Why Is Latin America Nuke-Free?

by Dish Staff

As Taylor Marvin puts it, “the simplest answer is that nuclear weapons have gone out of style”:

In an era where interstate war is comparatively rare, the value of a nuclear security guarantee has shrunk when nuclear weapons’ diplomatic and image costs have grown. As the threat of major war has receded both around the world and in the region — which is partially due to US hegemony in Latin America, as Joe Young noted — the practical security gains from nuclear weapons have declined. Given the time, effort, and resources required to acquire nuclear weapons, if states cannot expect enough security or prestige gains to justify their costs they will be more hesitant to invest in them. Tellingly, countries that have armed in the last few decades have tended to be isolated or facing extraordinarily dangerous security situations: Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and South Africa are all a little of column A, and a little of column B. None of the Latin American states with the resources to develop nuclear arms are, or more arguably have been, in this situation.

Beyond security, nuclear weapons are no longer seen as a path to international status. If a Latin American country armed itself today with a nuclear weapon it would be more likely to receive global condemnation than great power prestige. Indeed, in the modern era aircraft carriers are arguably a more important military status symbol than nuclear weapons.