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Home News Global Security An OpEd Recommends Brazil to Renounce Uranium Enrichment to Stop Iran
An OpEd Recommends Brazil to Renounce Uranium Enrichment to Stop Iran Print E-mail

Irma Arguello, 5 Apr 2012.Global Security

An OpEd by Bernard Aronson, former assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs from 1989 to 1993, published in the New York Times on April 3 caused a big annoyance in Brazil.

Under the title Can Brazil Stop Iran? the article proposes the country's renunciation to enrich uranium as a way to influence Iran to do the same and, therefore, to stop its nuclear program.

We include here, views about the OpEd gathered in Brazil, exclusive comments by Ambassador Sergio Duarte, and an analysis by NPSGlobal.

The displeasure has spread, so far, through the social networks, but it promises to grow up, with wider repercussions, including public statements and letters to the New York Times.

The author sees the upcoming visit of the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff to Washington, on Monday April 9, as an historic opportunity to announce the will of Brazil to terminate its uranium enrichment, as a way to help solve the crisis of Iran.

He stresses that Brazil, as a global emerging power, has failed so far to lead in preventing nuclear weapons spread. In fact, Aronson thinks that "Brazil should take the bold step of voluntarily ending its uranium enrichment program and calling on other nations, including Iran, to follow its example."

Aronson points out that right after a good start as a nonproliferation force, the South American country proclaimed in 2004 that all the states had the "inalienable right to enrich uranium" for "peaceful purposes" and fought for over 1 year with the IAEA to give its inspectors access to its enrichment facility.

He makes clear that there are no reasons to doubt that Brazilian program has peaceful intentions, as Brazil says, and it is allowed by the Non Proliferation Treaty. But the great fault is that the "But its greatest flaw is that the same facilities that enrich uranium for peaceful purposes can also be used to enrich it further for nuclear weapons. And reprocessed fuel from peaceful reactors yields plutonium that can be used in nuclear bombs."

By exploiting what he calls an "enrichment loophole", he states that North Korea developed a covert program to reprocess spent fuel, it withdrew the NPT and shortly afterwards develop nuclear weapons. And Iran seems to be following the same pattern.

The article states that 40 countries around the world have got the capability to build nuclear weapons exploding the aforementioned "loophole" in the Treaty, and speculates with a kind of proliferation chain reaction in the Middle East, covering Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turke pushed by a potential Iran development.

Aronson believes that if Brazil "were to renounce its right to enrich uranium in the name of international peace, close its enrichment facility [Note of the editor: Resende plant: 120,000 SWU/yr], embrace a longstanding United Nations proposal to accept enriched uranium from the IAEA, let the agency reprocess its spent fuel — essentially the deal offered to Iran — and call on other states that have signed the treaty to do the same, it would transform the nuclear debate."  It would be, then  "a courageous overture to help defuse the [Iran's] crisis."

According to Aronson, this new situation of Brazil would remove Iran's main argument in the sense that "advanced nuclear weapons states are pursuing a form of "nuclear apartheid" by pulling up the enrichment "drawbridge" before developing nations have a chance to cross."  In the author's view, "it would also give Iran a face-saving way to join other developing nations in a new multilateral effort to suspend enrichment rather than appearing to yield to Western sanctions and threats."

Aronson goes further and puts forward the idea that if Brazil and other developing nations abandoned enrichment, a new concerted effort to close the "enrichment loophole" in permanent way through an amendment of the TNP would be possible.

The author recognizes commercial and military obstacles to advance in such line of action and also, that "it is vital that Brazil be perceived as acting on its own rather than yielding to pressure from Washington." Still in his opinion, the United States could offer incentives behind closed doors, for example a lowering of the punitive tariff on Brazil’s sugar-cane-based ethanol which distorts the consumption in the US.

Finally stresses that voluntarily abandon enrichment would catapult Brazil to a global leadership position and this would inevitably have positive influence in the arguments concerning its longstanding ambition to get a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

Reactions in Brazil
Most of Brazilian analysts consulted agree that the Aronson's OpEd is mistaken about facts and recommendations. Many go farther and see it as an insult to the Brazilian intelligence. Others see the proposal as: "trying to fish into a dry lake."

Matías Spektor from the Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) points out that "Brazil cannot stop the program of Iran because it does not have material resources nor diplomatic ones to do it, and also because Brasil does not want to do it. In fact, Brazil, that during years was treated as an international pariah, defends the right of Iran to enrich uranium."

He notices that Brazil had opportunities to proliferate and it abstained to do it, and that it is the only country of the BRICS that did not build nuclear weapons (even South Africa made them, and after it dismantled them).

There is coincidence among opinions that a Brazilian decision as proposed, would be far from catapulting Brazil as a global leader, and it would not have a positive effect in the improvement of the crisis of Iran either.

In this sense, Spektor criticizes: "India received support from the United States for the UN Security Council and it is a nuclear power that never signed the NPT, carried out nuclear explosions when it wanted, and in spite of that, it was awarded by United States with an advantageous nuclear bilateral agreement. Japan, that also received the support for a permanent seat in the UNSC, does not have nuclear weapons but the same as Germany, it has got the know-how to make them, if it decides to".

In an almost humorist way he reflects: "Brazil, on the other hand, neither have nuclear weapons, nor is able to manufacture them fast, that is to say if it abandoned his nuclear program, it is not clear where it would be catapulted."

It is important to notice that Brazilians still have in their minds the adverse effect in the United States and Europe of the country's efforts to mediate in the crisis of Iran in May 2010, when president Lula's negotiations derived on the Declaration of Teheran and the frustrated Tripartite Agreement among Iran, Brazil, and Turkey.

It is also a shared thought among Brazilians that international community, with its current rules of game, really promotes a "nuclear apartheid." According to Aronson, if Brazil relinquished enrichment activities, it would create the impression that such apartheid does not happen, and it seems a clearly visible contradiction, since Brazil would be promoting exactly the opposite of what it believes.

Concerning potential incentives that the president Obama could offer Brazil behind closed doors, Spektor notices that none of proposed is directly on the US president hands.

Our Analysis
First I must state that I applaud the New York Times editors for their open-mindedness in publishing opinion pieces of different ideologies but at the same time it is alarming when such a prestigious newspaper prints obvious inaccuracies very easily refutable. I think this strongly erodes the credibility of such medium.

To affirm, for example, that there are around 40 countries worldwide with the capability of manufacturing an atomic weapon just because of the NPT "enrichment loophole" is something that cannot be overlooked, as it is the fact that Brazil should deliver its spent fuel to the IAEA for reprocessing, and that the deal offered to Iran was exactly about that. The truth is that there are not 40 countries with the capability to manufacture a nuclear device, neither does the IAEA reprocess spent fuel nor was the offer to Iran such. So, how should the public opinion process such information without becoming confused?

In the second place, I must say that I am trying to write my comments from a unbiased perspective, as an outside observer without a priori becoming involved in any type of indignation.

The issue with the article is that apart from several "technical" inaccuracies, there are distortions in the argumentation that I would not wish to qualify of crude, but they are quite close to being so.

It is not the problem that the author does not have the right to or should not express his opinion, but the fact is that the arguments he uses include fallacies both notorious and unexplainable, and that is a very serious issue.

The Right to Enrich and Reprocess
The first issue to consider is why should Brazil voluntarily renounce uranium enrichment being in full compliance of its international obligations with the NPT which allows such practices? At this point and though I resist relating one thing of another, I must ask the author why he does not ask those who exercise dominant positions in the industry to stop their activities, deactivate their mega-facilities and give up enriching and reprocessing, when the fact is that there are irrationally dimensioned stockpiles of highly enriched uranium – HEU (1,440 tons) and plutonium (495 tons) in the world? According to the last report 2011, by the International Panel of Fissile Materials -IPFM, over 95% of that material belongs to nuclear armed states, in and out of the TNP. What is highly suggestive is that fuel cycle industries in those countries continue working non-stop. Should not those countries lead by example and stop all enriching and reprocessing activities?

Brazil’s renouncement should not necessarily imply Iran’s
To think that because of Brazil’s renouncement Iran will follow suit is to completely disregard Iran's motivations and idiosyncrasy, and its perception of its place in the global scene. In this sense, I doubt Iran is seeking a multilateral solution in order to save its face, as the article states. In the same breath, asking Brazil to renounce is to completely pay no attention to Brazil’s motivations and idiosyncrasy, and also its future ambitions. The truth is that the world does not look at Brazil or Iran, the world turns their eyes to the United States, Russia, China, France. and the United Kingdom and their nods to other countries. It has always been so and that is the reason why the United States-India nuclear agreement has been considered so harmful to the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime.

It is remarkable that behind a "proliferating state” or “transgressor” or both: India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, North Korea, there has always been a game of conflicting interests, supports, ambiguities, agreements, and disagreements among the P5. The same fact has usually washed-out and weakened sanctions, turning them almost irrelevant.

If the P5 had always agreed, there would not have had further proliferation, other than theirs, and the problem would be now, much less severe. 

An amendment to the TNP?
Aronson poses that if emerging countries stopped enriching (and reprocessing) an amendment to the NPT could be agreed upon. Such agreement would be more restrictive, and therefore become an amendment to perpetuate inequity and further deepen the differences between the "powerful" countries and "the others". The third group of countries would also continue freely doing as they please because they are not bound by the Treaty, and I mean here India, Pakistan, and Israel that never signed it, and North Korea that withdrew in 2003.

The idea of such a restrictive amendment might result in a dangerous boomerang: more countries could be withdrawing the NPT. This would mark, in my opinion, the decline of the current imperfect disarmament and non-proliferation regime towards a nuclear jungle scenario.

Better a Nuclear Weapons Convention
To avoid such a catastrophe what might work is a transition towards a more equitable system with equal rights and obligations for the countries. This would be a system for a future world that is not bipolar or unipolar anymore.

This solution would imply a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons through a new Treaty or Convention for all countries, without privileges. And also, it would imply stronger disarmament responsibilities for those owning arsenals today.

Symbolism of nuclear weapons
It is clear that the Convention solution, opposed to Aronson's proposal, represents a drastic change of mind in all the actors that should stop looking at nuclear weapons as a source of international prestige and power.

When I say all the actors I also include Brazil and its high consideration regarding other countries' nuclear weapons. This consideration is always underlying and becomes evident when it is mentioned, for example, that Brazil is the sole state within the BRICS that has not developed nuclear weapons. Is not that giving an extreme relevance to nuclear weapons?

To reinforce this idea, in my opinion Brazil -and also Argentina- more than stating: "There have been temptations through the years and we have always resisted the move towards nuclear weapons, and neither will we be doing it now."  Rather than posing this statement, as a sort of ritual sacrifice for peace, they should say: “We have decided not to pursue nuclear weapons because we do not deem them relevant to the security of our nations in the 21st century. Nuclear weapons are not in our best interests and that is why we invite armed states to change their minds and disarm; furthermore, we are in condition to help with said disarmament." This would truly make a big difference.

Enrichment, leadership and the United Nations Security Council
Having said this, the leadership of a nation in the global scene does not have to do with forgoing uranium enrichment. We have even tried to demonstrate that the consequences of such a renouncement would not produce a positive domino effect worldwide, as some try to show; besides of that, it is also unlikely that it may bring about an improvement in the possibilities of Brazil to obtain a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. From the standpoint of those offering support, other factors apparently rule these types of endorsement such as a country’s regional weight and acquired respect, and the strength of their alliances.

Exclusive Comments by Ambassador Sergio Duarte
NPSGlobal has been in contact with Ambassador Duarte and he made an exclusive statement concerning the OpEd:

"I entirely agree with Irma Arguello's comments on Mr. Aronson's ill advised article. As a Brazilian, I would only emphasize that my country has done enough to demonstrate its commitment to disarmament and non proliferation. This is evident in Brazil's initiative, well before the NPT, to promote the negotiation of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, together with other Latin American and Caribbean nations; in the establishment, together with Argentina, of a unique bilateral agency for accounting and control, thus ensuring transparency and confidence; in its support of the NPT, despite the discriminatory and unbalanced character of that instrument; and last but not least, by inscribing in its federal Constitution the pledge to utilize nuclear energy exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Brazil's consistent action in favor of nuclear disarmament initiatives at the Conference on Disarmament and at the United Nations shows its dedication to peace and security and to the achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons. It has also worked actively to engage Iran in a dialogue aimed at paving the way for further easing of existing tensions and clarifying outstanding issues. Unfortunately, these good faith efforts have not been supported by others.

Those who insist on concrete action by others to help prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons would do well to accept explicit, clear and firm commitments to dismantle their nuclear arsenals, with set objectives and timelines.

They could start to work constructively in international bodies, particularly the Conference in Disarmament, to develop existing proposals aimed at starting negotiations on nuclear disarmament, some of which have been on the table for over 40 years, instead of denying consensus for their consideration.

They could consider the negotiation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention, which has been supported by the Secretary General of the United Nations and many States and civil society organizations around the world, as well as millions of individuals.

They could also stop the “modernization” of their nuclear arsenals, which is a form of qualitative proliferation, and recognize that there is no justification for the exclusive possession of thousands of nuclear weapons under security doctrines predicated on the possibility of their use.

The more the nuclear armed States cling to their weapons, the stronger will be the incentive for proliferation. Proliferation started with the first test explosion of a nuclear device. It is up to the original proliferators to take bold, meaningful steps to reverse the trend that they inaugurated.

In the long run, it will become impossible to sustain a situation in which a few nations claim the right retain nuclear arsenals under the pretext of protecting their security and deny all others the same prerogative. To prevent proliferation it is imperative that those States, which were the first to proliferate, accept their responsibilities and renounce the possession of nuclear weapons, as the overwhelming majority of the world community has already done."

Final Thoughts
As mentioned above, given the the arguments used, I think these kind of articles do not help, in any sense, to the achievement of a safer and more equitable world. They subtract rather than add, destroy rather than build. I think that it is not the way. In this sense I support the discomfort of our Brazilian colleagues. 

Such articles are very counterproductive as they generate adverse reactions, hostility and mistrust not only towards persons but also, and it is even worse, towards nations, in this case, towards the United States. I could say, unnecesarily exacerbates anti-US feelings. 

But we should ask: How many and whom this article represents? Does it represent the current United States administration, its current diplomacy, and president Obama's Prague speech which, by the way, happenend exactly 3 years ago? Or perhaps it represents the aftertaste of an American-centric mindset with its poor results in the past mainly due to its blindness to the surrounding realities, and that should hopefully be in process of change?

With due intellectual respect for the author and the newspaper, I definitely lean towards the second option...and I sincerely hope my Brazilian colleagues will also see it in this light.