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U.S., Allies Plan Future of Anti-WMD Smuggling Program

By Chris Schneidmiller

Global Security Newswire

South Korean army special forces troops participate in an October 2010 Proliferation Security Initiative drill. The United States and Poland are organizing a May 28 meeting in which high-level delegates will consider the future of the WMD smuggling prevention program (AP Photo/South Korean Defense Ministry). South Korean army special forces troops participate in an October 2010 Proliferation Security Initiative drill. The United States and Poland are organizing a May 28 meeting in which high-level delegates will consider the future of the WMD smuggling prevention program (AP Photo/South Korean Defense Ministry).

WASHINGTON – Delegates from the United States and dozens of partner nations will gather later this month in Poland to help chart the future of a multilateral program intended to catch attempts to smuggle weapons of mass destruction and their components.

The May 28 high-level political meeting in Warsaw will mark the 10th anniversary of the Proliferation Security Initiative’s inception under President George W. Bush.

The meeting “will give endorsers of the initiative an opportunity to review the accomplishments of the last 10 years, leverage those accomplishments to further focus the initiative’s efforts, and provide strategic direction for the next years of activity,” the State Department said this week.

Acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller discussed the upcoming gathering last week in Washington with Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Boguslaw Winid. Seventy-five nations have already declared their intention to send deputy foreign minister-level representatives, according to the Polish Embassy in Washington.

“The high-level political meeting answers to the need for a demonstration of political engagement and practical approach to nonproliferation, and will set the PSI action agenda for the next few years,” the embassy said on Thursday in response to questions from Global Security Newswire.

Both the Polish Embassy and the State Department did not offer more details regarding anticipated outcomes of the meeting.

Each of the PSI program’s 102 participating nations agrees to a “Statement of Interdiction Principles” under which they pledge to collaborate in preventing the illicit movement by states or nonstate entities of unconventional weapons, delivery vehicles and arms components within their territories or on the high seas.

Actual interdictions are rarely publicized, making it difficult to know how successful the multilateral collaboration has actually been in heading off WMD proliferation.

“Endorsing states have undertaken numerous interdiction activities,” the State Department said in e-mailed comments. “Unfortunately, due to the sensitive nature of the activities, we are not in a position to share any additional specifics.”

However, State pointed to the May 2011 interception of a suspected North Korean proliferation effort as an indicator of what Washington and its partners can do together.

The Belize-flagged M/V Light was reportedly carrying missile technology from North Korea to Myanmar, though State told GSN only that the vessel was suspected of hauling “illicit cargo in violation of numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

The United States worked with Belize and a number of other governments to prevent the cargo from reaching its destination, according to the State Department. The crew denied a U.S. Navy warship's request to board the vessel but ultimately turned back to North Korea.

Costs associated with the initiative are also hard to pin down. Spending differs annually in relation to the number of drills and other operations, their scope and location, State said. U.S. financing is also derived from multiple revenue sources, such as operation and maintenance funds that pay for a naval vessel that participates in a PSI drill.

While President Obama four years ago called for the program to become a “durable international institution,” seven House lawmakers in March claimed the Proliferation Security Initiative had “languished” under his administration.

The State Department countered that “the administration strongly supports the PSI, and the upcoming 10th anniversary meeting concretely shows we are making PSI a durable international effort as President Obama outlined in his 2009 Prague speech.”

South Korea, Thailand and six other nations have joined the program since 2009, and 14 exercises have been held over the past four years, State noted.

That program of regular exercises and workshops serves to strengthen nations’ antiproliferation capabilities and to boost cooperation, according to the Polish Embassy.

The upcoming meeting will call for new PSI participants, establish a “more regular schedule” of exercises and other capacity-building programs, and strengthen efforts to ensure governments have the assets needed to ensure they are able to support WMD interdiction.

In that fashion it will promote Obama’s goal of ensuring the program remains a core asset to global nonproliferation activities, State said.

“We anticipate that states will make declarations of concrete actions to reinforce the tangible aspects of PSI, which can include conducting events, participating in outreach, contributing to the critical capabilities and practices effort, or strengthening their own capabilities and authorities to conduct interdictions,” the department said.

The political meeting is expected to be followed by a half-day experts’ session on May 29 that will focus on PSI events and capabilities.

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