By Sam Kane and Kingston Reif
WHAT IS THE PROLIFERATION SECURITY INITIATIVE (PSI)?
• The Proliferation Security Initiative is an international effort that aims to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and their related components and materials.
WHO IS INVOLVED WITH PSI?
• Initially, PSI’s membership consisted of eleven countries (the United States, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom). It has since expanded into a global effort involving more than one hundred countries.
• However, several key states have resisted subscribing to the PSI framework, including: China, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, and South Africa.
WHAT IS THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF PSI?
• PSI was formally established by President George W. Bush in May 2003, in a speech in Krakow, Poland.
• A key impetus for President Bush’s establishment of PSI was a failed 2002 attempt by the US and Spanish navies to confiscate the cargo of the So San, a North Korean merchant ship carrying ballistic missiles and missile components to Yemen.
— Spanish forces were able to legally interdict the ship and identify its cargo, but existing international law did not allow for the weapons to be confiscated.
• Post-9/11 concerns about nuclear terrorism, as well as the threat of North Korea’s then-developing nuclear weapons program, also played key roles in spurring President Bush to create PSI.
HOW IS PSI STRUCTURED?
• PSI’s organizational structure differs from that of other international institutions in several key regards:
— PSI is unique in “having no permanent institutional structure.”
— Also, PSI does not require states to undertake any binding legal commitments. Rather, willing states simply express their commitment to the “PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles,” which includes such tenets as:
— Interdicting WMD-related transfer to actors “of proliferation concern,” within the scope of a country’s capacities and legal jurisdiction.
— Helping to facilitate of an effective exchange of information between countries on issues of WMD interdiction.
— Working to enhance legal procedures for interdicting WMD, on both the national and international level.
— The US has also signed bilateral “Ship Boarding Agreements” with 11 sea-faring states within the PSI framework. The agreements allow the US and the partner state to board, search and detain any ship that is registered to the other respective country. Such measures have allowed the US to buttress the legal status of PSI operations conducted in agreement with these states.
PSI AND INTERNATIONAL LAW
• PSI does not operate under the auspices of the United Nations, nor does it create any new international laws – essentially, PSI seeks to “exploit existing legal authorities, not create new powers.”
• Broadly speaking, PSI’s approach to interdiction is centered on using minor infractions as a means of intercepting vessels that are believed to be carrying WMD-related materials.
WHAT HAS PSI ACCOMPLISHED?
— For instance, national authorities can stop a ship because of a customs violation, and subsequently use that infraction as grounds for seizing the vessel’s cargo.
• For various reasons, many PSI participants are reluctant to discuss the specifics of the interdiction operations that they conduct. However, several officials associated with the initiative have lauded its success, with Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Rood declaring, in 2008, that “we literally had dozens of successful interdictions…”
• A few examples of PSI’s more high-profile successes:
— In October 2003, German and Italian forces cooperated on the successful interdiction of a German-registered ship, sent by the AQ Khan proliferation network, that was carrying nuclear enrichment technology to Libya.
— In 2007, four PSI member states interdicted a vessel carrying ballistic missile technology to Syria.
— In June 2011, US naval forces intercepted a Belize-flagged ship carrying North Korean missile technology, and forced it to return to North Korea.
THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY “HIGH-LEVEL POLITICAL MEETING”
• In May 2013, the US and more than 70 PSI partner states marked the 10th anniversary of PSI’s founding with a “High-Level Political Meeting” in Warsaw, Poland.
— The attending states pledged to take several steps to enhance the effectiveness of the initiative, including holding more regular PSI exercises; advancing binding international treaties regarding the illicit transfer of WMD-related materials; conducting outreach to non-PSI states and the general public; and bolstering the international sharing of interdiction-related knowledge and resources.
— The US pledged to move forward with its formal accession to the 2005 SUA Protocol and the Beijing Convention (see below), two international treaties with relevance to the objectives of PSI.
— The US also announced plans to partner with five other states to conduct annual PSI exercises in the Asia-Pacific region, and to promote such efforts in other regions.
PSI IS NOT ALONE
• PSI is not the only international initiative aimed at preventing the trafficking of WMD-related materials. Rather, it exists as part of a broader web of efforts and international agreements with likeminded objectives, such as:
— UN Security Council Resolution 1540: resolution passed in 2004 that requires states to pass domestic laws criminalizing the trafficking of WMD-related materials.
— International Maritime Organization’s Suppression of Unlawful Acts (SUA) Protocol 2005: protocol that “makes it an international offense to unlawfully…transport [WMD-related materials] by sea” and provides mechanisms by which such vessels can be interdicted and boarded.
— The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism: a partnership, founded in 2006, and currently involving 85 countries, that seeks to develop the interstate cooperation needed to prevent acts of nuclear terrorism.
— UN Security Council Resolution 1874: resolution passed in 2009 that authorizes states to inspect cargo being sent to and from North Korea, if a state has “reasonable grounds” to believe that that cargo contains WMD-related materials.
— The Beijing Convention: a convention passed in 2010 that requires states to pass domestic laws criminalizing the illicit air transfer of WMD-related materials.