- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Diplomats and defense officials from around the world meet in Washington this week to mark the fifth anniversary of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and to consider how this new tool for combating proliferation can be even more successful in the future.

In May 2003, President Bush announced in Krakow, Poland, a new international partnership with the goal of stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems and related materials to states and nonstate actors of concern.

Since then, PSI has changed the rules of the game and provided an effective tool to complement existing nonproliferation efforts, such as the Nunn-Lugar program, and to protect against the threat of WMD in the hands of terrorists - a concern shared across political boundaries.

PSI stemmed from the National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, the first comprehensive approach to prevent, protect against, and respond to the full spectrum of WMD threats.

Its origins are also found in lessons learned from previous interdiction actions, most notably the failed seizure of the Yemen-bound So San, which carried Scud missiles from North Korea. After this event, the administration undertook a review of existing authorities and capabilities to stop shipments of WMD-related materials on land, in the air, or on the seas. And, as we consulted with our allies, it became clear that a connected web of like-minded states, sharing information and working together to build military and law enforcement capacities, would better equip us all to accomplish the shared objective of deterring and disrupting shipments designed to circumvent established nonproliferation and export control regimes.

Three months after the Krakow speech, PSI partners endorsed a Statement of Interdiction Principles, expressing the intention of members to stop the trade in WMD and related materials.

One month later, four partners worked together to intercept a large shipment of uranium centrifuge parts on the way to Libya from an A.Q. Khan production facility in Malaysia.

The result was stunning. While a number of motivations were in play in Libya’s decision to abandon its clandestine nuclear weapons program, including the fear it would meet the same fate as Iraq, one important factor was the interception of the merchant ship BBC China.

With its program exposed and its chain of supply disrupted, Tripoli reassessed the wisdom of its nuclear program. Would Col. Moammar Gadhafi have given up his nuclear weapon ambitions in the absence of PSI? Perhaps. But we know the effective cooperation among PSI participants enabled and hastened this result, and potentially deterred other proliferators by its strong signal of international resolve.

Overall, PSI has made considerable progress in accomplishing what it set out to do: dozens of interdictions have taken place slowing nuclear and missile programs in Asia and the Middle East. More than 90 nations (the latest of which were Saudi Arabia and Morocco) have agreed to work together proactively to stop proliferation, consistent with their authorities and international legal frameworks.

Participating countries worldwide have conducted more than 30 practical exercises and shared tactics and procedures on coordinating and executing interdictions. PSI states are examining and adjusting their own authorities, such as enforcement means to limit proliferation-related financing.

Eight important flag states have agreed to expedited bilateral ship-boardings when requested under PSI. Importantly, PSI countries also exchange information to help each other identify and stop WMD-related shipments. While the number of PSI interdictions may never become public knowledge, the effects are nonetheless felt by proliferators and their facilitators.

PSI is not, and was not intended to be, a “silver bullet” to end WMD proliferation. Syria’s recently revealed intention to build a secret plutonium-producing reactor with North Korea’s assistance, and the ability of both states to hide this illicit program for years from both the International Atomic Energy Agency and national intelligence services, is a clear testament to the determination of rogue actors to obtain nuclear weapons.

That Syria and North Korea are state sponsors of terrorism heightens the concern that nuclear weapons or their key components could be knowingly transferred, or surreptitiously diverted, to individuals or groups who would not hesitate to use them against us or our allies. In this case, an Israeli military strike swiftly ended the reactor and, at least for now, Syrian progress toward achieving a nuclear capability.

But while justified and effective, the use of force against Syria makes evident the need to strengthen existing tools such as PSI to prevent proliferation and stop the deadly trade in WMD weapons and materials.

It is vital that we, along with our friends and allies, build a layered defense against proliferation. PSI, as a key component of this defense, must be continually improved and strengthened - a task not just for this week’s Washington conference but for the next administration.

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