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Three key states are relevant in considering future nuclear proliferation in Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela. Argentina and Brazil are critical because of their relatively advanced nuclear capabilities. For historical and geopolitical reasons, neither Argentina nor Brazil is likely to reactive nuclear weapons programs. Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chávez, has repeatedly demonstrated interest in developing a nuclear program, yet Venezuela lacks any serious nuclear expertise. Even if it had the managerial and technological capacity, the lead-time to develop an indigenous nuclear program would be measured in decades. Acquisition of nuclear technology from international sources would be difficult because members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group would insist on safeguards, and potential non-Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) suppliers are highly surveilled, risking the exposure of such a program before Venezuela could put a deterrent into place.
While South American states have historically opposed nuclear weapons, their acquisition by Brazil and Argentina would lead to little more than diplomatic condemnation. Brazil and Argentina are both geopolitically satisfied powers that are deeply embedded in a regional security community. On the other hand, Venezuela under President Chávez is perceived as a revisionist power seeking a transformation of the international system. Venezuelan acquisition of nuclear weapons would be met with alarm by the United States and Colombia, and it would prompt nuclear weapons development by Brazil and possibly Argentina, more for reasons of preserving regional leadership and prestige than for fear of a Venezuelan threat.
Trinkunas, Harold A., "Latin America: Nuclear Capabilities, Intentions and Threat Perceptions" (2011). Western Hemisphere Security Analysis Center. 41.
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