International Smuggling Networks: Weapons of Mass Destruction Counterproliferation Initiatives

Testimony Defense

International Smuggling Networks: Weapons of Mass Destruction Counterproliferation Initiatives

June 23, 2004 20 min read
Baker Spring
Baker Spring
Former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy
Baker is a former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy

Statement of Baker Spring Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs "International Smuggling Networks: Weapons of Mass Destruction Counterproliferation Initiatives" June, 23 2004

Mr. Chairman, it is an honor to have the opportunity to testify before this distinguished Subcommittee on the networks smuggling weapons and weapons technology and the Bush Administration's efforts to combat this source of proliferation.

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Mr. Chairman, the policy of the United States for combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has rested on four pillars. These four pillars are: 1) deterring attacks on the U.S. and its friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction; 2) maintaining the ability to defend against such attacks; 3) preemptive attacks against those that would threaten the U.S. and its friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction and against whatever capabilities they may possess; and 4) arms control, which is designed to limit the access of hostile forces to these kinds of weapons and their delivery systems.

This four-part policy remains the foundation of the U.S. effort for combating proliferation, despite the fact that those who seek to threaten the U.S. and its allies are a different cast of characters from those of the Cold War era and their capabilities differ. Two significant differences are that rogue states and terrorist organizations are now at the forefront of those that threaten the U.S. and they support and are supported by a shadowy network of traffickers in weapons and weapons technology. The trick is to fashion these four essential tools into a coherent policy for combating proliferation that is properly suited to countering the capabilities that either are now or in the future could be in the hands of such rogue states and terrorist groups.

The Bush Administration is pursuing a number of specific initiatives to attack the proliferation threat posed by international networks that traffic in weapons of mass destruction and weapons technology by interdicting relevant shipments in transit. These include the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), the Container Security Initiative (CSI), the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), and the initiative under the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) program. Among these, however, the PSI is the initiative most directly related to countering proliferation, as opposed to preventing attack or providing for homeland security. Thus, I will focus my remarks on the PSI.

The PSI seeks to coordinate the actions of individual states in interdicting shipments of weapons, weapons components, and weapons production equipment. Experts have defined the PSI as a counterproliferation activity. I see it more as an arms control activity, albeit an aggressive one, because it is designed to keep weapons out of the hands of hostile actors more than a means to deter, defend against or preempt attacks with weapons of mass destruction.

By spearheading PSI, the Bush Administration has taken a major step toward balancing international and national authority in controlling weapons proliferation. This approach allows each participating state to make a contribution toward interdicting relevant shipments in a way that is consistent with its national laws and policies. By sidestepping the "least-common-denominator" approach for establishing international non-proliferation policy that is inherent in the consensus-based decision-making process of an international treaty regime, the PSI has already demonstrated that it will make a powerful contribution toward stemming proliferation.

As a means of hindering proliferation, multilateral arms control has become too dependent on a treaty regime managed by cumbersome international bureaucracies. This dependency weakens the critical effort to control the proliferation of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons and their delivery systems by depriving it of needed flexibility and access to a wider variety of tools. Augmenting the treaty regime and its institutions--e.g., the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- necessarily depends on encouraging individual states to exercise their sovereign authority to control proliferation.

Non-proliferation should not remain an effort in which centralized international authorities seek to override state sovereignty. Rather, the international treaty regime should share with national authorities the responsibility for addressing proliferation.


President George W. Bush proposed the PSI, in general terms, in Poland at the Group of 8 (G-8) summit on May 31, 2003. Specifically, the President stated:
And I call on America's G-8 partners to follow through on their financial commitments so that we can stop proliferation at one of its sources. When weapons of mass destruction or their components are in transit, we must have the means and authority to seize them. So today I announce a new effort to fight proliferation called the Proliferation Security Initiative. The United States and a number of our close allies, including Poland, have begun working on new agreements to search planes and ships carrying suspect cargo and to seize illegal weapons or missile technologies. Over time, we will extend this partnership as broadly as possible to keep the world's most destructive weapons away from our shores and out of the hands of our common enemies.

The first follow-up meeting of the core group of PSI nations was in Madrid, Spain, on June 15, 2003. At this meeting, the participating states agreed to an initiative describing the strategies for intercepting suspicious cargoes, including those that might include chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons or missiles, as well as missile components.

The second meeting was on July 9-10, 2003, in Brisbane, Australia. This meeting focused on establishing the most effective modalities for interdiction activities. The conference found that information sharing among participating states is essential to effective interdiction. The Brisbane conference also supported steps for strengthening domestic non-proliferation laws in participating states, including enhanced export controls.

The third meeting of core PSI participants, in Paris, France, on September 4, 2003, was perhaps the most important. At this meeting, the principles governing the PSI were established. The 11 states agreed to four principles, which call on all states concerned about proliferation to:

1. Take steps to interdict the transfer or transport of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems, and related systems to and from states and non-state actors of "proliferation concern";
2. Adopt streamlined procedures for rapid exchange of information regarding suspected proliferation activity;
3. Strengthen both national legal authorities and relevant international law to support PSI commitments; and
4. Take specific actions to support interdiction of cargoes of WMD, delivery systems, and related materials consistent with national and international laws--including not transporting such cargoes, boarding and searching vessels flying their flags that are reasonably suspected of carrying such cargoes, allowing authorities from other states to stop and search vessels in international waters, interdicting aircraft transiting their airspace that are suspected of carrying prohibited cargoes, and inspecting all types of transportation vehicles using ports, airfields, or other facilities for the transshipment of prohibited cargoes.

The fourth PSI meeting was in London, England, on October 9-10, 2003, and focused on broadening international support for the PSI principles adopted at the Paris meeting. Identifying the PSI as an inclusive global initiative, participants stated that over 50 countries had expressed support for the principles by the time of the London meeting.
The final PSI meeting of 2003 was an experts-level meeting in Washington, D.C., on December 16-17. The focus of this meeting was on how to conduct interdiction operations. In addition to the original participating states, representatives from Canada, Denmark, Norway, Singapore, and Turkey attended this meeting. Further, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz committed the U.S. Department of Defense "to making interdiction [under the PSI] an essential mission for [the U.S.] military."

The first PSI meeting of 2004 took place in Lisbon, Portugal, on March 4 and 5. Among the accomplishments at this meeting was a decision to prevent the facilitators of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including individual traders and companies, from engaging in this kind of weapons trade. PSI participants pledged to continue their efforts to broaden international support for the initiative.

The most recent PSI meeting took place in Krakow, Poland, on May 31st and June 1st. This meeting, which marked the first anniversary of the PSI, brought together representatives from over 60 governments worldwide to coordinate their efforts to counter shipments of weapons of mass destruction and supporting technologies.


While planning and organizing the PSI, the participating states are also undertaking a series of training exercises and interdiction operations. These activities demonstrate that the PSI is not just a series of meetings: It is resulting in concrete actions to stem the flow of dangerous materials and equipment to those states and non-state actors that wish to obtain biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological weapons and the missiles to deliver them.


PSI nations have undertaken a number of training exercises since the adoption of the interdiction principles in September 2003. Among these are:
1. An Australian-led maritime interdiction training exercise in the Coral Sea in September 2003;
2. A British-led air interdiction command post exercise in London in October 2003;
3. An October 2003 maritime interdiction training exercise in the Mediterranean Sea, led by Spain;
4. A November 2003 maritime interdiction training exercise in the Mediterranean Sea, led by France;
5. A January 2004 maritime interdiction training exercise in the Arabian Sea, led by the U.S.; and
6. An Italian-led air interception training exercise in February 2004.

Interdiction Activities

Despite the fact that the PSI is only a little more than a year old, the participating states have already undertaken interdiction operations. Bush Administration officials have stated, however, that these operations will be announced or discussed in public in only a few cases. The speed of the response signals one of the core strengths of the PSI: the demonstrated ability to bring to bear the existing assets and capabilities of member states without the exhausting and time-consuming effort of building a large international bureaucracy.

An important, publicly announced case concerned an attempt to ship centrifuges for producing nuclear weapons material to Libya. President Bush described the interdiction in a February 11, 2004, speech on countering the threat of weapons of mass destruction. According to President Bush, U.S. and British intelligence identified the shipment as the products of a Malaysian facility and tracked its initial delivery to Dubai. There, the equipment was transferred to a German-owned ship, the BBC China. After the BBC China passed through the Suez Canal, German and Italian authorities stopped the ship and unveiled the clandestine cargo of centrifuge parts.

In December 2003, Libya announced its intention to terminate its nuclear and chemical weapons programs and forgo a biological weapons program. While it cannot be proven, it is reasonable to assume that the interdiction contributed to Libya's decision, since U.S. and British officials confronted Libyan officials regarding the interdiction prior to the announcement.


Given the early indications of success under the PSI, the U.S. and other participating states should use it as a basis for continuing to expand the tools for combating proliferation. In reality, the PSI represents a new approach to arms control: an approach designed not to replace the existing treaty-based regime, but to augment it by expanding the arms control effort. Given the current context, the ongoing effort to build and strengthen the PSI should be directed according to the following guidelines:

Guideline #1: Foster healthy competition with the institutions of the treaty-based non-proliferation regime. The treaty-based international non-proliferation regime should not have monopolistic powers. With few exceptions, this regime has dominated the world of arms control in the area of non-proliferation. As a result, it exhibits the classic weaknesses associated with any monopoly. It is large, slow, complacent, and lacking in creativity. It is easily distracted and drawn into matters tangential to its primary purpose. The bureaucracies that manage the regime seem more interested in self-protection and perpetuation than in meeting new demands.

The following are just some of the shortcomings that have surfaced with the treaty-based regime and its affiliated bureaucracies over the years:

  • Debate over the NPT has become more focused on the tangential issue of "general and complete disarmament" than on the object and purpose of the treaty, which is stemming the spread of nuclear weapons.
  • The BWC is inherently unverifiable. Nevertheless, considerable effort was put into the unachievable goal of crafting a verification protocol to the treaty. Predictably, this effort failed in July 2001.
  • The CWC is unenforceable. The result is that significant chemical arsenals will remain intact for the foreseeable future, despite the treaty's assertion that it will "exclude completely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons." The CWC represents a wet blanket for creative efforts to address the enduring chemical weapons threat.
  • The CTBT will not be brought into force, but this fact has had little impact on those pursuing a futile effort to find a magic formula for bringing it into force. As a result, the CTBT has become yet another distraction in the effort to stem nuclear proliferation.
  • The OPCW Director General was dismissed for mismanagement in 2002.
  • The IAEA underestimated the scope of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

C learly, the international treaty-based regime for combating proliferation could use some healthy competition. Thus, the PSI should not be pursued as a replacement for the treaty-based regime but as a supplement. Under Secretary of State John Bolton has confirmed the U.S. government's intention to participate in the PSI on this basis.

In essence, the PSI--and any additional non-proliferation initiatives or activities of a similar nature--should serve as a force to counter the monopolistic behavior present in the treaty-based regime. In effect, they should represent new entrepreneurial players in the non-proliferation arms control market. Institutions such as the NPT, the CWC, the IAEA, and the OPCW should be forced to compete.

Guideline #2: Resist the temptation to build cumbersome international bureaucracies. Under Secretary of State John Bolton has noted on several occasions that the PSI is "an activity rather than an organization." This is appropriate. As noted earlier, the PSI has resulted in a series of substantive exercises and actual interdiction operations, despite commencing less than a year ago. This has been possible because the member states are focused on their interdiction activities and not on building a bureaucracy.

The OPCW, by comparison, is seven years old and, by its own account, has been focused on building an international bureaucracy. The OPCW Web site boasts that the organization has 158 member countries (as of the end of 2003) and a staff of 500 people from 66 countries, communicates in six different languages, spends about 60 million euros annually, and forces "big, rich countries" to finance the majority of its operations while "some smaller and/or poorer countries pay as little as one thousandth of one percent of the budget." Clearly, the OPCW leadership is not focused on fashioning a "lean and mean" organization that is results-oriented.

As the PSI matures, however, pressure to "institutionalize" will likely grow. This pressure should be resisted. Building an international bureaucracy will only distract PSI participating states from performing the essential function of interdicting weapons-related shipments. The same bias against institutionalization should be applied to any future PSI-related companion initiatives.

Guideline #3: Harness the power of sovereign states. Harnessing the power of sovereign states would make contributions to controlling proliferation that the international treaty-based regime cannot match. The PSI is completely dependent on the determination and assets of its participating states to interdict weapons-related shipments. This is a source of strength, not weakness. This approach, along with a relatively select membership, allows the PSI to avoid the least-common-denominator decision-making process associated with the treaty-based non-proliferation regime. It also allows the PSI to take advantage of the capabilities of its participating states.

The comparison with the CWC is useful. As noted earlier, as of the end of 2003, the OPCW had 158 member countries in its Conference of State Parties. Article VIII of the CWC directs that decisions by the Conference of State Parties on substantive matters should, if at all possible, be by consensus. At a minimum, such decisions require a two-thirds majority of the member states present and voting. Needless to say, a bias toward consensus among 158 countries--including countries determined to cheat on their non-proliferation obligations--is not a formula for efficient decision-making.

Further, the CWC established the OPCW. The OPCW was built from scratch with in-house capabilities and designed to be at arms length from the governments of the member countries. This effectively made the OPCW a separate power center--opposite the member countries and their governments--and blocked its access to most contributions that the governments might otherwise make toward fulfilling the CWC's purpose.

The PSI is currently designed to take advantage of the capabilities of its participating countries and avoid creating a separate power center. By harnessing these capabilities--as opposed to striking a pose of neutrality among the participating states--the PSI enables rapid-fire decisions and will have an impact on stemming proliferation that far outstrips the modest size of its membership.

Former Secretary of State George Shultz spoke of the importance of the nation-state system in February in a speech at the Library of Congress. His words should help guide the PSI. He stated:

First and foremost, we must shore up the state system. The world has worked for three centuries with the sovereign state as the basic operating entity, presumably accountable to its citizens and responsible for their well-being. In this system, states also interact with each other to accomplish ends that transcend their borders. They create international organizations to serve their ends, not govern them.

Guideline #4: Avoid quid pro quo deals that compromise the mission. The PSI is keenly focused on interdiction activities. Likewise, the designers of the initiative have avoided adopting competing priorities within the initiative. This is a wise choice. Adopting competing priorities would necessarily dilute the purpose of the PSI and lessen its effectiveness.

By contrast, the desultory treaty-based non-proliferation regime is defined by competing priorities that are a direct result of quid pro quo deals codified by the treaties themselves. For example, the NPT codifies a deal between nuclear supplier states and non-weapons states. The deal commits the supplier states to support peaceful nuclear programs in the non-weapons states, and the non-weapons states commit to forgo nuclear weapons.

The problem is that a non-weapons state like Iran can use the international commitment to support its peaceful activities both to facilitate and to shield from public view an illegal nuclear weapons development and acquisition program. President Bush spoke of this shortcoming in his February 11 speech: "These [proliferating] regimes are allowed to produce nuclear material that can be used to build bombs under the cover of civilian nuclear programs."
This is not to say that quid pro quo arrangements such as those in the NPT are always a bad choice, but to recognize that such arrangements are a source of weakness in the agreements and treaties that use them. It is essential to recognize, as well, that is a weakness that need not apply to all non-proliferation agreements and initiatives. The founders of the PSI have avoided resorting to these kinds of arrangements, and the PSI is stronger for it.


Consistent with the guidelines outlined above, Members of Congress could make five specific recommendations to the Bush Administration regarding the PSI and its broader policy for using arms control to combat proliferation. These recommendations would assist in strengthening the PSI and expanding the concept to other areas through similar initiatives.
None of these recommendations are legislative. Embedding the PSI in domestic law would likely undermine the responsiveness of the initiative in fulfilling its defined responsibilities for stemming proliferation. Rather, these are recommendations that individual Members of Congress could suggest to the Bush Administration in private meetings or public hearings.

Recommendation #1: Focus on cracking down on domestic sources of proliferation within PSI member states uncovered in the Khan investigation. Recent press accounts indicate that in several instances, European sources supplied nuclear weapons production components to Abdul Qadeer Khan's nuclear black market operation. One account charges that Peter Griffin, a British citizen living in France, was a middleman in a project to make centrifuge components in Libya. The article goes on to say that machines for this project came from Spain and Italy. France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom are all PSI countries.

Whether or not the specific charges are true, the successful penetration of the Khan nuclear black market network is clearly providing numerous leads to the original sources of nuclear weapons production components. Further, it appears that in a number of cases PSI states are the sources of these components. Members of Congress should press the Bush Administration to obtain a commitment from all PSI states that they will work aggressively to follow the leads resulting from the penetration of the Khan network and work to shut down any supplier operations within their borders.

While this recommendation would expand the mandate of the PSI beyond interdiction, this is a limited expansion and will not serve to distract the PSI from its central mission. President Bush has already called on PSI states to cooperate in the area of law enforcement. Further, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on April 28th that directs member states to "adopt and enforce appropriate effective laws which prohibit any non-State actor to manufacture, acquire, possess, develop, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery…."

Recommendation #2: Forswear any international employees under the initiative. PSI countries should not succumb to the temptation to build the PSI into an international bureaucracy. Such a step would only duplicate a significant weakness in the existing treaty-based non-proliferation arms control regime.

One way to reduce the likelihood of this mistake is for PSI member states to issue a declaration that the PSI will not hire staff. Rather, the declaration should state that the participating governments should provide the manpower required to support PSI activities and that these individuals will remain employees of those governments. Members of Congress should recommend that the Bush Administration propose such a declaration to other PSI countries.

Recommendation #3: Establish companion initiatives for dismantling weapons programs and verifying their destruction. The interdiction activities of the PSI are an essential part of an effective non-proliferation regime. Two other areas of an effective non-proliferation regime deserve similar initiatives: dismantlement of weapons programs and verification.
The PSI's core mandate is interdiction. As indicated earlier, expanding that limited mandate to cover law enforcement activities is appropriate. However, a further expansion of the PSI would only distract the initiative from its central mission and undermine its effectiveness. The better alternative is to pursue dismantlement and verification as separate initiatives.

The need for initiatives on dismantlement and verification occurs in the context of special agreements with would-be proliferating countries to abandon their weapons programs. Libya, for example, has recently made such a commitment. It is even possible, although unlikely, that North Korea could sign an agreement to dismantle its weapons programs as well. As a result, the U.S. could spearhead the creation of a Weapons Program Dismantlement Initiative (WDI) and a Non-Proliferation Verification Initiative (NPVI).

  • In a WDI, participating states would contribute teams of experts to assist in the dismantlement process. These experts, however, would remain employees of the participating governments, insofar as a WDI, like the PSI, would remain "an activity rather than an organization."
  • In an NPVI, the same concept would have participating states create teams to verify completion of the destruction process and certify that no new weapons programs emerge in the applicable states. This approach is consistent with Guideline #2 and Guideline #3 for directing the PSI and similar initiatives.

Without such initiatives, the temptation will be to turn destruction and verification responsibilities over to the international bureaucracies associated with the treaty-based regime. As noted in Guideline #1, these bureaucracies should not be given monopolistic control over non-proliferation activities.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that the U.S. and the United Kingdom are working with the IAEA and the OPCW to dismantle Libya's weapons programs. They did not just turn over responsibility for the destruction program to the IAEA and the OPCW. Using the team approach would be entirely appropriate in future cases.

Recommendation #4: Propose a fifth principle for the PSI on the provision of dual-use systems and components. This additional principle would commit participating states not to interdict shipments to would-be proliferating state of dual-use systems that could reasonably be assumed to provide a weapon production capability, even if they are ostensibly for peaceful purposes. Adopting this principle would signal that PSI countries would resist the kind of quid pro quo deal that weakens the nuclear non-proliferation regime, as described in Guideline #4.

The PSI should seek to raise the standards for non-proliferation and not just settle for improving operating procedures under the existing standards. Under current practice, non-nuclear NPT states, for example, are effectively entitled to a wide variety of dual-use nuclear equipment to support ostensibly peaceful nuclear programs. Much of this can be used in the production of nuclear weapons. Just because a non-nuclear state wants dual-use equipment, however, does not mean that it should get the equipment in every instance.
President Bush recognized this when he announced in his February 11 speech that he is seeking future restrictions on the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing equipment. As a result, it is entirely appropriate that the PSI countries agree to a principle that calls for blocking the transfer of dual-use equipment and components to any would-be proliferating country. Congress should recommend that the Bush Administration seek adoption of this new principle at a future meeting of PSI countries.

Recommendation #5: Use PSI partners to encourage outside support for PSI on a regional basis. PSI participants are seeking the support of other states for the initiative. As of October 2003, some 50 countries had expressed support for the PSI. Several weeks later, Under Secretary of State John Bolton told the Arms Control Association that outside support for the initiative was continuing to grow.

One of the reasons behind the momentum for outside support of the PSI is that Japan hosted a meeting of Asian nations to inform them about the initiative and ask for their support. This kind of regional approach to spreading support for the PSI should continue to pay dividends. Congress could suggest to the Bush Administration and other PSI governments that they host similar regional meetings.

Today's security requirements call for a system of international cooperation that is more flexible than the system used during the Cold War. This new system has been called "coalitions of the willing." While this term is used more commonly in the context of cooperation in defense activities and military operations, it is equally appropriate to describe a new system for arms control cooperation.


Mr. Chairman, the nation-state remains the primary component of the international system. The extent to which the international non-proliferation effort fails to account for this fact is the extent to which the effort is weakened. The PSI works within the structure of the nation-state system. It reinforces national sovereignty rather than weakening sovereignty by vesting enforcement authority in some supranational body like the United Nations. As a result, it strengthens the forces for non-proliferation worldwide by harnessing the strengths of the nation-state system.

Further, today's world is more complex and less predictable than during the Cold War. As a result, rigidly structured international coalitions cannot effectively respond to the rapid pace of threatening developments. The appropriate response is to create less formal and more loosely structured international coalitions that are more responsive and adaptive. This is the case with arms control as well as with military operations. The PSI shows how the "coalitions-of-the-willing" concept can be applied to arms control and non-proliferation.

The attacks of September 11, 2001, Mr. Chairman, serve as a warning to civilized nations of the intolerable risks associated with the unchecked proliferation of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. While arms control is only one of several tools for combating proliferation, it is an essential one. If arms control is left completely in the hands of ineffective and unaccountable international bureaucracies, this essential tool of non-proliferation will atrophy. The PSI serves to ensure that such an unfortunate outcome is not the result.


Baker Spring
Baker Spring

Former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy