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Digital Archive International History Declassified

January 15, 1968


This document was made possible with support from the Leon Levy Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY)

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    State of nuclear energy development in Brazil and Argentina.
    "Report, Argentinian Ministry of Foreign Relations, 'Nuclear Energy'," January 15, 1968, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, AMRECIC, Caja Brasil AH0124. Archives of the Ministry of External Relations and Culture, Argentina. Obtained and translated by Fundação Getúlio Vargas.
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Buenos Aires, 15 of January, 1968

State of nuclear energy development in both countries

In the field of research, Argentina is five years ahead of the Brazilian nuclear program. There is also a small difference in favor of our country in the field of nuclear energy applications for peaceful purposes which may, if circumstances require so, be used for military purposes. Nuclear power plants to produce electricity are considered, today, to be the most desirable way, from a political and economic standpoint, to start a program for military purposes. In this sense, our country has completed feasibility studies to build a plant of that type and also has called for international tender to build a power reactor which is the basis of the entire project. [We estimate that] Brazil is still in the process of developing their feasibility studies. Argentina also counts with [considerable] stocks of uranium, as a result of surveys in the country, whereas Brazil hasn't been able, up to date, to determine the existence of reserves of this mineral.

According to information provided by our Embassy in Rio de Janeiro, the "race to the full development between Argentina and Brazil is an incentive that exists in the minds of many Brazilian institutions and which serves as a stimulus and point of comparison." Motivated by the small margin in favor of our country and, most likely, because of growing international pressure to conclude an agreement on non-proliferation, Brazil has initiated a series of activities in the nuclear field. This includes various diplomatic initiatives that have enabled [Brazil] to sign cooperation agreements with France and Israel whose contents, according to Argentine technical opinions, indicate the existence of an ambitious plan of accomplishments. Our embassy reports that according to qualified Brazilian sources, within 3 to 5 years their country "will take the atomic lead in Latin America." Referring to the boost taken by the Brazilian nuclear program, their Embassy aptly summarizes the situation in these terms:

"The priority that Brazil has put to itself to the right to use atomic energy for peaceful purposes has not arisen by chance or by strange coincidence, but rather is the result of a plan seriously studied with precise and clear objectives."

It is clear that their plans [in the nuclear field] have been adopted at the highest level and will feature all financial resources that may be required to accelerate its implementation. According to some sources, the budget assigned to it is triple, at the moment, the budget of our National Atomic Energy Commission.

Brazilian authorities have publicly stated in recent months their intention to reach a capacity to carry out nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes. Based on available reports, it is assumed that there are plans to apply these for projects such as opening channels to connect the river systems of Brazil and neighboring countries. In this sense, the Amazon Basin offers very interesting possibilities. However, another much more important aspect should be considered. Although both Argentina and Brazil held at COPREDAL meetings that devices required for such explosions were not comparable to nuclear weapons, the capability of devices for peaceful explosions are equivalent, at least from a scientific standpoint, to a military nuclear capacity.

It seems obvious to address the significance that this feat can have in continental and world political affairs. It would be sufficient only to point out its importance in terms of assuming Latin America's leadership.

II. Bilateral Relations

1) Background

Efforts in the past to secure the cooperation of both countries in the nuclear field have not yielded positive results. Overall, Brazil has adopted a policy to achieve maximum benefits without offering, in return, correlative benefits [to Argentina]. [Such behavior] within the International Atomic Energy Agency came close to breaking a “gentleman's agreement” reached [between Argentina and Brazil] with the purpose of ensuring the permanent representation of both countries in the Board of Governors. In cases in which [Brazil] has sought the cooperation via multilateralism, Brazil has repeatedly tried to secure the seats of international organisms for itself, in spite of the aspirations of Argentina.

Lately, authorities of our Committee have noted a marked interest in signing Argentine experts to accelerate the Brazilian nuclear program described above.

On the last 8th of July, [Brazilian journals] Jornal do Brasil and Estado de Sao Paulo said that Argentina was undertaking investigations to build the atomic bomb. These publications had to be vigorously denied by the [Argentine] President of the National Atomic Energy Commission. The nature of the information suggests that [it] emanated from official sources.

1. Issues that may [the] Brazilian foreign minister might address:

In recent months, the Brazilian authorities have expressed their desire to conclude a cooperation agreement with Argentina on nuclear energy. It is likely that this attitude has been motivated by the advantages gained by Argentina in this field.

During the Conference of [the Latin America Free Trade Agreement] in Asuncion last September, the Brazilian Foreign Minister gave the [Argentine] Minister a memorandum which referred to the negotiation of a [nuclear] agreement and suggested that the Chairmen of both Committees make contact in Vienna to "begin the process of negotiation" during the upcoming IAEA Conference held at the end of the month. During that meeting, Brazilian experts expressed strong interest in concluding a nuclear agreement. Following these contacts, the [Argentine] National Atomic Energy Commission informed the Foreign Ministry that it watched with skepticism the understandings such as the suggested one, based on negative consequences occurred in the past when talks were held regarding forms of cooperation with Brazil.

However, due to the recent opening of the Ezeiza Atomic Center, a delegation of Brazilian nuclear scientists headed by the President of the Commission, General Uriel da Costa Ribeiro, visited the country, and invited his Argentine counterpart to travel to Brazil in March of next year. Assessing the results of the visit, the National Atomic Energy Commission has stated that "there is a clear [and] positive change" in the attitude of the Brazilian nuclear agency. He estimates that there are conditions to sign a government to government agreement, which entitles both Commissions to conclude understandings of "specific areas" for cooperation.

Aside from the points of view of the [Argentine nuclear] Commission, it is likely that the signature of an agreement between the both countries will be raised again by the Brazilian Foreign Ministry during the visit of the [Argentine] Minister [to Brazil]. In this case, we should adopt the following guidelines to determine our position:

a. Despite the recent interest shown by our [Nuclear] Commission, the signing of such an agreement is a political decision, [which has to be] subjected to the general state of our relations with Brazil. In that sense, it can be a useful tool during the negotiations of pending issues with that country.

b. The importance assumed by the Brazilian nuclear policy for our country makes it advisable that the text of a hypothetical agreement be analyzed, not only by the [Argentine] Atomic Energy Commission, but also by the National Security Council.

c. If the negotiations with Brazil conclude with a positive political decision regarding the signing of the instrument, it could be concluded, afterwards, a general agreement, that after being reviewed by Argentine agencies, could allow our country to regulate the degree of cooperation [with Brazil]. This would provide us a way to constantly adjust the technical relationship to the state of political relations.

d. It is estimated that in all cases, any commitment to sign an agreement in Rio de Janeiro must be avoided, so that this doesn't place us in an international level in a secondary position regarding Brazil, which has actively publicized its nuclear policy since1967.

The above considerations indicate that it would not be convenient to take the initiative on this issue. If there is interest from Brazil to include a paragraph about this issue in the Joint Declaration, we consider appropriate to only refers contacts made at the technical level, expressing satisfaction with the results and recommending its continuation in order to lay the groundwork for an agreement. It seems important to stress that this would be to develop cooperation for exclusively peaceful purposes.

III. Policy of both countries in reference to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons

1. Recent developments

During the negotiations convened in COPREDAL, which concluded with the adoption of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America, Argentina and Brazil shared the same goal, a stance which manifested itself in a coordinated action at various stages of the conference. This action was most evident in the discussions of vital aspects of the Treaty, such as the guarantees regime and the authorization of peaceful nuclear explosions. The thesis of both countries flourished after arduous negotiations, despite the opposition of the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, acting as nuclear powers.

Later, during the discussions on non-proliferation that took place in the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva—of which Argentina is not a member—Brazil argued, based on the need for the treaty to reach an acceptable balance of responsibilities and obligations between nuclear states and non-nuclear ones, the principle by which nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes had to be authorized. This Brazilian attitude was accompanied by an intense propaganda campaign calling for the need to “nuclearize” Brazil in order to accelerate its economic development. The adoption of this policy took place almost simultaneously with the first indications that the nuclear program had been substantially invigorated.

The Brazilian effort to maintain its freedom of action in terms of explosions for peaceful purposes has caused concern in the United States in such a way that during a speech at the Army's War College, the U.S. ambassador in Rio announced that his country was ready to deliver to Brazil, at its present costs, devices for such explosions. However, this offer does not seem to have affected the Brazilian decision to try to acquire it by its own means. Very cleverly, Itamaraty is strengthening ties with France in the nuclear order, in order not to rely solely on U.S. cooperation.

2. Issues that [the] Brazilian foreign minister might address

As a result of its membership in the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva, Brazil had to confront its position in this forum with the three nuclear powers already mentioned that, following its policy on the matter, insisted on the prohibition of explosions for peaceful purposes. In this case, the circumstances were unfavorable [for Brazil], since the text of the proposed global non-proliferation agreement is being negotiated exclusively by the United States and the Soviet Union.

Argentina, meanwhile, has not put itself in such a delicate situation since it isn’t a member of the Committee and therefore has been able to avoid the friction that Brazil had to endure, maintaining a prudent silence on the issue.

As a proof of the intense activity that Brazil has had to develop within the Committee, it is noted that its delegation presented a series of amendments to the US-Soviet draft of the treaty, seeking to introduce the following amendments to the original text:

a. Remove the prohibition contained in the draft against building peaceful nuclear explosive devices.

b. Require the nuclear powers to contribute, through a special United Nations fund, a substantial portion of the resources released by disarmament measures.

c. Engage nuclear powers to negotiate as soon as possible a treaty for the reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals and delivery systems for weapons of this type.

d. Establish that the projected treaty instrument does not affect the rights and obligations under regional treaties, which seeks to ensure the validity of the less restrictive rules of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America.

Although Argentina has not commented on these amendments, it should be noted that they respond to the principles that have inspired the position of our country during the negotiations that culminated in the Treaty of Tlatelolco.

In short, it is assumed that the Brazilian Foreign Minister may raise the following issues:

A) If the Argentine Republic holds the position it took during COPREDAL meetings in Mexico, with reference to the right to conduct peaceful nuclear explosions, the answer should be affirmative, emphasizing the common identity of criteria in this regard.

B) There may also be interest in knowing whether Argentina would sign the global nonproliferation treaty if it does not meet the stance taken by both countries in the COPREDAL meetings regarding nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes. There seem to be negative conditions for the signature of such disposition. Indeed, the potential constraints that an agreement in Geneva would pose have been considered as crucial means to proceed to sign the Treaty of Tlatelolco. However, it is convenient not to compromise our policy on this point, since we haven't yet adopted a policy following the signing of the Geneva agreement. We could, consequently, anticipate that we are not willing to sign it, but it all depends on the final draft of the document.

C) Finally, the possibility can’t be ruled out that Brazil, in order to ease its diplomatic activity on non-proliferation, might ask Argentina to set its stance on these issues unilaterally or in contact with the nuclear powers, since not being a member of the Committee on Disarmament doesn't allow our country to express itself in this forum. The fact that the United States and the Soviet Union are reviewing the text before the Committee may offer Brazil the opportunity to make that request, arguing that the time would be conducive to an initiative of such characteristics. In this scenario, it is desirable to avoid any conduct that might bring us apart from the cautious approach we have taken so far.

As a general premise, it should be noted that our nuclear policy is less compromised than the Brazilian one, therefore, it does not seem appropriate to take the lead in any of these aspects. Among the various matters considered in paragraphs A) B) C) it only seems appropriate to explore what would the attitude of Brazil be in case the Geneva agreement succeeds, whenever the Brazilian Foreign Minister raises the issue of the non-proliferation treaty.

This position of expectation does not mean, of course, denying the possibility of including in the joint statement a paragraph referring to the nuclear issue. In this regard, there are two possibilities, listed below in order of preference:

a) A statement of agreement regarding the importance assumed by the peaceful use of nuclear energy as a key factor in the development process of nations.

b) The accession of the two foreign ministers to the principles established in the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America, an instrument that broadly met the position of both countries.

3) An alternative proposed by the Minister.

If a comprehensive consideration of the nuclear issue makes it desirable, it could be brought to the Brazilian authorities’ attention that the informal understanding reached during the visit of Foreign Minister Magalhaes Juracy between 15 and 20 October 1966, referring to an exchange of information between the local Argentina and Brazil in Geneva on the Committee's work on Disarmament, has not worked satisfactorily.

During that visit, the [Argentine] delegation gave Brazil a memorandum which is annexed, requesting that their Mission in Geneva maintained close contact with ours. As a result of those discussions, it was agreed that they would cooperate with us on those terms. Later on, under a new attempt of our Foreign Ministry to carry it out, we sent Brazilian Ambassador Decio de Moura, at the request of Itamaraty, a copy of the memorandum that we had agreed on previously.

In light of this background and noticing the growing importance of the Committee's work, it may be noted that Argentina maintains its interest in joining this forum and wants to know what Brazil thinks about this and how it could implement in the United Nations a regime which foresees the participation of Argentina. In this regard, it could be noted [to the Brazilians] that this will benefit both countries in all matters, such as previous treaties in which we both registered a coincident position.

Should this matter be discussed, it would then be convenient to introduce a paragraph in the joint statement expressing the need to update the composition of the committee and the decision of both governments to promote ways that ensure the representativeness which should correspond to Latin America countries in that body.


The negotiations on disarmament and arms control at a global level are concentrated in the Committee of Eighteen Nations which meets regularly in Geneva.

By the nature of the work carried out by the agency, States that are not part of the Committee receive the content of what has been discussed, sometimes delayed, but have no access to the discussion even as observers.

Given the coincidence observed in the positions of Brazil and Argentina in many aspects related to the problem of disarmament, the Argentine government would appreciate to have the Brazilian Mission to the International Organizations in Geneva instructed to maintain close contact with the Argentine Delegation to inform in detail the course of discussions within the Committee.

Buenos Aires, October 19, 1967.


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