The international community faces a daunting task if it wants to stem the flow of dangerous technology. The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) includes interdicting questionable shipments in international waters-here, a Japanese team conducts a PSI boarding exercise in the Coral Sea.
Recent events have left the global nonproliferation regime—the web of treaties, international institutions, and national laws designed to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—in tatters. North Korea has built a nuclear bomb or two and aggressively marketed military technology to foreign buyers. Iran managed to hide its nuclear plant at Natanz for two decades and seems poised to construct a bomb of its own. A. Q. Khan, the "father" of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, disclosed he had masterminded an international smuggling network that sold nuclear technology to "rogue regimes" and perhaps even terrorist groups-groups that would not hesitate to use WMD on U.S. or allied soil. The forcible toppling of Saddam Hussein could have the perverse effect of encouraging these actors to step up their efforts to obtain WMD as a deterrent to U.S. military action. The lone unequivocal success story for Western diplomacy vis-a -vis the rogue regimes is Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi's 2003 decision to abandon his WMD aspirations.
None of this is lost on the White House. "The gravest danger our Nation faces," declared President George W. Bush in his foreword to the 2002 National Security Strategy, "lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology." Both rogue regimes and nonstate actors such as al Qaeda were attempting to build or otherwise acquire WMD. President Bush vowed the United States would "not allow those efforts to succeed."1 The National Security Strategy went on to state that the U.S. approach to this metaphorical crossroads would be built on (1) "proactive counterproliferation efforts," to defend against and prevent the use of WMD; (2) "strengthened nonproliferation efforts," leveraging international law and institutions; and (3) "effective consequence management," bolstering the nation's capacity to fight through and recover from a WMD attack.2 The 2002 National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction elaborated on this tripartite strategy, among other things by highlighting interdiction of shipments of weapons-related technology as a newly prominent element of counterproliferation.3
Enter the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), the latest manifestation of this muscular counterproliferation policy. The PSI is an informal consortium of seafaring nations pledged to interdict shipments of dangerous technology on their territories, in their territorial seas and airspace, and, most controversially, in international waters and airspace. President Bush personally unveiled the initiative at a speech in Poland in May 2003, attesting to its significance, and it has remained a high-level, high-visibility political effort ever since.
Strategies of Interdiction
The PSI serves two fundamental purposes. First, it puts buyers and sellers of weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems, and weapon-related technology on notice that their activities are more likely to be detected and thwarted. The interception of a cargo of centrifuges in fall 2003 evidently gave Moammar Gadhafi the final push to abandon his WMD ambitions.4 Second, it gives participating nations a way short of regime change to strike at buyers and sellers of these items who are not dissuaded. Either way, the PSI raises the transaction costs involved with trafficking in dangerous technology, imposes a chilling effect on WMD proliferation, and puts teeth in nonproliferation treaties and accords.
What does all this mean in practice? For diplomats, it means coaxing more nations into the initiative, persuading members to contribute in a variety of ways, and securing a modicum of unity of effort and command. At this writing, 15 nations have signed on as core participants in the PSI, and more than 60 states have either formally or privately thrown their support behind the initiative.5 Key maritime powers such as China and India so far have remained aloof.6 For the intelligence agencies, it means sharing information more efficiently, both among themselves and with their counterparts overseas. For civilian agencies such as the Departments of State, Commerce, and Homeland Security, it means enforcing export control laws and regulations more vigorously. And for the U.S. armed forces, it means incorporating interdiction operations into doctrine and strategy and matching available resources to the requirements laid out by policymakers.
The PSI nations chose to flex the maritime component of interdiction first, both by holding a series of exercises and by commencing actual operations. Exercises were held in the Mediterranean, Coral, and Arabian seas; a shipment bound for Libya in a German vessel was diverted to Italy, and Singapore claimed to have stopped several dubious cargoes.7 Maritime operations generate more publicity than do shadowy law-enforcement operations, and thus make it obvious that the PSI nations are prepared to put steel behind their pronouncements. The maritime component will continue to enjoy prominence among the tools available to the initiative.
Lessons of Past Interdiction Operations
While interrupting shipments of WMD-related materiel may seem to be a new mission, history shows U.S. Navy warships suppressing the slave trade, monitoring the flow of contraband to and from various adversaries, and combating such scourges as piracy, drugs, and terrorism. At present, coalition warships are conducting interception operations off the Pakistani and East African coasts, and NATO is patrolling the Mediterranean Sea under the aegis of Operation Active Endeavor.8 The rationale for the PSI may be new, but strategies and tactics associated with interdiction date from the early years of the Republic. A few lessons of history:
* Do Not Expect Blanket Command of the Sea. The ability of the PSI nations to impose command of the sea, in Alfred Thayer Mahan's sense of "overbearing power on the sea which drives the enemy's flag from it . . . [and] closes the highways by which commerce moves to and fro from the enemy's shores," is exceedingly doubtful.9 The leaky Union blockade of the Confederacy testifies to the difficulty of patrolling vast maritime expanses. There will be gaps in maritime coverage for determined proliferators to exploit. Figuring out in advance where these gaps are, how an opponent might take advantage of them, and how they can be plugged is the challenge.
* Leverage Foreign Help and Geography. Minor maritime powers can play a major role in interception operations. It does not take an Aegis-equipped warship to patrol the sea lanes, and surveillance of the sea lanes, especially near ports where shipping congregates, is nearly as important as additional ships.10 Consider President James Monroe's 1823 message to Congress, which noted that the supposedly isolationist United States was cooperating with Great Britain to suppress the slave trade in the Caribbean Sea.11 While the U.S. Navy could offer few assets, it was operating in its geographic backyard—ts region of greatest advantage. Like the Royal Navy of Monroe's day, the U.S. Navy today has global commitments, attenuating its ability to focus on the PSI. Minor allies can provide outsized help.
* Do Not Underestimate the Adversary. If nothing else, the Khan affair shows that the PSI nations face a thinking adversary. Proliferators will adapt to the strategy pursued by the PSI nations, bypassing its strengths and exploiting its weaknesses. Iraqi sanctions busting in the Persian Gulf during the 1990s and continued oil smuggling today should remind the PSI navies how a weak to nonexistent naval power can circumvent an opponent that enjoys overwhelming superiority at sea. Despite the efforts of the U.S.-led Maritime Interception Force, small vessels carrying Iraqi oil were able to exit the Shatt al-Arab Waterway, transit southeastward through Iranian territorial waters, then dash through the central Gulf into ports in the United Arab Emirates to sell their cargoes.12 U.S. Navy strategists need to anticipate similar weaknesses in their PSI strategy and shore them up in advance.
* Minor Foul-ups Can Cause Major Political Headaches. This is not a new phenomenon. In 1861, acting without orders from Washington, the Union warship San Jacinto intercepted the British mail steamer Trent, which was carrying two Confederate emissaries to Europe, and removed the emissaries. Problems arose because Great Britain had declared neutrality in the American Civil War. When news of the Trent affair broke, British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston advocated imposing an arms embargo on the Union and dispatching the powerful Channel Fleet to North American waters. It takes little imagination to see a similar diplomatic fracas erupting should, say, an Indian or Chinese cargo vessel be detained under the PSI.
The success of the Proliferation Security Initiative could hinge on a range of factors, from the training provided to personnel on the tactical level to the quality of the intelligence that triggers the interdiction. A modern-day Trent incident could lead to the downfall of the initiative. The diplomatic and media uproar ensuing from a botched interdiction could well discourage members from undertaking this kind of operation in the future-opening a rift in the PSI.
Two more recent cases shed light on the pitfalls of maritime interdiction.
* The Yinhe Incident. In August 1993, U.S. intelligence officials began alleging that a Chinese vessel detected on the way to Iran was carrying precursors for use in Iran's chemical-warfare programs. Declared one U.S. intelligence official, "We know these chemicals are bound for Iran's chemical weapons plants, and it is a lot of tonnage, tens of tons." An officer from U.S. Central Command went further, saying the Chinese vessel was ferrying thiodiglycol and thionyl chloride to the Islamic Republic.13 The Chinese authorities vehemently disputed these charges. The U.S. case began to unravel when representatives of the Guanzhou Ocean Shipping Company flatly denied that weapons-relevant material was on board the Yinhe, invited inspectors from a neutral third company to examine the vessel's cargo, and corrected U.S. claims that the vessel had been loaded in Dalian.14 Saudi Arabia allowed the ship to enter its port at Dammam. A Saudi team, including American technical advisers, scrutinized the Yinhe in concert with Chinese inspectors. By early September, a spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry was able to state that the inspections had uncovered no traces of chemical precursors.15 Washington refused to apologize, maintaining its officials had acted in good faith. For its part, Beijing branded the United States a "self-styled world cop."16 A similar incident occurring under PSI auspices could well discredit the initiative, if not in U.S. eyes, then in the eyes of the other partners involved.
* The So San Incident. In December 2002, U.S. intelligence believed the North Korean freighter So San was hauling ballistic missiles. The ship was tracked by the multinational flotilla patrolling off the coast of Pakistan, and as it approached Yemen, the United States asked Spain to board the ship. Fortunately, the ship's captain hauled down his flag, turning his ship into a stateless vessel and giving Spain the international legal right to board it.17 An inspection of the ship's hold turned up Scud missiles buried beneath sacks of cement. Shortly after the interdiction, the Yemeni government admitted it was the purchaser of the North Korean missiles. While Spain could have made a plausible legal case for seizing the cargo or turning it over to the United States, Washington decided to allow the shipment to proceed-reportedly because it considered Yemeni cooperation on counterterrorism to outweigh the marginal impact of the Scuds on Middle East security.18 Such conflicting priorities are even more likely to arise in multilateral interdiction operations, complicating decision making and making the operational and tactical pictures more complex.
Develop Multipurpose Capabilities
The Proliferation Security Initiative thus is a mixed blessing for the U.S. Navy. On the positive side, it dovetails with other priority missions. The Navy should leverage this synergy.
The Chief of Naval Operations' (CNO) Guidance for 2005 lists establishing expanded maritime intercept operations as a core Navy capability. The CNO's guidance documents for both 2004 and 2005 also focus on developing "global maritime awareness" in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard as a way to (1) reduce the vulnerability of U.S. ports, (2) speed the collection and dissemination of actionable intelligence, and (3) identify potential surface threats, as well as candidates for maritime interdiction operations, in littoral areas.19 Grafting a "maritime NORAD," as CNO Admiral Vern Clark has referred to it in other contexts, would pay clear dividends for the PSI while bolstering other missions such as homeland security, the drug war, and counterterrorism.20
What kind of capabilities might be used to carry out the PSI mission? In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, then-Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Mullen suggested that tailored surface action groups, composed of a mix of cruisers, destroyers, and amphibious platforms, could discharge these functions, focusing among other things on interdiction operations, coastal surveillance, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.21 Admiral Mullen's comment had the feel of an aside, falling among a list of sexier topics such as carrier and expeditionary strike groups. Still, he was on to something. Making capabilities dedicated to homeland security and other missions perform double duty makes sense—especially in the current fiscal climate. The Navy should not expect to use the PSI to justify additional funding or assets when Congress and the executive branch begin wrangling over next year's defense budget. Indeed, the Bush administration already has announced it will not dedicate additional personnel or funding to support interdiction operations.22
Some less obvious avenues the Navy should explore include training and equipping navies and coast guards from PSI or other supportive nations-especially nations that are not historically naval powers—to conduct surveillance and interdiction operations. The Navy has long pursued combined exercises in an effort to enhance its ability to work with foreign navies. The annual UNITAS cruises, which bring together U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard personnel with their Latin American counterparts for combined exercises, would provide an ideal model for this kind of hands-on training. A recent exercise-predating the PSI by two years-already featured counterdrug and interdiction training spearheaded by the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Northland (WMEC-904).23 Outfitting allied navies with communications and surveillance gear, as well as the range of other hardware useful for boarding operations, would bolster the effectiveness of the PSI while enhancing interoperability for other combined operations. This would allow these countries to more effectively police their geographic neighborhoods for weapons-related shipments and to work with U.S. units.
Extending the U.S. surveillance and interdiction envelope seaward, then, serves a variety of purposes. The Navy should place a premium on capabilities that (1) extend the surveillance capabilities of the finite number of assets available to carry out interdiction operations; (2) expedite the flow of intelligence and political guidance; and (3) enhance interoperability with the other navies and coast guards taking part in the initiative.
The Way Ahead
The Proliferation Security Initiative represents an important way for the Navy to guard against "the gravest danger" of the post-11 September age. While more mundane than war fighting, maritime interdiction could pay greater dividends. The service needs to build its capabilities and doctrine, train and educate its people, and search out useful allies. This new, old mission will be with the Navy for a long time to come.
1 White House, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, September 2002), www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.pdf (accessed 15 March 2004).
2 White House, The National Security Strategy, p. 14.
3 White House, National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, December 2002), p. 2, www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/12/WMDStratcgy.pdf (accessed 15 March 2004).
4 James R. Holmes and Andrew C. Winner, "New Interdiction Effort Scores Libyan Success," Defense News, 12 January 2004, p. 37.
5 The original members were Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Canada, Norway, and Singapore were welcomed in March 2004. Russia joined in May 2004. A number of other nations are cooperating at a working level. Some 60 other governments have voiced support for the PSI, according to Bush administration spokesmen. White House, "G-8 Action Plan on Nonproliferation," www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/06/print/20040609-28.html (accessed 25 June 2004).
6 Beijing is the last holdout among the veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, and thus a possible obstacle to a Security Council resolution approving the PSI. Gaining the blessing of the council would give additional legal sanction to the PSI and defuse many of the objections voiced by doubters-making it easier for these nations to cooperate in interdiction operations.
7 Eugene Low, "S'pore Was Right to Back War in Iraq," Straits Times, 12 March 2004, http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/singapore/story/0,4386,239647,00.html (accessed 12 March 2004).
8 NATO Press Release 2004(039), "NATO to Expand Operation Active Endeavour to the Whole Mediterranean," 16 March 2004, www.nato.int/docu/pr/2004/p04-039e.htm (accessed 19 March 12004).
9 Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1890; reprint, New York: Dover, 1987), p. 138.
10 Flag-of-convenience states can make an invaluable contribution to maritime interdiction by signing boarding agreements with the United States. Many nations have expressed fears that the PSI nations would intercept their vessels in international waters without permission. They point to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which forbids such activity. Boarding agreements bypass this legal hurdle. For example, Panama and Liberia, which boast the world's two largest ship registries, have signed agreements promising to look very favorably on U.S. requests to board their flag vessels. U.S. Slate Department, "Proliferation Security Initiative: Ship Boarding Agreements," www.slatc.gov/t/np/c12386.htm (accessed 25 June 2004).
11 The classic account is Dexter Perkins, A History of the Monroe Doctrine (Boston: Little, Brown, 1963).
12 Jim Garamone, "Embargo Chief Says Iran in Cahoots with Iraq Oil Smugglers," Armed Forces Information Service, 11 April 2000, www.dod.gov/ncws/Apr2000/ n04112000_20004111.html.
13 "Chemicals on Chinese Ship Usable for Arms, US Says," Los Angeles Times, 10 August 1993, p. A6.
14 Chris Dobson, "'Blockade' Ship's Cash Call," South China Morning Post, 15 August 1993, p. 5.
15 Lena H. Sun, "China: No Suspect Cargo Found; Official Says Iran-Bound Shipment Carried No Chemicals," Washington Post, 3 September 1993, p. A33; Patrick E. Tyler, "China Says Saudis Found No Arms Cargo on Ship," New York Times, 3 September 1993, p. A3.
16 Patrick E. Tyler, "No Chemicals aboard China Ship," New York Times, 6 September 1993, p. A4.
17 "Yemen Protests over Scud Seizure," BBC News, 11 December 2002, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2566207.stm (accessed 22 March 2004).
18 "U.S. Lets Scud Ship Sail to Yemen," CNN, 12 December 2002, www.cnn.com/ 2002/WORLD/asiapcf/east/12/11/us.missile.ship/ (accessed 22 March 2004).
19 Chief of Naval Operations, CNO Guidance for 2004, www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/cno/clark-guidancc2004.html (accessed 18 March 2004); for 2005, www. chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/cno/clark-guidance2005.pdf (accessed 18 January 2005).
20 See for instance Guy Thomas, "A Maritime Traffic-Tracking System: Cornerstone of Maritime Homeland Defense," Naval War College Review 56, no. 4 (autumn 2003), pp. 137-52.
21 Chief of Naval Operations, "Statement of Admiral Michael G. Mullen, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, United States Navy, Before the Subcommittee on Military Readiness of the House Armed Services Committee on Resetting and Reconstituting the Forces," 21 October 2003, www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/lestimony/readincss/mullen03102l.txt (accessed 18 March 12004).
22 David McGlinchey, "Anti-Proliferation Effort Will Receive No Separate Funding, Personnel," Government Executive, 15 March 2004, www.govexec.com/dailyfed/ 0304/031504dl.htm (accessed 17 March 2004).
23 Corey Barker, "Navy/Coast Guard Sailors Finish Unitas Exercises in (he Caribbean," The Waterline, 27 April 2001, www.dcmilitary.com/navy/scaservices/ 6_17/national_news/6960-1.html (accessed 19 March 2004).