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Latin America’s Lessons for Nuclear Diplomacy

BUENOS AIRES – In some ways, the latest negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program between it and the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany (the P5+1), which are set to resume in Geneva on November 7, seem to be more promising than previous rounds. At the very least, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has pledged to take a more conciliatory approach than his predecessor.

But negotiators will have to navigate difficult circumstances, including economic uncertainty in the West and intense political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa – not to mention a long history of mistrust and gridlock. In order to maximize the chance of success, they should consider “best practices” from successful nuclear negotiations of the past, with the nuclear-cooperation agreement between Brazil and Argentina providing an example of “out-of-the-box” thinking on non-proliferation.

For many years, Brazil and Argentina were locked in a security dilemma. Both were eager to be recognized as nuclear powers; indeed, there was active domestic support for proliferation in some circles in both governments. With both countries on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, the rest of the world was understandably nervous. From a military perspective, the situation could have escalated catastrophically.

But, since the mid-1980’s, the security threat has ebbed substantially. While smart strategic leadership, democratic political systems, and economic interdependence undoubtedly contributed to this shift, the transition from nuclear competition to nuclear partnership – facilitated by shared values, common interests, and pragmatic understanding among key scientists, policymakers, and military actors – played a decisive role.