Status: Open

Interview with Ambassador Sergio Duarte, a retired Brazilian career diplomat, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs (2007-2012)

September 26, 2022

We continue to publish materials on the X NPT Review Conference under the rubric “Notes from the Field: 10th NPT Review Conference through the Eyes of Russian Public Diplomacy”.

This time, PIR Center Deputy Director Elena Karnaukhova talked to Ambassador Sergio Duarte, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs (2007-2012), the Brazilian representative to several International organizations, focusing on disarmament issues, the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the IAEA (1999-2000). He served the Brazilian Foreign Service for 48 years: the Ambassador of Brazil in a number of countries, including Austria, Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia concurrently (1999-2002), China (1996-1999), Canada (1993-1996), and Nicaragua (1986-1991), Switzerland (1979-1986), the United States (1970-1974), Argentina (1963-1966), and Rome (1961-1963). Sergio Duarte stood at the origins of the NPT and was familiar with Roland Timerbaev.

We talked with Sergio Duarte about the X NPT RevCon, politicization of the process, positions of the US, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France, about nuclear disarmament and the gender perspective, the role of the unofficial NWS in the process of negotiations on disarmament and the prospects for a new nuclear club, Brazil, Argentina, AUKUS and global security.

Dear Ambassador, what was going on here, in New York, within X NPT RevCon? Share your impressions and concerns with us, please. How do you access all the problems and prospects of the current review process of NPT?

Most problems we are facing now within the current NPT Revie Conference stand from the very beginning, from the times when the text of the future NPT was being discussed under the auspices of Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament (ENCD) in the 1960s. I have always hesitated to say that NPT was being negotiated within ENCD at all. I was a junior member of the Brazilian delegation and there were many famous nonproliferation and disarmament diplomats as Ambassador Roland Timerbaev. Many of them already passed away, unfortunately. Perhaps, I am the only one who still alive.

So, I recall this time of the draft NPT very well. The text of the Treaty was first drafted only by two superpowers, namely USA and USSR, especially if we are speaking about articles 1 and 2 of the NPT. Together they brought the draft of the treaty to ENCD where articles 3, 4 and 6 were debated and eventually included in the draft. There were common negotiations on the article 10 as well. Thus, it was a kind of mixed process, in particularly, negotiations between two superpowers and negotiations under the auspices of ENCD.

Basically, the main problem of the review process since the 1970s have been the imbalance between rights and obligations of the parties to NPT, between nuclear weapon states (NWS) and nonnuclear weapon states (NNWS). For example, NWS have always considered their obligations regarding nuclear disarmament in a different way than these obligations have been considered by NNWS. For NNWS obligations regarding nuclear disarmament is a very important part of the NPT. In contrast, NWS consider nuclear disarmament as a distant objective for the future to come and they always put conditionality to disarmament issues. “If there are conditions for disarmament”, or “if there is common understanding”, etc. Such differences on attitudes towards nuclear disarmament obligations have existed since 1968. Let me remind you that NPT was not adopted by consensus at the CD. Instead, the two co-chairs (USSR and US) sent it to the General Assembly on their own authority.

Nowadays we are facing many new problems within nonproliferation, including the situation with Ukraine, nuclear naval propulsions, security assurances, and etc. Security assurances were problematic from the very beginning too.  Initiatives to create WMD-free zone in the Middle East has been not implemented so far, and Arab states have been dissatisfied with the lack of progress on this regard for a long period of time. We have now a different world since NPT was being discussed and was opened for signing. We have made some steps to move forward, but some new things are happening.

In 2005, I was a President-designate of the VII NPT RevCon. And there was no outcome. At that time states-parties to the NPT were unable even to agree on the agenda of the Conference. Again, at that time we were observing the deterioration of relations between the US and Russia. The problem with Iranian nuclear program arose. Thus, we started the Conference without agenda, and it took about 2 weeks to reach agreement on the agenda of the Conference itself. Only after 2 weeks after Conference started, we could organize the work of Main Comities. In 2000 and 2015, there was no consensus final document after the review process either. So, its absence is not a tragedy, from my point of view. States parties are coming there, they are discussing the problems, they are exchanging their views, they are trying to understand each other, and it’s the most important thing. Everybody here should try to reach consensus. But primarily Review Conferences are a good occasion to determine differences between us and to make attempts to solve the current problems. 

Do you agree that nowadays the NPT review process is being politicized, and it prevents from reaching any agreements between states?

NPT review process is a political process, sure. It was politicized from the beginning and will remain politicized in the future.

What can you say about the interaction between the US and Russia within X NPT RevCon? Does it differ from cooperation between the US and the USSR on nonproliferation and disarmament issues during the cold war?

You know, the atmosphere in US-Russian relations have been changing all the time since the collapse of the USSR. There was a period when their relations were not too bad, but now they are incredibly bed, awful. There are so many contradictions between the two states. But they should work closer and more active together because to save the NPT and current nonproliferation regime is in their interests.

Well, but what about China, Great Britain, and France?

As NWS and parties to the NPT they also have rights and obligations. And they are also interested in making the Treaty work. The main objective for all the nuclear five is to maintain the current NPT architecture and to keep other states from getting nuclear weapons.

You are considered to be one of the promoters of nuclear disarmament. So, what prospects for nuclear disarmament do we have now? It would be very interesting to know your own opinion, taking into account your previous activities, professional path, and all the thoughts you have already shared with us. 

Oh, I do not see any prospects for nuclear disarmament in the nearest future, really. For me, the only prospect to boost nuclear disarmament could be provided with the entry into force of the TPNW.

But TPNW is too idealistic document without any base. How can we promote elimination of nuclear weapons just because TPNW entered into force when the Treaty is not accepted and even not recognized by all nuclear five?

TPNW is as idealistic as NPT was in the 1960s before its signing and ratification. Many NWS did not sign the NPT for several years. Yes, I think, you should be idealistic, you should have objectives to make the world better and safer.

Is it possible to involve unofficial NWS into the process of negotiations on nuclear disarmament? I mean India, Pakistan, Israel and DPRK. If we invite them to take part in talks on nuclear disarmament, we will then officially recognize their nuclear status, and entire architecture of NPT will be ruined. But we could not ignore the existence of their nuclear arsenals for the whole life.

For me, it’s a question of will, first of all. If the NWS, I mean both inside and outside NPT regime, want to negotiate on nuclear disarmament they will do it. For now, it is impossible to involve unofficial NWS into talks on nuclear disarmament, you are right. They are not parties to the NPT. Thus, we would need to change NPT itself. You are asking me whether it is possible. We can’t say for sure. We need to sit down and to talk, to discuss such prospects. If we do not talk with each other, sure, it would be impossible to change status quo.

Will we see more NWS in the future? There is an opinion that TPNW was created to lay the base to weaken NPT and to destroy the current nuclear nonproliferation regime. For example, state-party to NPR claims that NPT does not work and withdraws from the Treaty protesting against current nuclear order. The Representative of the Republic of Kiribati has already claimed within X NPT RevCon that his state should leave the NPT, and Kiribati is one of the antinuclear radicals.

These are speculations. The TPNW was not created to ruin the NPT regime. On the contrary, it was adopted to be complementary to the NPT and to offer a path toward nuclear disarmament. Article 6 of the NPT says that all the parties to the Treaty have to be engaged in negotiations on nuclear disarmament. And the TPNW can be effective only if all nuclear states will recognize it. There was a special working group created in 2015, and it was open to all UN members. The NWS did not come to take part in the sessions of this working group. Yes, some of their allies came. But if the NWS would have come to these sessions, it would have been possible to promote the better understanding of how we could and should move forward. We could not have constructive results of negotiations if not all interested parties want to talk.

Well, but may there be more NWS in the future? What can happen in the international arena to make NNWS decide to develop their own nuclear weapon program?

Why have NWS been developing their nuclear weapon programs so far? Because they think that nuclear weapons will enhance their security. So, if NNWS thought that nuclear weapons could enhance their security, they would start to develop their own military nuclear programs. Thus, security would justify everything. If nuclear weapons are good for security of some, it may become good for security of others too. You are also asking me why we do not have more than nine nuclear weapon states just now. From my point of view, that is because other states are more responding especially regarding implementation of the NPT. They do not want nuclear weapons because they can ensure their security by other means and because nuclear weapons would not enhance their security. That is the logic. But remember that conditions may change.

Article 6 of the NPT calls for general and complete disarmament. So, there has always been an interconnection between nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament. But nobody is taking care of general and complete disarmament, neither NWS nor NNWS. Which measures should we take to promote the idea of general and complete disarmament as well in order to boost nuclear disarmament?  

Nowadays, there are still so many intellectuals and many think tanks who and which promote the idea of general and complete disarmament. Article 6 itself was proposed to inspire NNWS adopt the NPT.  Otherwise, a number of NNWS would not accept the Treaty. Primarily, when the two co-chairs, namely USA and USSR, presented the draft text of the treaty to ENDC, there were no obligations regarding nuclear disarmament. Article 6 was the way to ensure that the treaty would be accepted by other states. But there have been no obligations for others regarding general and complete disarmament. States-parties just need to make efforts.

That means that general and complete disarmament is more of a dream than an obligation which each state of the world will never implement. So, let’s discuss humanitarian initiative. Do you really believe that humanitarian initiative can solve all the problems within disarmament? It seems that the answer will be completely negative.

The idea that nuclear weapons could cause large devastation in the world is at the base of preambles of many international treaties and agreements including the NPT. The consequence of nuclear weapons use would be terrible. That is why humanitarian initiative has become accepted. Three international conferences under the auspices of humanitarian initiative were held in the previous years. It contributed to accepting the TPNW. And it should be considered as able to put an end to nuclear weapons.

And what do you think about the gender perspective on nuclear disarmament? 

I think that everyone should have the right to be involved in discussions on nuclear weapons. I see more and more women participating in discussions and international forums on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament. But it should be important not only for women or not only for men but for all of us as humans regardless our gender identity. If we are speaking about participation of women, they should be professional, first of all. It is very important to be a professional in your career path.

Does Brazil promote education on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament? Tell us more about your projects in these spheres. Do you have specialized educational programs or NGOs?

Basically, young specialists get knowledge on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament as a part of general educational programs on international relations. Remember that Brazil is still a developing country, and our people are more concerned with social and economic problems rather than nuclear ones. There are many pressing questions for them regarding healthcare, unemployment, general conditions of living, etc. Sure, disarmament is very important issue, a vital one. But, for example, if you stopped a young Brazilian in the street and ask him or her about nuclear disarmament, there would be no guarantee that he or she would discuss this problem with you. Citizens of NWS are more concerned with nuclear issues. Unfortunately, relatively few people are interested in the nuclear factor in international affairs. I believe that it would be a very good idea if ordinary people, especially youth from all over the world, pay more attention to nuclear weapons, nuclear nonproliferation, and nuclear disarmament.

Was it right for Brazil and its national interest to cancel its nuclear weapons program?

Brazil never had a military nuclear program. We have promoted only peaceful nuclear energy program to control the fuel cycle, and this program has never stopped. Brazil is one of few countries that can enrich uranium commercially. There were people in our government who thought that Brazil should have military nuclear program to produce the bomb, but their opinion did not prevail. Once I delivered a lecture before students, and I told them that when I had been a young man, I thought that prestige of Brazil would be much greater if Brazil would have created a nuclear bomb. In the 1950-1960s many young people had the same views as I did in these years. I asked my students in 2010 what they were thinking about nuclear weapons, and only very few of them raised their hands meaning that it would be better to be NWS. Nowadays, youth have other priorities.

What if Brazil and Argentina would return to strong competition with each other? 

Competition between our states has never stopped. It just takes different forms, but it has always been predominantly friendly. We are speaking a lot about the competition between USSR/Russia and the USA. But it is more than just a competition, it is a rivalry. Our competition with Argentina is another story. We have common economic integration structures and groupings, common political institutions, common understanding of human rights, common civilization identity. Of course, we have competed with Argentina so far but not to create a nuclear bomb to deter each other.

In the context of nuclear factor in international relations, we are always talking primarily about the rivalry between the US and USSR/Russia. But is it not our fault? For example, India and China also possess nuclear weapons, and both states have territorial claims to each other. In 2020 there were armed clashes along the Sino-Indian border near disputed Pangong Lake in Ladakh and the Tibet Autonomous Region, and near the border between Sikkim and the Tibet Autonomous Region. But there were no serious discussions about the risks of limited or full-scale nuclear war between them. It is not the only one example. Why do we always focus on rivalry between the US and Russia and its possible nuclear dimension, from your point of view?

We are always discussing the risks of nuclear war between the US and Russia just because they have the largest nuclear arsenals in the world. Pay attention that previously Brazil and Argentina also had some territorial disputes, and we settled all of them peacefully. I think that the rivalry between the US and USSR or the US and Russia is a very unique phenomenon per se.

Brazil is a member of uranium club, let me say metaphorically. How do you assess positions of Brazil in international uranium market? What benefits do you have from possessing uranium?

I do not think that Brazil is an active player within international uranium market. It is more important to extract uranium for our own nuclear power plants and facilities. We do not have any private business companies who could extract and enrich uranium, and only our government and governmental agencies can be engaged in activities connected with uranium.

Let me touch upon the factor of AUKUS in international affairs. Some days ago, you said as a participant of side-event on AUKUS that no one should compare Brazilian and Australian nuclear submarine programs. Tell us more about these differences. Can the creation of AUKUS be justified by Chinese activities in the Pacific?

First of all, Brazilian nuclear submarine program is entirely Brazilian. In case of AUKUS, Australia will be getting nuclear propulsions from two nuclear weapons states, namely the US and Great Britain. Nobody provides Brazil with nuclear propulsion or other military-oriented nuclear technologies. Secondly, Brazil will not use highly enriched uranium, and it differs from Australian nuclear submarine program. Remember, that enriched uranium is used to representative of the create a nuclear bomb as well. Finally, third difference is closely related to the issues of regional security. Brazil has 7 000 km of the coast. Our nuclear submarine program is designed to ensure vehicles to patrol the coastline. These nuclear submarines will be armed only with conventional weapons.

You are asking me about threats from China to security of Pacific states. It is up to the states of the Pacific to decide for themselves which security threats they do have. It is up to them to decide if the AUKUS poses a threat to regional security. I am from another region. Nuclear states sometimes believe they are entitled to decide for others what their security problems are. They say things like: “You do not need to possess nuclear weapons because you do not have serious security threats”.

Speaking about China, I want to point out that China is trying to improve its international standing and to ensure the projection of its power abroad. China is encircled with foreign military bases and ships, and there are really many of them. China does really have reasonto be concerned with security issues. But I believe that search for security of one state should not weaken the security of others. Each can decide by itself how to guarantee its national security, but, anyway, not with such means which could negatively influence the security of others. Returning to China, its positions in global arena are usually defensive and not aggressive.

Which problems are Latin American states facing now?

I do not think that our security problems are coming from outside really. All our main problems are developing inside Latin American states. Among them are the high rate of poverty, low standards of living, the problem of functioning strong political institutions, economic crises, unemployment, ecological threats, etc.

What prospects does BRICS have now in the new era of global tensions?

We shall understand that the global situation is rather difficult now. Anyway, we should think more about our future and what to do. Within BRICS, we should think about our future plans and goals as well. Upon its creation, BRICS were concentrated on economic rather than on political aims. Nowadays, we are discussing the prospects of enlarging BRICS. But are the criteria of BRICS membership the same? Especially if we want BRICS to have more international value and influence (primarily in economic domain).