Weapons Anti-Proliferation Initiative Draws More Participants

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – More than 80 nations on six continents have committed to halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems and related parts under a program launched by President Bush four years ago in Poland.

A voluntary effort, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) is designed to keep the world's most deadly weapons and components from reaching terrorists or criminals. (See fact sheet.)

More than two dozen PSI exercises have been organized using air, ground or maritime forces from a variety of nations.  Slovenia, an early PSI supporter, hosted the most recent one, entitled “Adriatic Gate 2007.”

The exercise scenario, which unfolded in Slovenia’s port of Koper, engaged Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina in a collaborative effort to intercept a suspicious cargo, thought to be nuclear or chemical ingredients needed to produce a deadly weapon.  The United States and other PSI nations lent their expertise and support to the May 27-29 exercise.

The United States also worked with Lithuania when it hosted an air exercise in Vilnius and Siauliai April 26-27.  Exercise “Smart Raven” focused on how the systems of Lithuania worked with those of like-minded nations, including neighboring Estonia, Latvia and Poland, to intercept a hypothetical air shipment of proliferation materials.

The United States has worked with PSI partners in Asia and the Middle East as well.  Assistant Secretary of State John Rood said PSI successes have included blocking “some exports to Iran of controlled equipment relating to its missile programs, dual-use goods and heavy water [a nuclear proliferator could use heavy water to produce plutonium needed for a nuclear weapon].”

In a May 16 speech at the National Defense University in Washington, Rood said PSI provides an effective mechanism for countries to implement key U.N. Security Council resolutions that deal with the North Korean and Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

South Korea and Japan participated in a U.S.-hosted training exercise in October 2006 – the first to be held in the Gulf.  Besides the United States, ship and air assets were provided by Australia, Bahrain, France, Italy and the United Kingdom to test participants’ ability to intercept illicit weapons-related traffic.  (See related article.)

PSI activities are carried out on a national basis in accordance with the laws of participating nations, but the activities also must comply with international legal requirements.  For example, a ship inspection to interdict weapons of mass destruction within the seaport of a PSI country must be carried out in compliance with that nation’s laws.  PSI does not add new legal authorities, but seeks to use existing ones in innovative ways to stop the flow of deadly weapons, related material or associated weapons of mass destruction delivery systems.

The initiative has prompted the signing of a series of ship-boarding agreements to make it easier for PSI partners to board and inspect suspicious vessels.  An agreement between Malta and the United States concluded in March is the most recent example.

During the signing ceremony, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the agreement would deter potential proliferators by sending a clear message that neither nation “will tolerate the involvement of vessels flying their flags in the trade of proliferation-related cargos.”  The signing of the March 15 agreement is an indicator, she said, of their joint cooperation in combating the two greatest current threats:  global terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Belize, Croatia, Cyprus, Liberia, Panama and the Marshall Islands also have signed reciprocal ship-boarding agreements with the United States to make it easier to board and inspect cargo.

PSI supporters meet twice a year at the government experts level.  New Zealand hosted the most recent Operational Experts Group in March where concerns were raised about North Korean weapons proliferation and Iran’s nuclear program.  The experts discussed the importance of preventing money from being used to finance the illicit trade or proliferation of weapons.  They also addressed planning for the next PSI air-land-sea exercise, “Eastern Shield,” to be hosted in September by Poland, Ukraine and Romania.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff points to PSI’s contribution to Libya's abandonment in December 2003 of its weapons program.  Marine General Peter Pace said in June 2006 that the world community can look to the initiative as having made a positive impact “on reducing the number of weapons available to nations.” (See related article.)

For more information, see Arms Control and Nonproliferation.