Brazil’s Secret Nuclear Program

Is the Southern Cone of Latin America on the verge of a nuclear arms race, or is this an obsolete question? Recent agreements suggest that the Brazilian and Argentine governments are substituting economic and security cooperation for their traditional rivalry. Nevertheless, findings reveal that both countries may already be capable of producing weapons-grade, nuclear material sufficient for a device comparable to the Hiroshima bomb. Since these data are in the public domain, both Argentina and Brazil are well aware of each other’s achievements. One can only surmise, therefore, that Brazilian and Argentine policy makers have come to an unwritten agreement not to take the last step. The Brazilian military, on the other hand, has consistently pursued a nuclear capability through its secret program developed during the years of the military regime.

In sum, the rivals in the Southern Cone may now be collaborating in such a way as to satisfy their mutual desire for a nuclear capability, without antagonizing the leaders of the NPT regime on whom they depend for capital, technology, and trade. So long as the last step–a nuclear breakout–can be averted, Brazil and Argentina may have their cake, and eat it too.

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