In the senate, uneasiness seems to be increasing over the nuclear agreement with China.
The agreement is now in effect, and under it American manufacturers will be able to sell power reactors and related technology to the Chinese. In return the Chinese have pledged not to divert it to military uses or help any other country -- Pakistan, for example -- to build nuclear weapons. But the United States will have no reliable way of knowing how faithfully the Chinese abide by their commitment.
Sen. John Glenn of Ohio has brought up this uncomfortable reality several times recently, and each time a few more senators have joined him. This week they were a majority. On Monday he succeeded in attaching a brief and useful paragraph on this subject to Congress' end-of-ession continuing resolution on federal spending. The Senate leadership tried to set the Glenn amendment aside but, when it came to the roll call, they lost by 28 votes to 59. The amendment probably won't survive in the final legislation, because the conference is going to try to throw out everything not strictly related to spending. But those 58 senators voting with Mr. Glenn represented a remarkably wide range of both parties from right to left, and they are right.
When the United States sells nuclear reactors to other countries, it insists on safeguards -- the system of international inspections and materials accounting that is administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In the Chinese agreement, there is no reference to safeguards. The United States has settled there for substantially less rigorous assurances.
The administration argues that it considers the Chinese commitments to be dependable, and that they will tie China securely into the worldwide effort to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons. The Glenn amendment, according to the administration, would force renegotiation of the whole agreement and broadly damage relations with China. That is not a trivial case. China has often behaved badly in the past in regard to spreading nuclear technology around, and even its relatively loose promises to the United States representing important progress in arms control.
But, Sen. Glenn asks, does it make any sense to sell nuclear technology to China under less demanding rules than, say, to Japan? Why trust China more than our allies? He argues that this agreement will become a precedent for a general relaxation of the world's nuclear control standards, and he's right. The Glenn amendment would simply apply safeguards to any nuclear technology that the United States sends China. It's a reasonable and conventional requirement. If it's not enacted with the continuing resolution, the Senate will need to return to it next year.