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T HE WORLD'S hopes for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons have been brightened by the agreement of Argentina and Brazil to formally renounce the use of nuclear weapons.

Their action reflects the more realistic priorities of the civilian governments that have taken over from the generals in both countries in the past few years. Brazil's President Fernando Collor, who was inaugurated earlier this year, recently revealed that the military had been seeking to build nuclear weapons for the last 15 years. He canceled the project.

Brazil has historically been a rival of Argentina, which reportedly had developed the technology to enrich uranium before the new civilian government was elected in 1983. The current president, Carlos Menem, has shown no interest in nuclear weapons.

It is hard to imagine what use nuclear weapons would have in South America, except to feed the pride of military leaders. In signing a bilateral treaty renouncing nuclear weapons, Argentina and Brazil have taken a significant step toward keeping the continent nuclear-free.

This was the goal of the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco, which both nations signed. They did not abide by it, however, citing a clause that it would not go into effect until all countries in the region had signed it. Cuba
did not sign. Nevertheless, they have now pledged to forsake nuclear weapons bilaterally and to abide by the Tlatelolco treaty.

Their agreement also is important in preventing the worldwide spread of nuclear weapons. While the two nations have no plans to sign the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, they plan to make use of the International Atomic Energy Agency to set up a system of international safeguards and inspections.

Like many developing nations, they view the 1968 treaty as an infringement on their sovereignty, feeling that the treaty gives a permanent second-class status to the non-nuclear powers. It is no obstacle, however, to the development of peaceful nuclear technology. Both nations make use of nuclear power for electricity.

The current crisis in the Persian Gulf demonstrates the importance of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. Iraq is believed to be developing nuclear potential, and Iran has a nuclear research program. These two nations would be much more likely than Argentina and Brazil to actually use nuclear weapons if they had them.

The international cooperation used so strikingly to protest the invasion of Kuwait should be employed in a reinvigorated program of international inspection to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

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