20 years of partnering to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction

(State Dept./M. Gregory)

By ShareAmerica

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) technology can spread in many ways. Components of WMD, their delivery systems or related materials may be hidden in cargo and transported by land, air or sea. They can be sold for cash, cryptocurrency, or through wire transfer. Or someone can pass along specialized knowledge or expertise.

The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which marks its 20th anniversary this year, provides a mechanism for countries to prevent or interdict WMD proliferation no matter how it occurs. The PSI provides a network for countries to share information on proliferation activities, as well as best practices for stopping proliferation and increasing their capabilities and authorities.

“It’s very important we work together to make sure that the proliferators out there have no safe harbor,” Thomas Zarzecki, director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Counterproliferation Initiatives, told ShareAmerica.

On May 30, the Republic of Korea will host the fourth High-Level Political Meeting of nations that have joined the PSI by endorsing its Statement of Interdiction Principles. Countries that endorse the PSI commit to:

  • Interdict WMD transfers consistent with their capabilities and national and international authorities.
  • Develop procedures for quickly sharing information with other countries.
  • Strengthen laws and policies to combat WMD proliferation.

Launched in Krakow, Poland, in 2003, the PSI has grown from an initial 11 endorsing countries to 106.

The U.S. Defense Department supports the Proliferation Security Initiative through exercises such as this WMD crime scene operations training in Tbilisi, Georgia, March 12, 2021. (Defense Threat Reduction Agency/Darnell Gardner)

The United States is committed to strengthening the PSI, which is a cornerstone of international efforts to stop the spread of WMD. The initiative helps countries share expertise and training needed to fulfill their commitments under treaties or other agreements such as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The High-Level Political Meeting, held once every five years, is the first to occur in Asia. At this meeting, nations will review the PSI’s past successes, survey the changing landscape of WMD threats and plan steps for addressing future challenges.

Zarzecki says that at the meeting, U.S. officials will seek to:

  • Assess how new and emerging technologies could increase risks from WMD.
  • Highlight the PSI’s benefits for nations that have not yet endorsed the initiative.
  • Ensure the PSI’s continued success by making future multilateral exercises more predictable and sustainable.

After the meeting, the Republic of Korea will host Exercise Eastern Endeavor 23 on May 31–June 1, which will focus on training for maritime interdiction. The multilateral exercise is part of the annual PSI Asia-Pacific Exercise Rotation and will include Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and the United States.

The United States and other PSI nations have held numerous other recent workshops and exercises to prepare to combat and deter WMD proliferation, including in Hawaii, Morocco, North Macedonia, the Philippines and Singapore.

The proliferation landscape makes it so “no one country can tackle such diverse challenges alone,” Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Defence Zaqy Mohamad said after hosting a PSI training in October 2021. “Collectively, it is important for all our countries to work together to uphold the safety and security of our region and our countries through robust counter-proliferation discussions and practices.”