"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Letters to the Editor

Jofi Joseph is to be congratulated on his well-balanced feature article on the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in the June 2004 Arms Control Today. With the Russian Federation joining at the end of May and Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) promising to expand the PSI if elected president, the initiative has gained some important momentum.

In reality, however, there are many legal and practical obstacles to expansion. As Joseph points out, the PSI must be put on a firmer legal footing and better linked with existing arms control mechanisms if it is to fulfill its promise. Although most activities within the PSI framework would not breach international law, interception of foreign merchant vessels and confiscation of their cargoes on the high seas would. This is a difficult hurdle the PSI must cross.

In addition to making it an internationally recognized offence to transport [weapons of mass destruction (WMD)] and their delivery systems on commercial vessels, other measures that might enhance the effectiveness of the PSI include expanding the membership through regional outreach activities; expanding the scope to include other forms of illicit trafficking; new measures to place legal responsibility on flag states, shippers, and masters to ensure that their cargoes are WMD-free; development of an international maritime tracking system with global coverage; and increased congressional and parliamentary oversight of PSI activities in participating states.

Can interdiction stop proliferation? Well, as with other anti-proliferation measures, it can help slow the pace of proliferation, but it can’t stop it completely. Only a universal ban on nuclear weapons will effectively deal with nuclear proliferation. Ironically, George W. Bush has set in motion an initiative with the potential to form part of an effective policing mechanism for such a ban.

Dr. Ian Davis is executive director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), a foreign policy think tank based in London and Washington, D.C. He is co-author of a new BASIC report, “Sailing Into Uncharted Waters? The Proliferation Security Initiative and the Law of the Sea,” which is available at http://www.basicint.org.