THE ADMINISTRATION'S policy statement on nuclear non-proliferation issued this past week amounts to a set of broad guidelines. Depending on how they are interpreted, their effect could range from a tough effort to curb further proliferation to tacit encouragement of trade in weapons-related technologies. We hope it is the former, but elements of the statement suggest it might go the other way. Take the call to "reestablish" the United States as a "reliable partner" in nuclear trade. This country has always been a reliable nuclear supplier except when it has delayed or withheld supplies because of weapons-related developments, and it hasn't begun to make those exceptions -- under Jimmy Carter or anyone else -- with anything like the determination or consistency it should have brought to bear. In the insiders' jargon of this business, in fact, "reliable supplier" suggests not letting non-proliferation concerns interrupt nuclear trade. The policy statement also promises not to "inhibit" reprocessing and breeder reactor programs in Europe and Japan, thereby taking what is at best a neutral stance toward a destabilizing international trade in plutonium -- the optimal weapons fuel.
In an unexpected response, the Senate approved a resolution drafted by Sen. John Glenn, calling for sweeping changes in the international nuclear regime. Despite strong opposition from the State Department -- if one is looking for consistency, State Department hostility to anti-proliferation efforts over the years is where one will find it -- the final Senate vote was 89 to 0. The resolution calls for an "urgent" effort by the nuclear suppliers to tighten the rules of nuclear trade, including a "temporary worldwide moratorium" on the transfer of certain dangerous equipment and technology to sensitive areas including the Middle East and South Asia. Learning from Iraq, it calls for limiting the size of research reactors and eliminating the use of weapons-usable highly enriched uranium fuel in them. It proposes a number of specific steps to make international safeguards worthy of the name, including adoption by all suppliers of the U.S. requirement for safeguards on all nuclear activities in a recipient country, thereby making all facilities subject to international inspection whether or not the owner admits their presence to the International Atomic Energy Agency.In Iraq, this would have meant that inspectors would have had a claim to access to the reprocessing "hot cells." Likewise in Pakistan, there would have been a strong claim to open up the secret enrichment plant. Finally, the resolution calls on the suppliers to agree in advance on specific sanctions for any violation of safeguards.
All the major suppliers except Switzerland and the Soviet Union will be present at this week's Ottawa summit. It is, of course, too late for the administration to present initiatives specifically based on the Senate's unequivocal call for strong action, and the other supplier countries are not exactly enthusiastic about discomfiting their nuclear trading relationships for mere reasons of potential nuclear weapons spread. But it is not too late for the president to respond by telling the summit partners that he gives this effort a high priority and expects a similiar response from them. Agreement at Ottawa on an early meeting of the nuclear suppliers would be a worthwhile outcome.