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U.S., Allies to Strengthen WMD Initiative

Ian Williams

The United States and other participants in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) will seek new legal authorities to conduct interdictions of shipments of goods related to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and will begin conducting more-regular interdiction exercises, the U.S. State Department announced in a May 28 press release.

The announcement came after delegates from 72 states met for a high-level political meeting in Warsaw May 27-28 to commemorate the initiative’s 10th anniversary and discuss its future. The PSI seeks to increase participants’ capacity to interdict illegal trafficking of nonconventional weapons, their delivery systems, and related materials through international cooperation. The initiative, which was launched by President George W. Bush in May 2003, is an informal, voluntary arrangement without a permanent institutional structure. To date, 102 countries have endorsed the PSI.

At the Warsaw meeting, the United States pledged to finalize accession to the 2005 protocol to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and the 2010 Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Relating to International Civil Aviation. The conventions criminalize the transportation by ship or aircraft of materials related to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

The PSI itself does not create new law. Instead, it relies on existing legal instruments to give states the authority to conduct interdictions. The United States signed the maritime convention in 2006 and the aviation convention in 2010, but the Senate has yet to approve them.

The event in Warsaw was the first high-level meeting in five years. Most planning for the initiative takes place during meetings of the PSI Operational Experts Group, which occur more frequently. The experts group comprises 21 states, primarily from Europe and North America.

In its 2010 National Security Strategy document, the Obama administration pledged to turn the initiative into a “durable international effort.” A recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said the initiative could benefit from reforms such as increasing the experts group’s geographic diversity. In a June 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a U.S. State Department official said there had been no discussion of reforming the experts group at the Warsaw meeting.

The official said that the United States is aiming to promote PSI participation in Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere.