Security: non-proliferation

Cross-border connections

20 April 2012

Thanks in part to an influential cross-border community of scientists and policymakers, Argentina and Brazil did not become nuclear weapons states. By Sara Z. Kutchesfahani

Scholars have offered a number of reasons as to why Argentina and Brazil did not proliferate. These include both countries’ transition to democracy in the mid 1980s [1-4], the pursuit of economic liberalisation in the mid-late 1980s [1], trust-building through confidence-building measures [5-7], and the psychology of the leadership [8].

In fact, the end of Argentina and Brazil’s rivalry was marked by a gradual nuclear rapprochement process, which can be traced back to the late 1960s/early 1970s. Even though this period marked an intense rivalry (particularly in the nuclear sphere), the development of a common position during the negotiations on the Tlatelolco Treaty in the mid-1960s and a shared hostility to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime in the 1960s/1970s that emerged between the two states, facilitating the process of nuclear cooperation. Over a period of 11 years, many cooperation agreements were signed (Table 1). A close analysis reveals that all the agreements had common elements–shared beliefs in regional peace and cooperation [9]–that facilitated closer nuclear cooperation between Argentina and Brazil.

Table 1: Argentina and Brazil nuclear non-proliferation agreements

Based on my understanding and research on the creation of ABACC, the community of scientific experts (a so-called ‘epistemic’ community [10]) involved in the creation of ABACC was borne out of an incipient epistemic community that had began to develop during the 1965–1980 period. That is not to say that the epistemic communities were one and the same. Rather, an incipient epistemic community had started to develop in the 1965–1980 period based on Argentine and Brazilian common positions taken against the international nuclear non-proliferation regime. By the 1980–1991 period, it had realigned in ways that made a process of cooperation, and by extension, ABACC, possible. Further, the epistemic community was given greater legitimacy when the 1985 Joint Declaration of Nuclear Policy established an ad-hoc joint working group on nuclear issues (JWG), which by 1988 had been institutionalised as a permanent committee on nuclear affairs.

The JWG/PCNA—the institutionalised epistemic community—was comprised predominately of Argentine and Brazilian scientists (including representatives from CNEA and CNEN, the nuclear energy commissions in both countries) and government officials (including representatives from the foreign ministries). These experts participated in periodic meetings where they engaged in a mutual exchange of information, regular scientific, technical, and military consultative exchanges, and participated in discussions surrounding the nature of the mutual safeguards system. It can be argued that they, in part, helped to change the Argentine-Brazilian nuclear relationship from one of rivalry to that of cooperation. Over the years, they stressed the importance, and designed the verification mechanisms, of a bilateral mutual inspections regime, which would verify Argentina and Brazil’s non-nuclear weapon status. Their proposals were adopted and implemented by the presidents of both Argentina and Brazil (Menem and Collor, respectively), culminating in the establishment of ABACC in December 1991.

Moreover, it can be argued that the experts’ knowledge was diffused, particularly through communication, within the JWG/PCNA setting. Meeting every 120 days, alternating between venues in Argentina and Brazil (as mandated in the nuclear agreements), the JWG/PCNA exchanged technical information and assured each other that their respective nuclear programmes were only for peaceful purposes. The reciprocal visits, public declarations, institutionalising nuclear dialogue and cooperation through the PCNA all provided a structural space to encourage diffusion

The work carried out by the PCNA facilitated political support in favour of progress towards mutual and international inspections. The extent to which the experts had access to decision makers was arguably another crucial factor in the creation of ABACC.


Sara Z. Kutchesfahani presented a version of this paper, derived from her doctoral research (, at a conference celebrating ABACC’s 20th anniversary in Rio de Janeiro, ( She is now a postdoctoral research associate at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

This article was published in the March 2012 issue of Nuclear Engineering International magazine.


1. Solingen, Etel. 1994. "The Political Economy of Nuclear Restraint." International Security, Vol. 19, No. 2: 126-169.

2. Paul, T.V. 2000. Power Versus Prudence: Why Nations Forgo Nuclear Weapons. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press.

3. Levite, Ariel E. 2002/2003. "Never Say Never Again. Nuclear Reversal Revisited." International Security, Vol. 27, No. 3: 59-88.

4. Muller, Harald and Andreas Schmidt. 2010. "The Little Known Story of DeProliferation: Why States Give Up Nuclear Weapons Activities." In Potter, William C., ed. (with Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova). Forecasting Nuclear Proliferation in the 21st Century: Volume I: The Role of Theory: 124-158. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

5. Redick, John R. 1995. Nuclear Illusions: Argentina and Brazil. Occasional Paper 25. Washington, D.C., Henry L. Stimson Center.

6. Reiss, Mitchell. 1995. Bridled Ambition: Why Countries Constrain their Nuclear Capabilities. Washington D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and John Hopkins University.

7. Wheeler, Nicholas J. 2009. "Beyond Waltz's Nuclear World: More Trust May be Better." International Relations, Vol. 23, No. 3: 428-445.

8. Hymans, Jacques E. C. 2006. The Psychology of Nuclear Proliferation: Identity, Emotions, and Foreign Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

9. Carasales, Julio C. 1992. National Security Concepts of States: Argentina. United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, pp76-7.

10. Foucault, Michel. 1970. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books.

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