TCS Daily

Mr. Multilateral

By Bryan Preston - July 29, 2004 12:00 AM

It is playing a key role in curbing and caging North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il. It played a key role in disarming Libya, discovering and rolling up the Pakistani A.Q. Khan nuclear smuggling network, and has become a framework for international military and police exercises organized by the United States. Its membership includes most of the world's largest economic powers, most of the world's largest military powers, and most of the most influential states on earth. The United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Russia, the Netherlands, France, Australia and Germany are among its 15 member states, and it is one of the pillars of the Bush administration's strategy to both win the war on terrorism and halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. As an organization set up to perform a mission that the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency have jointly failed, halting the spread of nuclear weapons, it has the potential of becoming an alternative to the UN itself in coming decades. Notably, all of its members to date are democracies.

But thanks to the media and Democrats who insist on portraying the Bush administration as "unilateral," you have probably never heard of it.

Called the Proliferation Security Initiative, this results-oriented alliance is now just over a year old. The work of the much maligned Under Secretary of State for Arms Proliferation and International Security John Bolton, PSI is already a great success in bringing nations that disagreed bitterly over the Iraq war together under one flag to deal with larger weapons proliferation issues, especially those relating to the Korean Peninsula.

How It Works

The PSI is a bit of a strange bird, neither pure military alliance nor economic consortium nor intelligence agency, though it bears some of the features of all three. There is no guarantee among PSI members to come to the defense of any other member attacked by another party, for instance, such as exists in the NATO charter. It has no operating budget or swank headquarters building, and no jet-setting General Secretary or Supreme Commander. But most of the world's great navies -- America's, the UK's, Japan's, Australia's, and Russia's all play key roles. Many of the world's best intelligence assets, from spy satellites to human intelligence sources to financial investigators, are devoted to working with the PSI at some level.

What those navies do under the PSI is track and board ships suspected of trafficking in weapons of mass destruction, the components or systems to build such weapons, and any parts or materials associated with such weapons, with a focus on nuclear weapons in particular. The PSI's naval power may also have played a key role in the mass defection last fall of a swath of North Korean nuclear scientists who abandoned Pyongyang's backward Stalinist regime and have been providing the West with details of Kim's nuclear programs since. The details of that maneuver, dubbed Operation Weasel, have been understandably kept closely guarded for nearly a year.

PSI's role in the disarmament of Libya has been poorly explained by the Bush administration and therefore poorly understood by the American public, with the media playing an assisting role in fostering ignorance.

Intelligence gathered mostly by the US and UK last summer indicated that North Korea was shipping a large amount of nuclear weapons manufacturing gear -- centrifuge parts to be exact -- to Libya via several ships. Acting on that information, US and UK warships stopped, boarded and seized those ships, discovering the expected gear on board. Confronted with those findings and the recently successful military operation to depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq -- and undoubtedly mindful of his own unhappy experiences with President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s -- Libya's dictator, Col. Muammar Ghaddafi, who had connections to terrorists going back a few decades, decided it was no longer healthy to pursue nuclear weapons.

His dismantled nuclear program recently arrived in 48 very large crates at Department of Energy facility in Oak Ridge Tennessee. More such crates are on the way; soon the entire Libyan nuclear program will be in US possession. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham told reporters that Libya had possessed 4,000 centrifuges and enough uranium hexafluoride gas to begin manufacturing several nuclear weapons per year. In the hands of a dictator with dreams of revenge against America, or in the hands of terrorists allied to or cooperating with such a dictator, those weapons could have made Libya's the most dangerous regime on earth. Now it is turning into a witness for the prosecution, helping finger the Khan network and explaining the North Korean and Chinese roles in the spread of nuclear technology to rogue states. And the PSI -- a multilateral creation of the "unilateral" Bush administration -- played a key role, though it garnered few headlines and will probably garner just as few headlines in the future.

A Sister Organization: The Caspian Guard

The "unilateralist" Bush administration is also setting up a sister organization to the PSI called Caspian Guard. Caspian Guard is ostensibly a three-way alliance between the United States, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan for the integration of several interlocking program elements, namely airspace and maritime surveillance and control systems, reaction and response forces, and border control.

What might be Caspian Guard's deeper mission? Take a look at a couple of maps, one of Azerbaijan's neighborhood and one of Kazakhstan's. What do they have in common? Both are central Asian states with coasts on the Caspian Sea, and both either share a border with or are across the water from Iran. Caspian Guard is to Iran what the PSI is to North Korea -- a cage in the making, constructed by the Bush administration's State Department. Look for several other US-leaning states in the area, such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and possibly even Turkey, to either join the Caspian Guard or cooperate with it in significant ways. The US will begin to encircle Iran, the world's most dangerous remaining Islamic state, the way it is attempting to encircle North Korea, all to strangle their nuclear proliferation programs and over time halt their nuclear programs altogether. Additionally, Caspian Guard gives member states access to US training and tactical knowledge and the assurance of friendly relations with the world's sole superpower in exchange for assistance in dealing with some of the axis of evil's charter members.

For all the abuse that the Bush administration receives for its conduct of the war on terrorism, the Proliferation Security Initiative and Caspian Guard stand as examples of the other side of the war as conducted by a serious administration that knows we are all in for a long twilight struggle. Only by removing or intimidating terror-sponsoring states into renouncing terrorism, and only by stopping the spread of nuclear and other mass killing technology in its tracks, can the free world hope to win this war without incredible loss of life. Bush administration critics and the media -- often one and the same -- consistently fail to take the existence of the PSI and its start-up sister Caspian Guard into account when assessing how we are doing in the war. The existence of these organizations indicate that for all the squabbling over Iraq, most of the world's major powers do regard terrorism and weapons proliferation as serious conjoined threats, and are willing to band together to do something about it. And they are willing to be led by the unilateral cowboy from Texas who defied several of them to topple Saddam Hussein.

Bryan Preston is a writer and television producer. He is also the author of Junkyardblog. This is his first article for TCS.


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