Russia has announced that it will join the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) advanced by George Bush in Poland a year ago.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, "The initiative is designed to identify, stop and preclude the illegal circulation and transborder movement of weapons and materials of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles, including the black market for such materials." Importantly, Russia views the Bush initiative as contributing to rather than detracting from the existing non-proliferation mechanisms. In other words, the PSI is an instrument of ensuring, including with the use of force, the non-proliferation regime on the basis of existing international treaties.
This raises new issues concerning the implementation of the new project and old ones, in particular related to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
So, the PSI is designed to "identify, stop and preclude." To believe the statement Bush made last year, the US plans to intercept ships and aircraft which, as the US security services suspect, may be carrying WMDs and their component parts. However, under international law, ships and aircraft are the national territory of the concerned state. Entering it calls for a number of generally accepted procedures, such as border and customs control.
And what about the word "intercept"? Should it be interpreted as a purely military term, which entails forcing a plane to land and destroying it if it refuses to comply? Or does it mean inspection, which should be also carried out in compliance with the relevant provisions of international law? And what if a warship or a military transport plane is suspected of carrying a prohibited cargo?
In other words, we need a comprehensive legal evaluation of the PSI provisions to exclude interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states and provocation of an armed conflict - actions that are incompatible with current international norms.
Moscow has not missed this problem. "Russia plans to contribute to the implementation of the PSI with due consideration for the requirements of the compatibility of such actions with the norms of international law, national legislation and non-proliferation interests of the partners," says the statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
The appearance of this new mechanism of WMDs proliferation control is connected with a very delicate situation. The WMDs non-proliferation rules and principles are sealed in international treaties and conventions, with the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as the key instrument. If it is still applicable and effective, the new initiative will become a reliable instrument of precluding violations of the treaty.
But the trouble is that the main anti-nuclear treaty signed by 190 countries is no longer effective. This alarming statement was made by IAEA Director General Dr Mohamed El Baradei. "Black holes" were found in the treaty several years ago, which created a legal precedent with negative practical consequences. The thing in question are the two countries that have not signed it, India and Pakistan.
Technologically (and hence politically and militarily), they are nuclear powers and have more than once asked to be given this status. If it were granted to them, this would automatically increase the standards of control over the growing military and civilian nuclear programmes of the said countries, with strictly regulated interstate contacts in the related sphere.
Many countries think that granting the two countries' applications would amount to pandering to their "nuclear impertinence" and creating a dangerous precedent. On the other hand, leaving everything as it is would mean preserving the legal "black holes." Besides, Israel does not admit to having nuclear weapons, but neither does it deny that it "may have" them.
The Bush initiative can be viewed as a manoeuvre launched to bypass the NPT or as an attempt to solve the above legal problem. On the other hand, in modern conditions the NPT should include a universally binding system of export control over nuclear materials. Any violation of this system, as well as assistance in the proliferation of nuclear materials, should be defined as a crime. If the events take this road, the PSI will play a truly vital role in stopping the proliferation of WMDs across the planet without infringing on the national sovereignty and the growing economic capabilities of states.