366. Editorial Note

On March 10, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 (NNPA) during a White House ceremony. In his remarks, Carter said that “This legislation takes a major step forward in clarifying our Nation’s policy. I think it would be a much more predictable factor in the decisions made by foreign nations. It will give guidance to me, to the Congress, to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and to the Department of Energy and other agencies in our Federal Government who deal with this sensitive subject.” He also noted that “with the assistance of our European allies,” an International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation study had been created “to inventory existing nuclear fuels in the form of ore, both uranium, thorium, and others, to assess the quality and capability of enrichment facilities and to deal with the proper distribution of nuclear fuels to those who don’t have supplies in their own country—-with international safeguards and constraints being adequate; and at the same time, to deal with the unsolved question of the disposition of spent nuclear fuels. This is one of the most complicated questions that presents itself to the international community. I think it is accurate to say that some of our friends abroad will have to readjust their policy.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1978, pp. 498–500)

In his memoirs, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, Zbigniew Brzezinski, recalled that Congress had grown increasingly concerned with the proliferation of nuclear materials after India’s 1974 explosion of a nuclear weapon. The Carter administration, however, worried that various draft bills “were excessively tough. To head them off and to prevent further legislative initiatives, we introduced [Page 934] our own bill, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, which was passed in March 1978 with overwhelming majorities in both houses. The Act set the criteria for licensing the export of nuclear material, and prohibited U.S. export to any country not accepting international safeguards on all of its plans.” (Brzezinski, Power and Principle, pp. 132–133)

In his memoirs, the Ambassador-at-Large and Special Representative for Non-Proliferation Matters, Gerard Smith, recalled that while the Act “gave the United States veto rights over reprocessing of spent fuel it provided to foreign countries, called for renegotiation of existing contracts and agreements, tightened export license criteria, and prohibited U.S. export of fuel to any nation not accepting so-called ‘full-scope’ safeguards,” the Act could not prevent other nations from finding “other sources of supply for their fuel.” He recalled “When the President signed the bill into law and photos were taken in the White House, I stood to one side despite Brzezinski’s protest that I should be in the middle of the picture. I was determined not to be associated with this legislation, although as Carter’s Special Assistant, I was bound to uphold it.” Ultimately, Smith said “as things developed, I took it as my principal mission to roam the globe trying to cut down on the bitterness about our new policies and to mend fences with both allies and ‘threshold,’ or potential nuclear, states.” (Smith, Disarming Diplomat, pp. 192–193)