Proliferation Security Initiative

Proliferation Security Initiative

The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) is a global effort that aims to stop trafficking of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems, and related materials to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern.[1] Launched by United States President George W. Bush in May 2003 at a meeting in Kraków, Poland, the PSI has now grown to include the endorsement of 98[2] nations around the world, including Russia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, New Zealand, Republic of Korea and Norway. Despite the support of over half of the Members of the United Nations, a number of major international powers have expressed opposition to the initiative, including India, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia.[3]



The idea of the PSI is generally credited to John R. Bolton, former US Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, after 15 Scud missiles found on board an unflagged North Korean freighter, the So Sen, heading towards Yemen had to be released when it turned out that international law did not allow them to be confiscated.[4] Given this apparent gap in international law, several months later US President Bush announced the initiative with his counterpart, Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski at Wawel Castle in Kraków on May 31, 2003.[5][6]

Initially, the PSI included 11 "core" states (Australia, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, the US and Poland). On September 4, 2003, in Paris, these countries detailed the principles governing the PSI in a document titled the "Statement of Interdiction Principles" . The document defines the activities which are to be undertaken by the initiative, specifically "to establish a more coordinated and effective basis through which to impede and stop shipments of WMD, delivery systems, and related materials flowing to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern, consistent with national legal authorities and relevant international law and frameworks, including the UN Security Council circumstances in which such operations may be carried out (at sea, on land, or in the air) including, most importantly, the requirement that any action taken must be consistent with international law."[7] Since the initial core group of 2003, PSI has expanded to include an "Operational Experts Group" (OEG) of 21 nations[8] as well as 77 other endorsee states. Key states who have endorsed the initiative since it's initial founding include major actors in international trade such as Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, as well as countries such as Turkey and the Republic of Korea, who are in geographically close proximity to states designated by United Nations Security Council resolutions as proliferation threats.

Nine nations have signed bilateral Mutual Shipboarding Agreements with the United States, allowing the mutual expedition of shipboarding requests for ships under those nations' flags. The nine are the Bahamas, Belize, Croatia, Cyprus, Liberia, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mongolia and Panama. Each of these nations maintains a large number of commercial vessels on their registries, and are often considered flag of convenience states.[9][10]

In April 2009, at a speech in Prague, Czech Republic, newly inaugurated President Barack Obama announced that he planned to transform the PSI into a "durable international institution,"[11] indicating that US promotion of the initiative would remain non-partisan and cross over from the previous administration. Indeed, Obama had made the strengthening of the PSI one of his campaign promises in the Presidential election of 2008[12] and continued to promote the PSI through the 2010 White House Nuclear Security Strategy.


The primary role of PSI participants is to abide by the Statement of Interdiction Principles, with the primary purpose of interdicting subject weapons and materials. Additionally, participants are recommended to enact legal statutes to facilitate effective interdiction and seizure of such items. Finally, participants are to take measures to ensure that their national facilities are not utilized to transfer illicit weapon cargoes.

In the United States, the program is managed by the National Security Staff working out of the White House, with The Pentagon and intelligence agencies playing lead roles. The United States Department of State Bureau of Nonproliferation also plays a role in the PSI, including leading foreign outreach efforts in the initiave, as well as maintaining the "Focal Point" for the initiative,[13] a US-led function to keep track of actions and other procedural matters.

Participation in PSI activities generally include OEG meetings, live exercises, command post exercises, tabletop exercises, seminars, workshops, and other WMD Interdiction training.[14] The Department of State notes that as of June 2011 PSI has held 25 OEG, Regional OEG or "High Level Political" meetings and 47 other exercises, workshops or "gaming" events.

Current members include:[15]

  • Afghanistan
  • Albania
  • Andorra
  • Angola
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Argentina
  • Armenia
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bahamas, The
  • Bahrain
  • Belarus
  • Belgium
  • Belize
  • Bosnia
  • Brunei Darussalam
  • Bulgaria
  • Cambodia
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Djibouti
  • El Salvador
  • Estonia
  • Fiji
  • Finland
  • France
  • Georgia
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Holy See
  • Honduras
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Iraq
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Jordan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Korea, Republic of[16]
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Kuwait
  • Latvia
  • Liberia
  • Libya
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Macedonia
  • Malta
  • Marshall Islands
  • Moldova
  • Mongolia
  • Montenegro
  • Morocco
  • The Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Oman
  • Panama
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Paraguay
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Qatar
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • Samoa
  • Saudi Arabia
  • San Marino
  • Serbia
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sri Lanka
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Tajikistan
  • Tunisia
  • Turkey
  • Turkmenistan
  • Ukraine
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Uzbekistan
  • Vanuatu
  • Yemen

Interdictions and Events

  • In September 2003, Germany obtained information that the BBC China, an Antigua and Barbuda-flagged vessel, was transporting nuclear-related materials to Libya as on behalf of the Abdul Qadeer Khan proliferation network. The German government dispatched intelligence experts to Italy, who conducted an inspection of the ship in the Mediterranean with the support of the US Navy. The inspection revealed that the ship's container number was fabricated and the German government confiscated the nuclear-related equipment (aluminum tubes that can be converted into centrifuges).[17] Although some sources cite this interdiction as an early success of the PSI, others dispute the initiative's relationship to this event.
  • In an embarrassing "failure" of the PSI, in April 2005 Germany authorized the export of a high-tech crane aboard the vessel Hual Africa that could be utilized in Iran's Shahab-4 missile program.[18]
  • In June 2009, the North Korean vessel Kang Nam believed to be headed to Myanmar turned around after being tracked by the US Navy. In the same timeframe, two Japanese and one Korean man were arrested for trying to import WMD technology to Myanmar. After this incident, North Korea claimed that it would engage in military action in retaliation for any searching of its ships.[19]
  • On September 22, 2009, South Korea seized North Korean containers transiting the port of Busan which contained protective clothing used in used to protect against chemical weapons.[20]
  • In December 2009, Thailand (which has not endorsed the PSI) stopped a North Korean shipment of mixed conventional arms and missile technology, based on information from US intelligence, which had been tracking the shipment since it departed Pyongyang. The ultimate planned destination of the materials was not determined, but it was thought to be heading towards Iran (to eventually arm Hezbollah or Hamas) or potentially Pakistan.[21] Months later, in February 2010 South Africa ordered the return of a shipment of North Korean military equipment to the port of Durban, ostensibly declared as heading to the Congo Republic.[22]
  • In June 2011, the New York Times reported on the turning around of the Belize-flagged North Korean Vessel MV Light, suspected of transporting missile technology to Myanmar. The USS McCampbell intercepted the ship and requested boarding, which was refused by the vessel operator despite the granting of authority from Belize, consistent with the US-Belize ship boarding agreement (see History above). The failure of the North Korean crew to comply with the orders of its flag arguably made it a "stateless" vessel under international maritime law, however the ship was allowed to return to North Korea. Although the materials were not "interdicted" or even inspected to verify a violation, the fact that the commodity never reached its planned target arguably made it a "success" for PSI.[23]


PSI activities include the regular holding of activities known as "exercises," which aim to test the authorities and capabilities of endorsee nations to interdict WMD-related materials. Exercises can include "live action" events such as ship boardings or container searches, or be limited to "tabletop" activities where subject matter experts explore legal and operational interdiction questions related to a fictional scenario. Major PSI exercises have included:

In August 2005, a multi-national maritime interdiction exercise, codenamed Exercise Deep Sabre, was conducted in Singapore as part of the PSI. The exercise, launched at the Changi Naval Base and conducted in the South China Sea, involved some 2,000 personnel from the military, coast guard, customs and other agencies of 13 countries, including Singapore, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Russia, the United Kingdom and the US. Ten ships and six maritime patrol aircraft were involved in the exercise that aimed to develop and practice effective procedures to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.[31] A second Deep Sabre Event (Deep Sabre II) was held in October 2009.[32]



Critics of PSI, such as China, Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), argue that the declared intent of PSI members to stop ships on the high seas is a violation of international law guaranteeing freedom of the seas. In particular, it's argued that Article 23 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) allows ships "carrying nuclear or other inherently dangerous or noxious substances" the right of innocent passage through territorial seas.[33] Opponents have asserted that the PSI gives states a license to carry out acts of "piracy" on the high seas.[34] It has also been argued the PSI's intent to "interdict nuclear materials and contraband" is a broad enough charter to include any naval operation anywhere and for any actual purpose. There are concerns that such actions could lead to war.[35] Indonesia's Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda argued that the PSI "initiative was not initiated through a multilateral process, but only a group of nations that have a common goal to conduct a certain initiatives." He also believed that PSI violates the UNCLOS. (Xinhua News Agency, March 17, 2006). Other critics have argued that PSI activities violate international laws regarding self-defense, Articles 19 and 88 of UNCLOS.[36] A large proportion of criticisms of the legality of PSI come from Indian news sources.[37][38][39] Criticism over the legality of PSI also focus around the fact that the initiative does not fall under any United Nations committee or body, and that doing so might legitimize it.[40]

Targets specific states

Many of academic and news articles about the initiative state that the PSI is focused specifically on states such as Iran and the DPRK.[41] North Korea has stated that it feels the PSI is an instrument for an aggressive war planned by the United States against the DPRK under the pretext of blockading ships and planes.[42] Indian publications discouraging participation in PSI have defined PSI as being specifically directed towards Iran and have stated that "India on no account should be a part of any anti-Iranian strategic initiative led by the United States."[43] Other potential suggested targets of PSI have included Syria, Myanmar, and Pakistan.

Despite these accusations and perceptions, all official PSI documentation and press releases state that PSI does not target any particular state, and that individual nations within the initiative are able to make self-determinations on what shipments are targeted. Several of the 98 PSI-endorsee states have robust diplomatic and trade relationships with Iran, the DPRK, and other states suggested as likely targets.

United States leadership and perception as "Bush initiative"

The preponderance of news sources and academic analysis on the initiative often describe PSI as being a "US-led" initiative.[44][45][46][47][48] Like the issue of whether PSI targets specific states, participants in the initiative itself explicitly deny that it is an effort "led" by the United States and that PSI is truly defined by the nonproliferation activities of 98 nations.

Much early criticism of the initiative also explicitly linked PSI to other international activities of the globally controversial George W. Bush administration, including namely the War on Terror, invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and a general international perception of US unilateralism outside of United Nations frameworks. Domestically in the United States, liberal critics referenced the PSI and its links to Under-Secretary Bolton as an extension of the Bush Administration's "Coalition of the willing."[49] However, over time much of these criticisms have subsided as PSI activities grew to have large bipartisan support[50] in the United States Congress and the PSI continued to be promoted under the Presidency of Barack Obama. With President Obama's continued promotion of the initiative and commitment to expand and institutionalize it, many initial opponents of the initiative have reduced their negative comments and begun efforts to explore joining the initiative in order to be recognized as a player in global non-proliferation efforts.[51]

Lack of transparency

Some criticism of PSI has been pointed towards the "secretive" nature of the initiative. It has been argued that "the secretiveness surrounding PSI interdictions and the methods employed make it difficult to evaluate its effectiveness or its legitimacy,"[52] and that the lack of formality and structure in the initiative are causes for concern.[53]

In a June 2006 speech, then-Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph claimed that between April 2005 and April 2006 the United States had cooperated with other PSI participants on "roughly two dozen" occasions to prevent transfers of concern; and in May 2005 Ulrik Federspiel, Denmark’s ambassador to the United States, asserted that "the shipment of missiles has fallen significantly in the lifetime of PSI."[54] However, references such as these provide no actual information on or evidence of interdictions which have occurred, leaving critics to remain skeptical of such numbers or of any "metrics" that prove the effectiveness of the initiative.

Responses to criticism

Much of the criticism about the PSI have been faced with counter-arguments, given the inaccurate or outdated nature of much of the information about the initiative. The most common negative portrayal of PSI represents it as an illegal, US-led effort to interdict third party vessels on the high seas. PSI proponents have countered that:

  • United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540[55] places an international obligation on all Members of the UN to take action against the proliferation of WMD, and its language matches closely with the PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles.
  • UNSCRs 1874 (on the DPRK's WMD program) and 1929 (on Iran's WMD program) explicitly call on or require UN Members to take interdiction and inspection actions against WMD-related materials that are consistent with PSI's principles. Thus inspection of such vessels are international mandates rather than "piracy," as accused by DPRK and Iran.
  • Article 4 of the 2005 Protocols to the "UN Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation" illegalize the illicit transfer of WMD-related materials by maritime vessel.[56]
  • The 2010 International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) "Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Relating to International Civil Aviation" and "Protocol Supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft" illegalize the illicit transfer of WMD-related materials by aircraft.[57]
  • Contrary to comments that the PSI works "outside" of international frameworks such as the United Nations, UN officials including Secretary General Kofi Annan have "applaud[ed] the efforts of the Proliferation Security Initiative to fill a gap in our defenses."[58]
  • In February 2004, the PSI was "expanded" beyond a military and intelligence effort to include greater cooperation with law enforcement entities.[59] However, a number of critical sources about PSI, such as SourceWatch[60] only include information about PSI dating from 2003 and do not recognize the evolution of PSI to have a greater focus on law and domestic authorities. PSI has largely evolved from a focus on interdiction of ships at sea to inspection in ports.[61]
  • The vast majority of PSI exercises (see exercises section above) include activities involving customs services, law enforcement officials, and focus on cargo traveling by air and land as well as sea - including cargo transiting within a country's territory. This directly contradicts the common perceptions of PSI as military, maritime or high seas-focused.
  • As noted within the PSI principles, PSI is an "activity, not an organization"[62] and grants no state any additional authorities to take action. All states are merely asked to take actions consistent with domestic and international law. Therefore PSI as an initiative explicitly recommends only actions within international and domestic legal authorities.
  • A large portion of states which have been critical of PSI consider themselves part of the Non-Aligned Movement, which indicates that while nominally claiming objections to the initiative for "legal" reasons, actual hesitation towards endorsement might be more aligned with political considerations, such as not wanting to be seen as supporting United States or "Western" initiatives.
  • China's objections for supposed legal reasons also come into question, as it has been identified as a neighboring country which has supported transshipment of DPRK's WMD materials, and "turns a blind eye to North Korea’s proliferation whenever it can get away with it."[63][64]

See also


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  5. ^ [ "Washington touts success of non-proliferation initiative"]. AFP. May 27, 2008. 
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  9. ^ For the text of these bilateral agreements, see this U.S. Department of State web page
  10. ^ For an academic analysis of shipboarding in the PSI context, see Fabio Spadi (2006). "Bolstering the Proliferation Security Initiative at Sea: A Comparative Analysis of Ship-boarding as a Bilateral and Multilateral Implementing Mechanism". Nordic Journal of International Law. doi:10.1163/157181006778666614. 
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  18. ^,1518,353917,00.html
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  21. ^ Fuller, Thomas; Sanger, David E. (December 14, 2009). "Officials Seek Destination of North Korean Arms". The New York Times. 
  22. ^ MacFarquhar, Neil (February 26, 2010). "North Korean Military Parts Were Intercepted, U.N. Says". The New York Times. 
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  31. ^ [1].
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  39. ^ The Times Of India. 
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  47. ^ "Singapore joins U.S.-led security initiative". The Hindu (Chennai, India). January 13, 2004. 
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External links

Anti-PSI links

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