Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)
PSI is an informal and voluntary partnership of states, without an organizational framework, treaty or permanent staff, which facilitates cooperation to stop the transport of WMD, missiles, and related technologies.
- U.S. President George W. Bush announced the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) on 31 May 2003.
PSI is not a free-standing initiative, but builds on wider efforts by the international community through existing treaties and regimes. The event that is widely considered to have triggered the launch of PSI occurred in December 2002 when a Spanish destroyer observed a suspicious vessel in the Arabian Sea. The Yemen-bound vessel—a Cambodian-registered freighter with a North Korean crew—was not flying a country flag indicating its country of registration. The Spanish crew requested the assistance of a U.S. naval vessel and boarded the ship, whereupon they found “15 North Korean-made Scud missiles with conventional warheads and the chemical propellant needed to launch them.” Since this discovery was not found in breach of any national or international law or agreement (North Korea, Cambodia, and Yemen are not members of the Missile Control Technology Regime), the Cambodian vessel was allowed to continue on its route with its cargo.
The goal of PSI is pre-emptive interdiction, which includes detaining and searching ships and aircraft as soon as they enter PSI members’ territorial waters or national airspace; denying suspicious aircraft over- flight rights; grounding planes when they stop to refuel in member countries or in states willing to cooperate on a case-by-case basis; and boarding and searching ships registered in a PSI member nation or operating under a flag of convenience of another state prepared to authorize an interdiction in a particular instance.
U.S. officials emphasize that PSI is intended to enhance existing export control enforcement mechanisms rather than to re-write international law.
The primary role of PSI participants is to abide by a Statement of Interdiction Principles aimed at interdicting illicit transfers of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems, and related materials. The initiative seeks to develop partnerships of states working together, employing their national capabilities to develop a broad range of legal, diplomatic, economic, military, and other tools to interdict threatening shipments via air, land, and sea. Additionally, participating states agree to enact measures to ensure that their national facilities are not utilized to transfer illicit weapon cargoes.
From 24-26 January 2023, the United States and Canada co-hosted the Western Hemisphere PSI Workshop in Florida. The workshop aims to enhance the region’s WMD counter-proliferation capacity and long-term commitment to the PSI.
From 6-8 December 2022, the United States and Morocco co-hosted the North African PSI Workshop in Tangier, Morocco. The workshop was the first of its kind in the region and demonstrated partnership and commitment to WMD counter-proliferation.
From 28-29 October 2021, under the PSI Asia-Pacific Exercise Rotation series, Singapore hosted Exercise Deep Sabre 2021 with 130 participants in a hybrid format.
On 12 January, 17 PSI-endorsing states released a statement reiterating their support for upholding UNSCR 2375 and UNSCR 2397. Both resolutions pertain to limiting DPRK’s proliferation efforts and were passed in late 2017.
From 2-3 May, the United States and Argentina jointly conducted a land-based interdiction exercise in Argentina.
From 15-16 May, France hosted a high-level political meeting for the PSI, marking the 15th anniversary of the regime.
From 24-26 July, six countries participated in the maritime interdiction exercise “Pacific Shield 18” in Japan. This exercise marks the fifth iteration of the Asia-Pacific Exercise Rotation.
From May 9-11, the United States and Jordan conducted a capacity-building workshop named Exercise Eager Lion 2017. The workshop reviewed best practices for interdiction of WMD materials and current outstanding threats.
On 28 October, the United States and Republic of Korea held the 49th Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) in Seoul. The United States representatives expressed appreciation for the ROK’s continued active role in the PSI.
On 27 January, the United States hosted the first PSI Mid-Level Political Meeting to create a plan for the future of the PSI by building upon the results of the 2013 High-Level Political Meeting. Assistant Secretary Thomas Countryman chaired the one-day conference. At the end of the conference, France agreed to host the 2018 Fifteenth Anniversary High-Level Political Meeting.
From 12-14 April, the Operational Experts Group (OEG) met in London. The OEG discussed developments in counter proliferation, as well as capacity building measures and the legal basis for PSI interdictions.
From 27-30 September, Singapore hosted exercise Deep Sabre. The exercise consisted of table top training scenarios and at-sea interdiction training.
On 6 May, the United States and the Republic of Cyprus jointly organized a PSI workshop on “options for inspecting, identifying, and seizing interdicted shipments of proliferation concern” in Cyprus. France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and the United Kingdom participated in the workshop.
On 26-28 May, the PSI annual meeting of the Operational Experts Group (OEG) was held in Ottawa, Canada. Participants discussed current proliferation trends and issues, including “maritime sanctions evasion, proliferation networks, tracing supply chains, the spread of chemical and biological weapons, finance aspects and technology transfer.”
On 30 January, 14 PSI member states took part in a Western Hemisphere Table Top Exercise in Miami, Florida. The exercise focused on interdiction and countering emerging threats in the shipment of weapons of mass destruction and their related materials. PSI’s new capacity building initiative, called the Critical Capabilities and Practices (CCP) framework, was presented, along with its associated toolkit, at this exercise.
On 29 April, Malaysia became the 103rd state to endorse the PSI.
On 13 May, delegations met at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, for the 2014 Proliferation Security Initiative and Operational Experts Group Meeting and Game. Officials in a variety of fields discussed challenges and opportunities in interdiction of WMD proliferation, and engaged in a table-top game to simulate critical security scenarios.
From 4-7 August, the United States and its Asia-Pacific regional partners hosted the PSI security exercise, Fortune Guard 2014, in Honolulu, HI. Like previous PSI exercises, the event enabled participating countries to enhance their capabilities in intercepting WMD materials, delivery devices, and other related materials. Fortune Guard 2014 is the first PSI event in the APER series of annual dedicated PSI exercises hosted on a rotating basis by regional partners. Participating countries conducted a tabletop exercise, a live sea exercise on the USNS Henry J. Kaiser, and a port exercise at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
From 27 January–7 February, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the United States co-hosted LEADING EDGE 13, a multilateral PSI exercise with operational expert group members and other PSI partners. The goal of the program was to provide an opportunity for nations to focus on critical elements of the WMD-interdiction process. This exercise coincided with unrest in the Middle East over Iran’s nuclear program. The program included tactics, techniques, and procedures with approximately 450 individual participants from 29 nations.
From 7–14 March, the United States led SAHARAN EXPRESS 13, a multilateral maritime exercise conducted with ten ships, four aircrafts, and fourteen nations. The ships made several sorties and stopped a vessel suspected to be in contravention of Gambian fishing license laws. The stated goals of this exercise were to improve the operations center communications, boarding tactical capability, and cohesion between regional countries in combatting growing West African security challenges.
On 28 May, the United States, Poland, 70 other partner states of the PSI, and three international organizations met in Warsaw to mark the PSI’s tenth anniversary. At the meeting, PSI states recognized the PSI’s role in non-proliferation and over 70 states affirmed four joint statements to further the PSI’s influence. These statements called for concrete, specific steps to expand the influence and impact of the PSI by deterring proliferators, promoting legally-binding international treaties to criminalize WMD-trafficking, sharing expertise and resources, and outreaching to new states.
On 4 August, nineteen countries, including PSI member states Argentina, Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, France, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and the United States, took part in the annual Fuerzas Aliadas PANAMAX exercise in Central America and the United States. U.S. Southern Command sponsored the 12 day exercise that focused on protecting the Panama Canal from attacks by extremists, natural disasters, and pandemic outbreaks.
From 20-21 November, the Southeastern European PSI Table Top Exercise was held in Zagreb, Croatia. Participants discussed, among other issues, proliferation challenges in the region, activities to combat weapons of mass destruction, proliferation-related UN Security Council resolutions, maritime security integration, export controls, and border security.
On 31 May, the Commonwealth of Dominica became the 99th state to endorse the PSI.
On 5 July, Saint Lucia became the 100th state to endorse the PSI.
From 3-5 July, Japan hosted a PSI air interdiction exercise in Sapporo City and Chitose City to deliver “a strong and clear message encouraging proliferation interdiction” and to promote and reinforce mutual cooperation and understanding amongst participating countries.
From 11-12 July, Poland hosted a regional PSI critical capabilities and practices (CCP) workshop in Warsaw. This workshop was designed to identify specific tools and resources which could be useful in conducting interdiction activities and to share experiences to help others develop capabilities for conducting interdictions.
On 1 August, the Dominican Republic became the 101st state to endorse the PSI.
On 20 November, Thailand became the 102nd state to endorse the PSI.
On 23-23 February, in Ulaanbaatar, the Government of Mongolia hosted a PSI bilateral conference with the United States. The conference consisted of a workshop and Table Top Exercise on how to better combat the spread of WMD. Participants from the United States were officials from various agencies such as Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the National Defense University, the Coast Guard and the Embassy to Mongolia. Mongolian participants included officials from the Ministry of Defense; Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs; Border Forces; Customs Office; National Police; General Intelligence Agency; Maritime Affairs Office within the Ministry of Roads, Transportation, and Urban Development; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the State Inspection Agency.
On 10 June, PSI-endorsing states undertook an effort to build critical capabilities and practices (CCP) for interdicting WMD in Honolulu, Hawaii. This was a cooperative and voluntary effort to increase the effectiveness of WMD interdiction for participating states.
On January 25, U.S. Central Command hosted exercise Leading Edge in Abu Dhabi. The multinational training exercise included 30 states, three of which participated as observers. The exercise involved a tactical phase where boarding teams were given training by the U.S. Coast Guard, an operational phase which addressed customs and law enforcement, and a tabletop strategic discussion about post-interdiction legal and customs issues. U.S. Ambassador Richard Olson delivered opening remarks at the training in which he stated that there have been over 38 exercises of this type involving 70 countries.
On 9 April Colombia announced its endorsement and participation in the PSI.
On 26 April, the Antigua and Barbuda signed a ship boarding agreement with the U.S., joining the PSI. The same day a new Coast Guard facility at English Harbor in Antigua was dedicated, providing a strategic base from which Antiguan maritime units can work and reducing overall response times to assistance requests and improving anti-drug interdiction capabilities.
On 11 May, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines concluded a ship boarding agreement with the U.S. and announced its endorsement of the PSI, bringing the number of participants in the PSI up to 98.
On 10 May-2 June, Exercise Phoenix Express 10 was conducted in the Mediterranean Sea. Led by the U.S. European Command, the exercise was designed to improve cooperation and interoperability among partners from the United States, Europe, and Africa.
On 14-15 September, a Regional Operational Experts Group Meeting of the Asia-Pacific was held in Cairns, Australia in conjunction with the Exercise Pacific Protector 10 which was held on 16 September.
On 14-15 October the Republic of Korea hosted Exercise Eastern Endeavor. The exercise aimed to prevent illicit weapons of mass destruction proliferation through greater coordination and cooperation between regional partners.
On 28-29 October, the Republic of Korea hosted the PSI [HCJ1] Regional Workshop with 12 participating states.
On 1-2 November, an Operational Experts Group Meeting was held in Tokyo, Japan, in which 21 states participated.
Exercise Phoenix Express 09, a EUCOM-led maritime interoperability exercise, was held in the Mediterranean Sea from 22 April to 13 May. Fifteen countries participated in the exercise.
On 12-14 May, an Operational Experts Group and Outreach Meeting was held in Miami, Florida.
On 26 May, in response to the North Korean nuclear test the preceding day, the Republic of Korea announced its support for the PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles and became a participant in the PSI. Prior to this action, the DPRK had warned that the ROK’s joining the PSI would be considered an “act of war.”
On 31 May, the United States, Poland, and other partner nations marked the sixth anniversary of the PSI.
On 22-24 June, the European Regional Operational Experts Group met in Sopot, Poland to discuss upgrading European cooperation in countering WMD proliferation and effective implementation of PSI goals and principles. Over 150 participants attended from 39 European countries, the European Union, NATO, and the primary non-European countries.
Exercise PANAMAX 09, a U.S. coordinated maritime exercise with a PSI scenario, is an annual exercise sponsored by U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and is designed to integrate a multinational task force in defense of the Panama Canal. The exercise was held from 11-22 September and included a multinational combined/joint task force of military units and personnel from 20 participating nations and observers from 11 nations. Thirty ships, 12 aircraft, and 4,500 people coordinated their efforts on both the Pacific and Atlantic sides of the Panama Canal.
Exercise Deep Sabre II was held at the Changi Naval Base in Singapore from 27-30 October. Designed to enhance national and international inter-agency coordination and interoperability among the PSI States, the exercise involved approximately 2,000 personnel, 18 ships, and eight aircraft from 19 PSI countries. The participating States include: Argentina, Australia, Brunei, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. In addition, Malaysia, India, and Pakistan, who are not PSI Member States, attended the exercise as observers. The exercise comprised a tabletop exercise on PSI-related issues, a simulated maritime interdiction operation of a merchant vessel suspected of carrying illegal WMD-related materials, and a port search demonstration where the vessel was diverted to shore to be searched by civilian enforcement agencies. This was the second multi-national maritime interdiction exercise held by Singapore under the PSI. The PSI Exercise Leading Edge, a U.S. hosted exercise in the Persian Gulf was also held in October.
On 4-6 February, an Operational Experts Group meeting was held in London.
On 10-12 March, Exercise Guistir 08, a maritime and port interdiction exercise, was hosted by Djibouti and France. The exercise involved Red Sea and Maghreb countries.
On 8-22 April, Exercise Phoenix Express 08, a maritime interoperability exercise, was hosted by the U.S. in the Mediterranean Sea.
On 12-14 May, Exercise Adriatic Shield 08, a maritime and port interdiction exercise was hosted by Croatia. Key participants included the Adriatic Sea countries, Poland, and the United States.
On 28 May, the fifth anniversary of PSI, a Senior Political Level Meeting was held in Washington, D.C. 88 States attended and adopted the “Washington Declaration for PSI 5th Anniversary Senior-Level Meeting.”
At the Asia Security Summit on 30 May, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee stated that the Republic of Korea was considering joining the PSI.
On 11-22 August, Exercise PANAMAX 08 was hosted by the U.S.
Also on 11 August, the United States and Commonwealth of the Bahamas signed a bilateral PSI Ship Boarding Agreement in Nassau. This is the ninth PSI ship boarding agreement signed by the United States. The agreement establishes procedures for obtaining approval for boarding and searching vessels suspected of carrying illicit shipments of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, or related materials in international waters. The Bahamas has the world’s third largest ship registry and serves as an open registry for shipowners from dozens of countries.
On 15-19 Sept, Exercise MARU 08 was hosted by New Zealand.
On 25-26 September, an Operational Experts Group Meeting was held in Paris, France.
On 15 March 2007, the Republic of Malta and the United States signed a bilateral PSI shipboarding agreement, which entered into force on 19 December 2007. This is the seventh PSI shipboarding agreement signed by the United States. The United States had already signed bilateral PSI shipboarding agreements with Belize, Croatia, Cyprus, Liberia, Marshall Islands, and Panama. These PSI shipboarding agreements provide authority on a bilateral basis to board sea vessels suspected of carrying illicit shipments of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, or related materials. Under the agreements, a vessel registered in the United States or the partner country suspected of carrying WMD-related cargo can upon request be confirmed, searched, and if needed detained by either party.
From 27 to 29 May 2007, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia hosted a PSI exercise “Adriatic Gate ’07” at the Port of Koper. The exercise simulated intercepting suspicious cargo en route to Slovenia. Three Adriatic countries—Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Croatia—also participated in the exercise, which also included representatives from the United States. An additional 40 countries were invited to observe the exercises. Lithuania hosted the PSI exercise “Smart Raven” from 26-27 April 2007. The exercise addressed the challenge of interdicting shipments of WMD by air. Twenty-two countries participated in the drill, which focused on enhancing the interoperability of PSI member states in order to combat the proliferation of WMD-related materials.
Exercise MARU 07 was hosted by New Zealand from 15-19 September. South Korea participated as an observer.
There was no plenary meeting held in 2007. In October 2007, the Operational Experts Group (OEG) convened a meeting in Greece. There was also an Experts Meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, from 26 to 28 March 2007 as well as a Proliferation Finance Workshop held in Washington, D.C. from 31 January to 1 February 2007.
In October 2007, seven states participated in “Pacific Shield ’07” hosted by Japan. The nations participating in the exercise were Australia, France, Britain, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, and the United States. The exercise involved 10 vessels and four aircraft. Senior officials from more than 40 countries, including India and Oman, were also on hand to observe the exercises. South Korea and China refrained from participating in the exercise, reportedly due to concerns of antagonizing North Korea. The aim of the exercise was to facilitate a real life ship interdiction of a vessel suspected of carrying WMD-related material. This was the second time Japan hosted a PSI exercise.
On 23 October, the United States and Mongolia signed a PSI ship boarding agreement, which entered into force 20 February 2008. This was the eighth ship boarding agreement signed by the United States.
In March 2006, Indonesia rejected an express request made by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to join the PSI, stating that the PSI contravenes provisions of the United Nations Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In June 2006, the Indonesian Defense Minister announced that his government was considering the possibility of Indonesia’s partial and ad hoc adherence to the PSI on a case by case basis.
The sixth plenary meeting took place on 23 June 2006 in Warsaw. The participants noted the achievements of the PSI, and the continuing priority placed by each on preventing the proliferation of WMD.
During the meeting, PSI participating states focused on deepening their on-going efforts in the three primary areas of activity: providing an effective platform, consistent with national and international law and frameworks, for impeding and stopping the trafficking in WMD and their means of delivery; improving national capacities to interdict shipments of proliferation concern; and expanding the network of participating states (75 states expressed support for active participation by June 2006).
At the meeting, participating states stressed the importance of maintaining the operational focus and nature of the PSI Operational Experts process and further developing its regional dimension. They also discussed the efforts of several PSI participating states to disrupt the financial mechanisms that support proliferators. They concluded that each participant should consider how its own national laws and authorities might be utilized or strengthened to identify, track, or freeze the assets and transactions of WMD proliferators and their supporters. In addition, the PSI participating states undertook to explore how PSI states can work cooperatively to prevent and disrupt proliferation finance, in furtherance of their obligations under UNSCR 1540 and 1673.
There was no plenary meeting held in 2005. There was a series of expert meetings throughout the year, and an air cargo workshop held in Los Angeles.
In September 2005, the People’s Republic of China announced that it would not be participating in the PSI because of concerns over the initiative’s legality.
From 4-5 March, the fifth plenary meeting took place at Palácio Foz, Lisbon. This meeting built on previous meetings and was attended by representatives from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Participants reaffirmed their determination to respond effectively to the threat represented by the proliferation and trafficking of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials worldwide. The participants also welcomed the commitments of Canada, Norway, and Singapore to the PSI.
The participants welcomed the call by President Bush to expand the role of the PSI to not only interdict shipments of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials, but to cooperate in preventing the proliferation of WMD facilitators, such as companies, individuals, or rogue nations, from participating in proliferation activities. They also recognized the contributions of other participants, namely the United Kingdom, which agreed to pursue greater cooperation through military, intelligence services, and law enforcement to shut down proliferation facilitators and bring them to justice.
Participants explored key steps necessary for the new, expanding role of the PSI, including identifying national points of contact and internal processes developed for this goal; developing and sharing national analyses of key proliferation actors and networks, their financing sources, and other support structures; undertaking national action to identify law enforcement authorities and additional tools or assets that could be used to stop proliferation facilitators.
Participants also agreed that while outreach was a necessary role, attention should be paid to flag states, transhipment states, overflight states, transit states, and coastal states, as these states have the potential to make significant contributions to counter-proliferation efforts by PSI members.
The proposed amendments to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA) were also discussed. They would criminalize the transportation of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials on commercial vessels at sea.
The participants noted that the PSI is operationally active, as six exercises took place around the world since the launch of the PSI. Several exercises were planned for 2004, including a US-led maritime interdiction in the Arabian Sea, a ground interdiction led by Poland, a maritime interdiction in the Mediterranean Sea, headed by Italy, a French-led simulated air interdiction, and a German-led exercise, dubbed “Hawkeye”, at the Frankfurt International Airport.
The First Anniversary Meeting of the PSI convened from 31 May to 1 June in Krakow, Poland. Attended by representatives of more than 60 States and hosted by Polish President Aleksander Kwaoeniewski, the meeting sought to increase international support for the PSI and promote wide-ranging cooperation in PSI efforts. It included several presentations regarding the status of the initiative and its future, as well as discussion of the various exercises that PSI states have taken part in. Those in attendance also addressed their broad goals for the PSI, emphasizing that its activities should not contradict national and international legal frameworks. Also at the conference, on 31 May, Russia announced that it would become a PSI member state.
The first meeting of the 11 nations involved with PSI was held on 12 June 2003 in Madrid, Spain. The Madrid meeting was unanimous on the “need to take active measures to stop the flow of WMD, missiles and related items to and from proliferators.” This reflected the international concern over the increased “trade in WMD, missiles and related items,” including the risk that these weapons “might fall into the hands of terrorists.”
The 11 PSI participants held a second meeting in Brisbane on 9-10 July in order to “move quickly on direct practical measures to impede the trafficking in weapons of mass destruction (WMD), missiles and related items.” The meeting was chaired by the deputy secretary of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Paul O’Sullivan, and built on the results from the Madrid meeting. It moved forward in translating the collective political commitment of PSI members into practical measures. The meeting defined actions necessary “to collectively or individually interdict shipments of WMD or missiles and related items at sea, in the air or on land.” The participants emphasized their willingness to take “robust and creative steps to prevent trafficking in such items,” while also emphasizing the need to “be consistent with international law.”
According to the chairman’s summary, PSI members agreed to effectively share information that they considered to be “vital to interdiction.” They also agreed to “strengthen and improve capabilities for the exchange of information and analysis between participants as a basis for cooperative action to impede WMD and missile trade.” The summary also stated that PSI members “supported the strengthening of the existing framework on national laws and export controls, multilateral treaties, and other tools that remain the international community’s main mean for preventing the spread of WMD and missiles.”
PSI participants considered the question of state and non-state actors of proliferation concern. They referred to the relevant statements of the G-8 Evian Summit on 1-3 June and the EU-U.S. Joint Statement on the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction on 25 June, which addressed countries of proliferation concern and non-state actors with particular reference to North Korea and Iran. PSI members have acknowledged that the PSI is a fast-track initiative that will require continued interaction among experts and policymakers.
The Paris Meeting of Core Participants, held 3-4 September, focused on “the further development of a statement of interdiction principles that will enable countries to better work together within the framework of domestic and international law to enhance and expand efforts to prevent the flow of WMD, missiles, and related technologies to and from countries of concern.” A key outcome of the meeting was the adoption of a Statement of Interdiction Principles, which clearly identifies concrete actions for interdicting shipments of WMD and their delivery systems and also binds participants to act within international and their own domestic law. Participants reaffirmed the importance of involving as many countries as possible to work towards stemming the flow of WMD and their delivery systems.
Participants at the Paris meeting also agreed to a series of maritime, air, and land interdiction training exercises. The first exercise, “Operation Pacific Protector,” was led by Australia from 12 to14 September in the Coral Sea. The exercise involved a US ship posing as a commercial Japanese flag vessel suspected of trafficking WMD-related material. Officials said the ship was tracked, boarded, and searched on the high seas by law enforcement and military participants. France provided military assets, Japan provided Coast Guard and law enforcement capabilities, Australia and the United States supplied military equipment, and other PSI nations participated solely as observers. The United Kingdom will host the next PSI meeting in October.