Monday, June 01, 2009

Brazil's Nuclear Submarine Program

Brazil is going to try and develop an indigenous capability to build and deploy nuclear-powered attack submarines.

Ambassador Paul Taylor asks in the current issue of Proceedings, "Why does Brazil need nuclear submarines?" A related question is how does this help or hinder U.S. interests?

President Lula sees the ability to master this complicated military technology as an important national interest, recently noting that "Brazil will be one of the select group of nations that possess this indispensable capability for effective deterrence." The Brazilian Navy sees having nuclear submarines as part of a toolbox of being able to play a greater role in regional and global efforts to patrol the seas and keep lines of communication open.

Taylor quotes Rear Admiral Antonio Ruy de Almeida Silva, who argues that Brazil has to take much more responsibility for protecting its maritime patrimony:
The Navy has actually strongly defended a larger participation in the effort to protect the maritime area under national jurisdiction, suggestively named Amazania Azul (the Blue Amazon). Keeping control of this maritime area is a big challenge that grows as sea-related activities, connected to the exploitation of living and non-living resources, increase as happens with oil exploration in the Brazilian continental shelf.

And as Brazil increases its cooperation with South Africa and India for patrolling and securing the South Atlantic and South Indian Oceans, having such capabilities increases the clout of this regional organization.

What's the U.S. interest? Do we want more states to have advanced capabilities that previously were largely an American preserve? Would a nuclear submarine capability make Brazil more assertive against U.S. interests? Or can burdens be shared or passed along to other states? In other words, is this a positive step which shows that an emerging great power like Brazil is preparing to shoulder greater responsibilities for the defense of "international public goods" like the sea-lanes?

A military historian friend has made the point on several occasions that missions define forces. What missions would justify such capabilities for Brazil, or is it just a matter of prestige? Possibly there could be an incentive to develop a certain kind of domestic manufacturing or technical capability, but does it justify the cost. Isn't there significan global overcapacity in arms manufacruting and shipbuilding, just as the automotive industry?
Brazil has the right to explore ALL nuclear potencial. If Brazil can build new nuclear submarine thats all right. Brazil it´s a big country and need to use all new tecnologies to protect his territory.
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