- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

Most Americans probably go to sleep at night with the seemingly reasonable assumption that the civilized world has the authority it needs to intercept weapons of mass destruction (WMD) heading to menacing regimes. Not so. For this reason, the Bush administration is pursuing the so-called Proliferation Security Initiative, which seeks to establish the ability to carry out internationally coordinated interceptions of weapons shipments.

So far, the Bush administration has won the support of Poland, Britain, Spain and Australia (and other governments that aren’t quite ready to openly pledge their support) for the interdiction plan. But this is just the beginning. According to nonproliferation experts, no legal framework for carrying out a plan as comprehensive as the president’s security initiative exists. Establishing such a framework will require some heavy lifting. But the administration seems determined to press forward.

The most obvious venue for establishing international law in this area would appear to be the United Nations Security Council. But passage of the initiative in that body is far from assured. A more promising framework for establishing an international consensus for intercepting weapons would be NATO. According to the U.N. Charter, regional organizations, such as NATO, are permitted to take measures to secure their regions — which for NATO would be a large part of the Western world. Since WMDs (nuclear, chemical and biological weapons) could pose a global threat, NATO could have broad authority to interdict weapons heading to rogue nations.

Still, the administration could face considerable challenges winning NATO’s support. Although the organization is far more likely to be receptive than the Security Council, all NATO members must agree to the plan for it to receive the alliance’s approval.

Part of the administration’s plan could be put in place more immediately. The United States is helping responsible governments to “enact more stringent export control laws, put in place effective licensing procedures and practices, and to back them up with effective enforcement mechanisms,” John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, testified before Congress on Wednesday. Bolstering these controls could go a long way towards halting proliferation. French cooperation, for instance — and German and Russian as well — will obviously be needed in this endeavor. Paris, Berlin and Moscow’s willingness to cooperate with the United States on these matters will be a major factor in determining what kind of relationship they have with Washington for years to come.

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