On the one hand, it's admirable that the Foreign Policy website offers views from both the right and the left on controversial public policy issues. On the other hand, it would be nice if they added some kind of warning label. I don't know,
October 6, 2010


On the one hand, it's admirable that the Foreign Policy website offers views from both the right and the left on controversial public policy issues. On the other hand, it would be nice if they added some kind of warning label. I don't know, something like "actual reality may differ from author's perspective." I have this in mind as Roger Noriega (former Bush political appointee, current AEI fellow) warns us of Hugo Chavez's supposed plans to develop nuclear weapons with Iran's help.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez admitted last week that his government is "carrying out the first studies" of a nuclear program. He attempted to portray it as an innocuous program designed solely for peaceful purposes.
Chávez's suggestion that he is merely studying the idea of a nuclear energy program is misleading. In fact, in November 2008, Iranian and Venezuelan officials signed a secret "science and technology" agreement formalizing cooperation "in the field of nuclear technology." (The text of the agreement, available in Farsi and Spanish, is available here.) The week after the agreement was signed, Venezuela's Ministry of Energy and Petroleum prepared a presentation for the International Atomic Energy Agency documenting the establishment of a "nuclear power programme" in Venezuela. That presentation, obtained from sources within the Venezuelan government, reveals that an "Atomic Energy Committee" has been managing the nuclear program since 2007.

All countries have the right to a peaceful nuclear energy program under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which Venezuela is a signatory. However, Chávez's decision to rely on one of the world's worst proliferators to help develop his country's capabilities in this sensitive technology sets alarm bells ringing. And his recent public declarations understating the nature of his nuclear program raise more questions than they answer.

Just for the sake of accuracy, I'd note that China, Pakistan, and North Korea are far more busy in weapons proliferation than Iran, particularly with high-tech equipment and materials. But this kind of language isn't new for Noriega. He is a particular hard-liner against Cuba and Venezuela, with a long history of alarmist speeches and attacks against those governments. So it's not surprising to see this language, and it's easier to shoot holes into his argument.

First, it may be that Chavez is interested in nuclear weapons, but it's not a crime for him to invest in nuclear energy, even if his country is awash in oil. The more oil that goes to exports, the more money comes into the country. Both Brazil and Argentina have nuclear power reactors. So does Iran. If Iran wants to sell its expertise on nuclear energy technology, hey, it's a global economy. That's what happens.

Second, there's nothing that Noriega can point to that demonstrates either Iran receiving "yellowcake" from Venezuela or Venezuella receiving nuclear weapons technology or material from Iran. He can make a lot of noise about front companies and point to tangential evidence to suggest that something may wrong, but there's no smoking gun here.

Third, since Iran has no working nuclear weapon, it's a bit credulous to suggest that Venezuela may get a nuke from Iran. Similar to Burma, Venezuela doesn't have the infrastructure, expertise, or material to support such an effort, nor would its military be particularly more effective if it had a nuke. Quite to the contrary, there would be an increased focus on his armed forces by quite a few neighbors and the United States.

I personally hope that Venezuela and Burma continue to pour millions into nuclear weapons research. That will mean much less money will be invested in more effective and useful conventional military weapons as they waste time and money into a capability that they will never be able to develop. This FP article is just a scare piece by a man with a particular hard-right political agenda. It's nothing to be concerned about in the development of a more stable Western hemisphere.

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