A Short Blanket: Brazil and Carter’s Non-Proliferation Policy

            My research paper provides an analysis about the consequences of James Carter’s nuclear non-proliferation policy for Brazil. Its objective is to describe how the American Congress delineated the non-proliferation policies assumed by Carter’s Presidency, interpreting its effects on particular choices Brazil made about its own nuclear policy.

            I worked on a contextualization of the Brazilian scenario back in the late seventies, highlighting that energetic independence – main argument for the nuclear developments – became a cornerstone in the military regime’s (1964-85) objectives. That perceived necessity led to the signing of one of the biggest nuclear agreements ever made between Brazil and the Federal Republic of Germany. The deal was signed in 1975, and established the transfer of reprocessing and uranium enrichment technology, along with the construction of eight nuclear power plants.

            Based on bibliographical sources and primary sources from both the countries, I argue that the strong offensive that Carter’s Presidency launched against the deal in 1977, weeks after entering the Office, constituted an incentive for Brazil to partially withdraw from the international non-proliferation regime. Moreover, it is also argued that the blanket policy adopted in most of Carter’s administration, designed to contain the proliferation of technology – then directly connected to the spread of nuclear weapons – had in the Brazilian case a diametrically opposed effect. As soon as it became clear to the Brazilian nationalist military dictatorship that it was not possible to acquire the full nuclear cycle through official and IAEA safeguarded channels, the decision to start an autonomous program was made.

            Understanding how the internal debate led American policymakers to build a policy that sought to strengthen the non-proliferation regime, although it did not, sheds light on the original debate among what Michal Brenner calls the ‘pragmatists’ and ‘purists’, whose different views on the matter of non-proliferation set the terms of this very debate.

            Aware that the line that divides technological spread and weapon capacity is not completely drawn, and situations that resemble the Brazilian case in the late 1970’s are not unusual, this paper intends to underline the need to resume the debate among the different views on non-proliferation, updating them for today’s challenges on nuclear non-proliferation.


Rodrigo Morais Chaves

Getúlio Vargas Foundation

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