also established a joint working group under the responsibility of the Argentine and Brazilian Foreign Ministries to study and propose concrete measures to implement the declared bilateral nuclear policy. This group became a permanent committee in 1988. The fact that the working group was put under the authority of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, which were, as John Redick mentioned, the governmental departments most convinced of the need to advance rapidly and forcefully towards rapprochement, was a significant factor contributing to the success of the bilateral nuclear effort.

In the years following that meeting of Foz de Iguazu at the end of 1985, subsequent progress on nuclear cooperation proceeded on both the commercial and technical level. Trade links between nuclear enterprises were established. On the official level, as a result of the work of the permanent committee, and of increasingly frequent head of state visits, relations became more normalized. The reciprocal visits by heads of state were an interesting phenomenon because they tended to improve the climate of mutual trust and confidence between the two countries. The two presidents, Alfonsín and Sarney, visited each other four times in less than two years. Accompanied by political and technical advisors, they visited sensitive unsafeguarded nuclear installations. Following each visit, a specific declaration of common nuclear policy was signed. The presidential visits were not just social gestures, but had political meanings and objectives, particularly when the new enrichment plans in both countries were the object of such visits.

This phase was mainly, if not exclusively, of a bilateral character, concerned only with putting nuclear relations between the two nations on a new basis. The purpose was to inspire mutual confidence and trust, and not, at this stage, to address international worries and uncertainties. Moreover, mutual confidence was established by a combination of visits, not only of presidents, but also through technical and student exchanges, improved commercial relations, and complementary activities of nuclear industries. But not, it must be stressed, by a system of mutual nuclear control and safeguards. Until 1989, for a period of more than four years, the words “inspection,” “control” or “safeguards” were not incorporated in any of the documents signed by Argentina and Brazil. Instead, the words “trust” and “confidence” were mentioned repeatedly, always.

Some foreign observers were inclined to view Argentine-Brazilian nuclear cooperation as perhaps a means of distracting international suspicions from the ultimately non-peaceful intentions of the nuclear programs of both countries. But it was not so. The actual goal of Argentina and Brazil at that time was to protect their individual security and promote reciprocal trust. International security might follow as a natural and desirable corollary, but it was not the determining factor, nor was it ever publicly stated as one of the elements that influenced the rapprochement.

However, analysts of the bilateral experience soon showed that international concerns had not disappeared. By 1990, it was clear to both Argentine and Brazilian policy makers that, not withstanding the value of the bilateral level, the international community would just not be satisfied without some form of concrete verification system that was integrated into the global nonproliferation regime. It seemed necessary to take the process beyond a purely bilateral, non-binding agreement, and to consider the possibility of concluding legally-binding agreements for mutual inspections and control, and for accepting international verification of the entire nuclear programs of both countries. The new phase of the process was carried out by the new heads of state of Argentina and Brazil, President Carlos Menem and Fernando Collor.

Presidents Alfonsín and Sarney were so personally concerned with the evolving nuclear relationship that when both leaders finished their terms, almost simultaneously, many observers asked whether the process would continue upon their retirement. Fortunately, the new heads of state not only kept the effort going, but intensified it. Very soon after assuming powers, Menem and Collor met again in the city of Foz de Iguazu and issued another highly significant Joint Declaration on Nuclear Policy. They decided to take three actions—first, to establish a common system of accounting and control which would apply to all nuclear activities of both countries and to create a bilateral unit, the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials, ABACC, to control its application; second, to start negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, with a view to reaching a joint safeguard agreement, on the basis of that system of accountability and control; and third, at the last step, to revise the Tlatelolco Treaty and become full parties to it.

What is amazing really is the speed with which all these three steps were taken; surprising speed, because of the delicate nature of most of the issues related to these steps. Six months after the Foz de Iguazu meeting, both countries signed in Guadalajara, Mexico on 18 July 1991, a treaty, a full treaty, stating again the peaceful nature of the Argentine nuclear activities, and renouncing all kinds of nuclear development of a war-like nature. The first article of the Guadalajara Treaty is more or less the equivalent of the first two articles of the Nonproliferation Treaty. Argentina and Brazil, which always have defended the right to conduct peaceful nuclear explosions, if they saw fit, renounced those explosions by the Guadalajara Treaty until the time in which a technical distinction could be made between peaceful and non-peaceful nuclear explosions. The Guadalajara Treaty also formally approved the common system of accountability and control and formally established ABACC, the nuclear control agency.

The second step envisaged in Foz de Iguazu was the signing of the four party agreement between Argentina, Brazil, the IAEA and ABACC. This treaty was signed only six months after the signing of the Guadalajara Treaty. Everything was done in just one year. The four party agreement is a full-scope safeguard agreement, equivalent to the agreements signed as a consequence of the Nonproliferation Treaty.

This agreement was signed on December 1991, and the following year, Argentina and Brazil met in order to discuss what amendments could be introduced to the Tlatelolco Treaty. Chile, which was not a party to Tlatelolco either, mainly because Argentina was not a party, asked to be invited to join the discussions; Argentina and Brazil accepted. The three countries also negotiated with the depository state of Tlatelolco, which is Mexico. They reached a common text, the amendments were submitted to a special conference of Tlatelolco parties, and they were unanimously approved. Argentina and Chile became full parties of Tlatelolco at the beginning of 1994, and Brazil followed a few months later. Many aspects of this case are extraordinary. We have to realize that this policy was very favorably received inside and outside Argentina and Brazil. There is no danger that the process will be reversed or undermined. Now the time has come to consolidate the bilateral agreements. The nuclear control agency, ABACC, is performing in a satisfactory manner. No new agreements are to be expected, and still some diversity in nuclear policy is possible, like the one we have regarding the Nonproliferation Treaty. Argentina decided to accede to the NPT, and Brazil not.

What lessons could be extracted from the whole exercise? I will mention a few of them. First, it must be remembered that the states’ progress in nuclear affairs was, as I said before, not an isolated phenomenon, but part of a broader process that encompassed a whole range of foreign policy issues. In nuclear affairs, in fact, the two rivals shared several features. Both nations had devoted significant resources to developing a considerable nuclear industry and autonomous control over the full nuclear fuel cycle. Both developed uranium enrichment capability, the ultimate symbol of nuclear independence. But neither Argentina nor Brazil had ever started a nuclear weapon program. Since the civilian nuclear development of the two countries advanced to a roughly similar level, the time was right to try to make progress in a coordinated and cooperative way, rather than in a competitive one.

Second, the general international nuclear policies of Argentina and Brazil were broadly the same. Both refused to join, at that time, the NPT. They resented what they perceived as a discriminatory and unfair treaty that legitimized nuclear weapons in the hands of a few, and imposed on the others a rigorous international control system tailored by the nuclear weapon states themselves. Neither, at that time, was a party to the Tlatelolco Treaty, not because they objected to its purpose and main obligations, but because they considered some of its clauses to be prejudicial to their interests. As the two most developed nuclear countries in the region, they were the primary object of the control system.

A third reason, in the economic field, is that the allocation of resources for nuclear activities became increasingly difficult as the two nations’ economies deteriorated. Moreover, the somewhat generous financial support that the nuclear industry had received became the object of frequent questioning and criticism. But often, new expenses were justified just on the need to keep up with a neighbor.

Fourth, the advent of civilian governments in both countries could not have been more propitious. Decisions in the nuclear area are always delicate, and certainly were easy to make when the influence of military thinking was less prominent. In the case of Argentina, the main opposition between 1983 and 1989, the Radical Party, had a rather negative attitude towards nuclear development. In this view, nuclear power presented many risks, and was not really necessary in Argentina. Also, they believed that the National Atomic Energy Commission has been given privileged treatment by the preceding governments to the detriment of other, more deserving, in their view, national priorities. Consequently, under the Alfonsín government, the resources allotted to the National Atomic Energy Commission were substantially diminished and the nuclear program was considerably stalled and in some areas stopped. Given these circumstances, cessation of the competition with Brazil was certainly beneficial. We could talk a lot about the decreasing role of the military, but I must underline and stress one factor regarding Argentina. In Argentina, the military was never involved in nuclear programs. In the case of Brazil, it is different, but in Argentina, the military was never involved in nuclear affairs. They were not actually involved in the development of nuclear energy. So, it was not so difficult for them to accept some foreign control, in a way, of the Argentine nuclear program.

What has also to be stressed as an important factor is presidential leadership. This was a critical factor, along with the active participation of key advisors and decision-makers in breaking with long-standing policies and starting with a new one. The heads of state were ultimately responsible for the many decisions, but, this must be underlined too, the activities and determination of the Foreign Ministries were fundamental to the success of the whole enterprise. The activist role of the Foreign Ministries can be explained, at least in part, by their increasing awareness of the international cost, both political and technical, of an absolutely independent nuclear program, and the rejection of any form of outside control. In that context, the creation of even a bilateral situation of mutual nuclear trust would nevertheless provide additional benefits.

A particular factor applies maybe only to Argentina, which is that the present President, Carlos Menem, started a new policy regarding the United States when he took power in 1989. Relations between Argentina and the United States were frequently difficult for almost a hundred years. But Menem introduced many changes in Argentine policy, in political and economic affairs. One of the most fundamental changes was to establish a new relationship with the United States. We became completely aligned with the United States. So, if you know how the United States policy is regarding nuclear proliferation and nuclear questions, you realize that any action taken in that direction will be most welcome by the United States, and would contribute to even better relations with Argentina.

Very often, mention has been made of the possibility of applying the Argentine-Brazilian nuclear rapprochement as an example to other regions of the world. I think this possibility has to be treated very carefully. No two situations are alike. We have to remember, as I said before, that Argentina and Brazil were not enemies, just competitors. But the situation in other parts of the world, which you know very well, is completely and absolutely different.

Perhaps some of the measures that we took could be considered, at the appropriate time, as a way of doing things. Perhaps we followed a particular way that could be of some use. We started a step-by-step approach and our beginnings were very, very modest. We wanted to increase mutual confidence and to increase transparency. Through informal contacts, by visits, by interchange of students, by cooperation in nuclear industry, etc., we sought a situation in which each country would know with an acceptable degree of certainty what the other country was doing.

That was what we did in the first couple of years. I cannot say that, at the beginning, we had as a clear objective what we finally accomplished. Our objective in the beginning was just to establish confidence and put an end to a competition between the two, which was becoming more and more costly. Just to put an end to that competition was enough to justify the approach that we took in 1985.

Then the situation developed to address international concerns. For many people, one country just to have confidence in the other was not a guarantee that confidence would remain indefinitely without controls of some kind. What was original is that we didn’t devise a system in which each country, the inspectors of each country, would control the other, which was perhaps unacceptable politically. It was original in the sense of developing a bilateral inspection agency, in which Argentinean and Brazilian inspectors together visit Argentine plants or Brazilian plants, rather than a system where one country controls the other. Both countries contribute to a single bilateral agency, which, in turn, is controlled by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Some form of international control is necessary, because one could think that if Argentina and Brazil together wanted to develop a nuclear weapon, they could do it under ABACC. So that’s why it is so important to have an outside control like the one of the Agency.

Another lesson that has to be understood is that you have to have a sincere intention of reaching agreement. This exercise is not possible when one of the two or three or four parties has a second objective in mind, or just wants to give the other party a sense of security without really meaning to comply with everything. You have to be sincere. No moves in this field can have the slightest chance of success if they are taken with the ulterior motive of cheating the other party, or guiding it into a false sense of security. As a first step, a country should open itself to the other party on the understanding that this policy will be reciprocated. Each nation’s nuclear activities, installations, and programs should be made transparent to the other. Information should flow fully and freely from the one country to the other, and the political authorities and technical officials should be given the opportunity to visit the nuclear facilities of the other. Such exchanges of qualified technicians, information and students should create and foster confidence in the truthfulness of the information reciprocally provided. Also, any weapons activity must be completely ended to the satisfaction of the other nation. Of course, the climate of mutual trust thus attained is temporary. It will not last if additional measures do not follow to give it a permanent character. A country must be sure that the other is not carrying out dangerous activities, and does not plan to do so in the future. Visits and the exchange of information are not enough; a system of control and verification becomes necessary. The history of the Argentine-Brazilian operation shows that while full confidence can be created between two countries, it cannot be established in the international community without monitoring and controls being carried out by an international body independent from the two parties. Argentina and Brazil, whatever their original intentions, felt compelled to have recourse not only to ABACC, but to a multilateral agency—the International Atomic Energy Agency. Each region has its own problems, difficulties, and even favorable elements. The role taken by Argentina and Brazil created a satisfactory state of affairs in South America to the benefit of both nations, their neighbors, and the international community. Considered with care, their experience may provide useful lessons for other areas of the world. Thank you.

Questions and Discussion

Dr. Ariel Levite

Thank you for this comprehensive, in-depth presentation of your bilateral experience. We have time for clarifications and basic questions.

Q (from the audience): What was the legal situation underlying the Tlatelolco Treaty from 1967-1994?

Carasales: Regarding entry into force, the treaty becomes binding on all signatories when all appropriate outsiders sign protocols and all insiders ratify. But those requirements could be waived. So, the situation was that most of the countries of Latin America ratified the treaty with a waiver, and they became parties of the treaty. But Brazil and Chile signed and ratified the treaty without the waiver, and so they were parties, but not parties. They were not really considered parties to the treaty, even though they had ratified it. Argentina signed the treaty, but did not ratify it. Of course, Argentina made several statements to the effect that we would never do anything against the purposes of the treaty, and we did not do so.

Chile proves the truth of the argument that sometimes one country does not accede to a treaty, not because it has something against it, but because some neighbors haven’t ratified it. Like India and Pakistan. Pakistan had said that it would ratify the Nonproliferation Treaty as soon as India ratified it. Well, Chile also was outside Tlatelolco. But in the Foz de Iguazu Declaration of 1989, Argentina and Brazil decided to join Tlatelolco, provided that some amendments were introduced.

What were those amendments? They had nothing to do with the main provisions of the treaty—the objectives, the prohibitions—those provisions were not touched. The amendments had to do with the system of control established by Tlatelolco, which was, in the view of Argentina and Brazil, too intrusive. The main thing was that, under the Tlatelolco Treaty, inspections were carried out by OPANAL, an agency lacking technical facilities or backgrounds. It’s just a small bureaucratic office of four or five officials with one Secretary-General, but without any technical support. So if a special inspection, for instance, was asked by a country against Argentina and Brazil, OPANAL, to conduct that inspection, should have to engage some technicians from the open field. I mean, they could ask for technicians to apply in order to be inspectors, and that system, you can very well see, does not offer much confidence to the country to be inspected. So, Argentina and Brazil, and then Chile, tried and got it that the inspections should be conducted not by OPANAL, but by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA offered all the guarantees of an impartial and technically capable inspection, and restricted the publication of information, unlike OPANAL. Those were the main amendments, and when they were unanimously accepted in the special conference held in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil and Chile ratified and became full parties.

Now, recently the last country to sign Tlatelolco, after 25 years, was Cuba. Cuba originally decided that it would never sign, much less ratify Tlatelolco, until the United States left its base in Guantanamo Bay. After 25 years, Cuba relented, arguing that they wouldn’t want to be the last obstacle for Tlatelolco to become fully operative. So they signed the treaty a few months ago, and the possibility of their ratification is becoming more likely. That would complete the whole operation. When this happens, we will have a fully operative nuclear weapon free zone in this part of the world.

Q (from the audience): What role did Chile play in Brazil-Argentina relations?

Carasales: Historically, and I am speaking for Argentina, historically our rival and competitor was Brazil. In practical terms, however, we had many more, and more serious, problems with Chile. But Chile is, you know, a relatively small country, compared of course with Argentina and Brazil. They do not have a developed nuclear industry. So, even in the whole process of political realigning which took place in the Southern Cone in the last decade, Chile was a participant. At the same time that our President Alfonsín in the 1980s developed this new relationship with Brazil, he also made an effort to establish a new relationship with Chile. And we signed a Treaty of Peace and Cooperation. We had about 24 border problems with Chile, all along the 4,000-5,000 kilometers of the Andes frontier. We have solved 22 of these disputes. One of the remaining problems was submitted to arbitration by a tribunal of five Latin American units, and to our surprise and satisfaction, the tribunal awarded the piece of land to Argentina. And now, there is only one problem remaining—a part of the land which is ice, pure ice. Both countries have reached an agreement to divide that piece of ice, but that treaty has to be ratified by parliaments in both countries. That’s the only problem remaining. But back to the original question. We never had a problem with Chile regarding the nuclear question. When Argentina and Brazil decided to seek amendments to Tlatelolco, the President of Chile sent a letter to the Presidents of Brazil and Argentina asking to be considered a party to that negotiation. Argentina and Brazil accepted that request, and Chile was involved in the discussion to reach a common text. The three countries went to the Mexicans, and got their agreement. Then everything became easy. The treaty was amended and the three countries—Argentina, Brazil and Chile—ratified it, with the waiver of the conditions, and thus it became fully operative in each of the three countries.

Q (from the audience): Why did Argentina and Brazil move to international agreements from their original bilateral relationship?

Carasales: I think I mentioned that. You know, Argentina and Brazil reached agreements, which were ratified by Parliament, and in operation. Each country was satisfied about the authenticity of the undertakings of the other party.

But what about third countries? Argentina and Brazil were always the subject of international suspicions because of the nature of their independent nuclear programs; “Argentina and Brazil, they want to develop a nuclear weapon,” or “at least they want to keep the option open,” etc. A system in which Argentina controlled Brazil, and Brazil controlled Argentina, did not offer much assurance to other parties, because they could even imagine that Argentina and Brazil theoretically could want to develop a nuclear weapon together. If there was a collusion between the two, the development of that weapon was possible. Or the concerned international community would not have much confidence in the efficiency of the control undertaken by ABACC. ABACC is performing very well right now, but when it was established, nobody really knew if it was going to be an efficient institution which you could rely upon, or if it was just going to be a figurehead, without actually controlling anything. So you really had to pass from the purely bilateral thing to some outside authority which could give a kind of international guarantee that the inspections and control were being taken in a satisfactory way.

Redick: I would simply add that I think external pressure of a positive sense, rather than a negative sense, moved the relationship from bilateral to international. An expectation on the part of Argentina and Brazil was that if they incorporated their programs into the international nonproliferation regime, good things would follow, including access to advanced nuclear technology and other political benefits. Whether, in fact, all of those benefits have occurred since then is arguable, but the fact that both Argentina and Brazil within the last several months have signed new agreements for nuclear cooperation with the United States is a significant sort of pay-off, in a positive way. So it was not negative. No one said, “If you don’t come in, you’re going to be punished.” It was more like, “Good things will flow from this.”