The State Department was reportedly supportive of Brazilian president Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva’s visit to Tehran last weekend. An unnamed State Department official was quoted as saying the trip represented “perhaps the last big shot at engagement" in the conflict over the Iranian nuclear program. But one can well wonder whose side Lula is on. This is not only because Lula made a stop in Moscow before travelling to Tehran and that he is reported to have sought there a commitment from Russian president Dimtry Medvedev not to support further Iran sanctions. Nor is it just because Lula also took the opportunity of his supposed “mediation” mission to announce that Brazil was extending over $1 billion in credit to Iran, in order to boost Brazilian exports to the country. Iranian trade official Behrouz Alishiri was quoted as enthusiastically predicting that Brazilian-Iranian trade could increase to $10 billion annually in the years ahead.
Above all, there is reason for doubt because of numerous signs that Brazil is working on its own secret nuclear program. The evidence is discussed in a recent paper by German nuclear security expert Hans Rühle. The paper is available in English from the German Council on Foreign Relations here. One point in Rühle’s paper is of particular interest in connection with the policies of the current American administration. Rühle notes that in its December 2008 National Defense Strategy, Brazil confirmed its status as a member of the NPT, but also stated that “Brazil will not agree to any additional NPT restrictions until the nuclear weapons states make more progress toward nuclear disarmament.” Concretely, Rühle points out, this meant that Brazil would not sign on to the 1997 additional protocol to the NPT allowing for expanded IAEA inspections and, in particular, would refuse to be more forthcoming about its suspect nuclear submarine program.
Brazil’s conditioning of NPT cooperation upon the progress made by the existing nuclear powers toward nuclear disarmament reveals how the global “nuclear zero” campaign, of which Barack Obama has made himself the spokesperson, plays into the hands of would-be proliferators. After all, Iran itself has used similar arguments. Moreover, the stated condition for cooperation is entirely vague and flexible. How much “progress” is enough progress?
As noted in my discussion of the German roots of the “nuclear zero” campaign in the January 4/January 11 issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, in a German public television documentary that was aired last summer former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt charged the existing nuclear powers with bearing ultimate responsibility for the failures of the NPT regime, since “they have not themselves done what the treaty requires of them: namely, to negotiate with the aim of achieving nuclear disarmament.” Of course, in the meanwhile, Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev have done just that. But Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and indeed George W. Bush had already done just that along with their respective Soviet and then Russian counterparts. Another way of interpreting Schmidt’s remarks is thus: “Zero means zero”--anything less is legitimate grounds for other countries to seek nuclear weapons.
Returning to the case of Brazil and, in particular, questions surrounding the Brazilian nuclear submarine program, Hans Rühle writes:
But why all that secrecy? What is it about its development of small reactors to power submarines that Brazil is so keen to hide? After all, for several decades most major powers have had access to systems of this kind. The answer to this question is simple, yet it does not come easy. In the facilities that are declared as production sites for nuclear submarines Brazil is also most probably working on something else--nuclear weapons.