printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Tenth Anniversary of the Proliferation Security Initiative

Vann Van Diepen
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation

Ken Handelman, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs
Washington, DC
May 23, 2013

State Dept Image/May 23, 2013/Washington, DC
Date: 05/23/2013 Location: Washington, DC Description: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Van Diepen and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs Handelman, brief at the Washington FPC on the ''Tenth Anniversary of the Proliferation Security Initiative.'' - State Dept Image

10:30 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: All right. Well, good morning, everyone, and thank you very much for your time. Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. We’re also right now in a digital video conference with our Foreign Press Center in New York. As you all know, the topic of our briefing today is the Proliferation Security Initiative. There will be a 10th anniversary high-level political meeting in Warsaw, Poland next week.

So, our briefers today are Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Vann H. Van Diepen, and the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Ken Handelman. They will begin with opening remarks, and we’ll being with our principal from the Department of State, followed by our principal from the Department of Defense. After their opening remarks we’ll go to questions and answers. And as you all know, we ask that you wait to be called upon by me.

So, at this point I will yield the floor to our speakers.

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Well, thanks, and thank you very much for coming, everybody.

So, the starting point on this issue, of course, is that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems remains a key threat to international peace and security. And the Proliferation Security Initiative, the PSI, was created in 2003 to give political impetus and build capacity to interdict shipments related to this kind of proliferation, and in doing so augmenting the panoply of treaties, regimes, export controls, sanctions and other components of the whole international nonproliferation toolkit.

And since it was founded, the regime has expanded to 102 members in all continents. It conducts an average of 10 activities a year – exercises, workshops, other types of capacity-building activities. It’s embarked on a new so-called Critical Capabilities and Practices, or CCP, effort to help ensure that all 102 countries have the capability to actually conduct interdictions effectively in the real world. And by doing all of this, the PSI has become a vital and durable component of the global effort to stop WMD proliferation. And PSI-endorsing states have made clear that they’re willing and ready to stop WMD-related shipments at sea, in the air, and on land.

And this PSI 10th anniversary high-level political meeting in Warsaw on Tuesday will give the 102 endorsing states of the initiative an opportunity to review the accomplishments of the past 10 years, to leverage those accomplishments to further focus the initiative’s efforts, and provide strategic directions for the next several years going forward. And by doing all that, this will really embody the direction that we received from President Obama in his Prague speech in 2009 to make PSI a durable international institution.

And in particular, at the 10th anniversary meeting next week, we anticipate that participating states will make various declarations of concrete actions that they will take to reinforce the PSI. And these are likely to include undertakings to conduct new events such as further exercises and workshops, new efforts to reach out to other states that have yet to endorse the PSI, more contributions to the Critical Capabilities and Practices effort to enhance common capabilities to interdict WMD-related shipments; and measures to strengthen individual national capacities and individual national authorities to conduct interdictions.

The high-level political meeting on the 28th of May will be followed on the next day, May 29th, by a half-day implementation meeting that will be used to coordinate declarations of actions that involve multiple countries. So for example, if a country announces an exercise to which it’s going to be inviting other PSI countries to participate, the implementation meeting will help coordinate how that will be implemented.

And we’re looking forward to very well-attended event with probably in the order of two-thirds to three-quarters of the 102 countries represented. And so taken together, the outcomes of this meeting are going to help ensure that the PSI remains an enduring and central part of the global nonproliferation system. It will highlight, strengthen, and give further substance to PSI’s basic message to proliferators: We are watching and we will act to stop you, whether at sea, in the air, or on land.

And so let me turn to Ken to make a few comments.

MR. HANDELMAN: Well, thanks, Vann. And let me add my thanks from DoD to all of you for making the time to be here.

I wanted to follow up with just a couple of perhaps slightly more technical points on Vann’s kind of strategic overview. And the first one I’ll make is that one thing you need to understand is that you have the State Department and Department of Defense here today because just the way our government organizes itself for proliferation, we have particular types of roles. What’s interesting about the Proliferation Security Initiative, number one, about WMD interdiction, number two, and law enforcement, number three, is that it’s not just the diplomats and the military people. And what – metaphorically, there is everything from the Customs service to the FBI to certainly the intelligence communities figuratively sitting right behind us. That’s one thing that, in our government and in all PSI-endorsing governments, that actually makes this business really hard.

So, for example, the – when you get a piece of information about something bad that might be moving on sea or elsewhere, governments have a whole lot of tools to bring to bear. The issue, whether you’re a small government or a very large and complicated one like ours, is getting everybody on the same sheet of music and sorting out those tools, understanding what our legal authorities are, what the legal authorities are of other countries – because, of course, an interdiction typically does not happen when you’re at war; you really have to find a legal basis to take appropriate action – and tying that all together and teeing up decisions for senior leaders.

This kind of process involves a whole lot of relationships, understanding of what potential partner countries can do, a whole lot of stuff that really isn’t in the day-to-day playbook for most of the agencies that are charged with accomplishing these interdictions. So when we say that in 2003 PSI was launched with 11 endorsers, and today it’s 102, we’re not simply checking boxes and it’s not like we were able to give some special PSI seal of approval to 102 nations. What it means is that these nations actually took a decision, sorted through their interagency process, and had a lot of people involved figuring out what their roles would be when their specific nation pitches in and contributes to an interdiction activity that allows them to formally endorse the initiative.

This is – PSI is about capacity-building. Prior to PSI – and hypothetically, if PSI had never existed – certainly the United States and also other governments would be attempting to interdict weapons of mass destruction and related materials. What PSI is an attempt to do is to bring a focus on this activity, to build what we in the security business at least called habitual relationships. So if you get a piece of intelligence, you know who to call in a foreign capital; in addition to the relationship, to have an understanding of what your partner government might be able to do, both in terms of its domestic legal authorities, the capacity of its customs service, lots of stuff that isn’t normally on the agenda of either a State Department, a DoD, or other agencies that are involved in this kind of thing.

It’s a process of bringing people together and forcing them to talk to each other in exercises and seminars, all sorts of stuff that actually looks very academic – not so much kicking the door in to interdiction, but you do this kind of thing, for lack of a better term, during peacetime, I mean when you’re not confronted with a piece of information or piece of intelligence. And it gives you the capability to ring up a colleague in a foreign capital and understand what he’s going to be able to bring to the table.

So that’s just a little more granular description of what we’ve been doing for the past 10 years in PSI in our government and why we think it’s so important.

MODERATOR: All right. Well, with that, we’ll go ahead and move to the question-and-answer portion of the event. As always, please identify yourself by name and outlet.

QUESTION: Pete Apps from Reuters. When we look at the North Korea-Iran, and I suppose to a lesser extent the – kind of China and the sort of rising sense of confrontation in Asia, there’s been a lot of focus on nonproliferation and there’s been a lot of focus on missile defense. At what stage do you have to start thinking more seriously about deterrence in a way that we haven’t thought maybe since the Cold War? I mean, the main focus has been Russia; now you’ve got a bunch of other actors. How much work has been going on, particularly in DoD, on thinking how you actually deter a state with a nuclear weapon these days?

MR. HANDELMAN: Well, I – you’re asking a very sophisticated question, and I think that’s been going on for a long time, particularly with – well, I’ll address it this way: For any foreign policy or national security objective, there are a whole variety of tools in the toolkit, I mean, running from Security Council resolutions to, if you’re a country with a large enough fleet, repositioning naval assets and making that public. There was a reason why there were – when the United States B-2 bomber flew over South Korea for an exercise, it was done at a fairly low altitude. It demonstrates our resolve, and --

QUESTION: And ability to conduct a nuclear strike?

MR. HANDELMAN: Well, I mean, the – that’s a decision that is solely within the purview of the President, and indeed, there are a lot of tools that one would use before you’d even consider that kind of thing. But it’s just a matter of being able to employ sort of a mosaic of options to send a message to a foreign government. It’s an important question, though. I wonder, from a diplomatic perspective, if Vann wants to pile on.

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Well, I mean, this isn’t really a PSI question per se, but obviously we’ve – our system of alliances with Japan and South Korea has been in place for a long time and is rock solid and is backed by the full panoply of U.S. military capabilities. And so we’ve been in the business of deterring North Korea ever since 1950, basically. So I don’t think there’s anything really new or different about that. But I think it’s widely agreed by all three countries that the relationships that we have with each of the other two in our alliances are as solid as they’ve ever been.

QUESTION: Is it getting more complicated, though? I mean, there are more moving parts these days, right? I mean, you’ve got North Korea, which is close to being a nuclear weapons state; Iran, which is heading in that direction. I mean, it’s a more complicated world than a decade ago.

MR. VAN DIEPEN: This stuff is always hard. And I don’t mean to be glib --

MR. HANDELMAN: Well, and really, ever since the fall of the old Soviet Union, it’s been a more complicated world. And so this is just more flavor to that – those complications that have been evolving ever since then.

QUESTION: Thank you. Inga Czerny from Polish Press Agency. I have a question not directly linked, but the subject – but still, yesterday there was a meeting between Nikolai Patrushev from Russian Security Council with (inaudible), with President Obama. Just I would like to know your assessment of the meeting, or maybe if you could elaborate a little bit of the changes of the further nuclear arm reduction.

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Unfortunately, that’s not really in our part of the empire, so to speak. So the – that our arms control bureau handles that in the Department rather than the nonproliferation bureau. So I’m – unfortunately, I’m really not in a position to answer that particular question.

MR. HANDELMAN: And we also weren’t at the meeting. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes, Yonho Kim with Voice of America. Little bit challenges, if I may. My question is: Do you think PSI lost its attraction or at least some kind of attention after UN Security Council adopted a resolution against North Korea that embraced the concept of PSI? And before that kind of resolution, a lot of attention went to PSI, but I don’t see – at least from a reporter’s point of view, I don’t see that much attention paying to PSI. What --

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Well, first of all, I don’t think you should sort of make an equivalence between the amount of press play and the amount of importance that something has. I mean, one of the – interdiction is something that happens on a very regular basis, usually very quietly, because there’s a measure-countermeasure game going on between the good guys and the bad guys. They’re trying to hide from us; we’re trying to circumvent what they’re doing. And most of our activities and successes don’t get publicized. So just because there hasn’t been a lot of press play about PSI doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been very effectively moving on. And again, I think the specific data points that I’ve talked about, about the increase in membership, the steady drumbeat of activities, the institution of this new critical capabilities and practices effort, shows the concrete progress that has been made. And one virtue of this 10th anniversary meeting is that it provides an opportunity for PSI to come out into the sunlight again, at least for a while, while still having the day-to-day interdiction activities going on kind of under the radar.

MR. HANDELMAN: PSI was specifically established as a flexible kind of non-treaty-based, non-institutionalized activity. It wasn’t attached to the UN or NATO or ASEAN or any other of these treaty-based alliances. However, the fact that the UN in one of its Security Council resolutions embraced the type of thing that PSI is trying to do, I think we kind of counted as a victory.

MR. VAN DIEPEN: And in particular --

MR. HANDELMAN: We’re really not looking for publicity per se.

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Right. But in particular, in UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all UN member states to have WMD-related controls and to secure WMD-related materials, there were specific references to cooperation in this type of activity. And so there’s an endorsement for the types of activity PSI engages in that go beyond just the 102 countries.

QUESTION: So when you say there is a kind of quiet and under the radar activities going on, does it also true of the North Korea case?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: My name is Yoshiki Kishida. I work for a Japanese news wire service, JiJi Press. And what do you think the most important accomplishment of PSI? And how are you going to develop the PSI project furthermore?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Right. Well, I think I’d gotten into that in my introductory remarks, but I think the key accomplishment of PSI is to establish a network of 102 countries that have a political commitment to interdict WMD-related cargos and engage in practical capacity-building activities so that they are able to interdict when the opportunity comes. And that’s important not only in facilitating individual interdictions when the opportunities arise, but we believe also in sending a strong – and using it in a different context, deterrent – message to proliferators that, again, we are watching and that we will take action against their proliferation activities when we have the opportunity.

Going forward, we expect to see coming out of this 10th anniversary meeting next week announcements of additional activities, new exercises, new workshops, new efforts to engage with countries that have not yet endorsed the initiative, improvements to the critical capabilities and practices effort that the initiative is taking to practically build the ability to conduct interdictions among its members, and individual national efforts to improve their capabilities and authorities to conduct interdictions.

MODERATOR: Do we have any other questions?

QUESTION: Yeah. Ivan Lebedev, Russian news agency TASS. Just want to use this opportunity to ask you a question about another very important initiative in nuclear proliferation, the so-called CTR, Cooperative Threat Reduction. The current umbrella agreement, as you know, expires on June 13. The negotiations --


QUESTION: Thirteen.



MR. HANDELMAN: Positive.


MR. VAN DIEPEN: It’s his business. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I believe you.

MR. HANDELMAN: I have spent a lot of time with your --

QUESTION: You should know better. Okay.

MR. HANDELMAN: -- with your MFA recently. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: In the middle of June, okay.

MR. HANDELMAN: Yeah, good enough. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So the negotiations are going on for several months, and the last assessments came from the Pentagon, from, if I’m not mistaken, for Assistant Secretary level, of cautious optimism that both sides can reach an agreement, a new agreement, a new umbrella agreement. So there are only three, or maybe a little bit more, weeks left. Do you think that it can be done exactly in time? And do you see any huge roadblocks on this way, real principle disagreements that can --

MR. HANDELMAN: Be overcome.

QUESTION: That cannot be.

MR. HANDELMAN: Oh, that cannot be overcome? Well, I will tell you that Mr. Weber (ph) and I work very closely. We’ve actually right down the hall from each other. And his cautious optimism, I think, was appropriate at the time he spoke. I am completely optimistic there will be – well, put it this way: If for some reason a new agreement is not signed by June 16th, it will be because of some bureaucratic problem, not because of a policy or a political problem. The – all of the major policy issues have been resolved, I think to the satisfaction of both sides, and it will – I mean, as Russia requested, I think way back in October, this program is going to be modernized in a way that’s useful to both sides.

QUESTION: Can I jump in with another question? (Inaudible) that you talk about interdictions. Can you give us a flavor of how many we’re talking? Are we talking dozens a year, a few a year, hundreds a year? And what – if we hadn’t had them, would Iran be closer to a nuclear weapon? Would North Korea be further forward? Would we have stuff in the hands of terrorist groups? Just trying to get a bit more granularity on what’s been going on.

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Right. Well, I mean, numbers is not something we’re in a position to be too precise about. But --

QUESTION: Can you be vague about it? (Laughter.)

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Yeah, well --

QUESTION: There’s a big difference between dozens and hundreds in the last decade, right?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Well, dozens with a – emphasizing the “s,” a year is probably – dozens if not scores a year is probably about a decent ballpark.

And in terms of the impact of those interdictions, I think probably the – I think the fair thing is that the fundamental thing that these interdictions do is impede these proliferation programs. It makes those programs take longer, cost more, be less effective and less reliable than would otherwise be the case. Not only do we end up seizing items that are directly sought for use in those programs, we therefore force workarounds on the parts of the proliferators, things that cost them more money, cost them more time; they have to try to layer on additional levels of front companies; they have to try to find different routes than the routes that they were using. It gives their illicit suppliers the opportunity to further jack up the price. And all of that redounds to our advantage in delaying these programs and making them less of a threat than they would be otherwise.

MR. HANDELMAN: You have to define the term “interdiction” broadly in this case. It would make a much better story for you and it would make a much better sort of policy decision process for us if there was crystal-clear intelligence that a nuclear weapon was on freighter X, departing from point Y to undesirable place B, and it might not be our Navy, but you could have the swashbuckling commandos from whatever navy go and board the ship. It doesn’t happen that way. We are --

QUESTION: So (inaudible) technology that’s --

MR. HANDELMAN: Absolutely. And not – think – when you talk – when you’re thinking about what PSA – sorry, PSI addresses, think not only about the type of commodity that might fall under the ambit of at least a discussion about whether this is something --

QUESTION: Which would be what sort of thing?

MR. HANDELMAN: The – let me – I’ll just say precursors for a whole variety of bad things. It could be types of fuel, it could be types of chemicals, types of metals. So think not just about the type and nature of the material, but also where in the process something might happen to derail a shipment. The – some of this stuff happens way upstream. I mean, this – a WMD-related interdiction can be an inspection in a cargo transfer yard of a Conex that may --


MR. HANDELMAN: A – is one of the big metal – 40-foot medical --

QUESTION: A container?

MR. HANDELMAN: -- metal containers – because there may be suspicion about the bill of lading being inappropriate, and that transfer box may actually get sent back to where it came from.

QUESTION: So you might never know who it was who was buying it in that case?

MR. HANDELMAN: There’s usually a little more tactile quality for where something is coming from and where something is going. The point I wanted to make is think very broadly about what interdiction really means.

MR. VAN DIEPEN: I mean, you can think of a proliferant transaction as a chain with a series of links, starting with where the item is produced and ending up with its real end user, which may or may not be the same as the end user that’s on the paperwork. And if any of the links in that chain goes through a place that either acquires information of its own that this is a problematic shipment or other countries come to that place with that information, that offers an opportunity to stop the shipment. And there have been instances where, in almost every link you can think of along the way, shipments have been discovered and stopped.

QUESTION: Do you think you’re getting most of it, or the tip of the iceberg?


MR. VAN DIEPEN: There’s no way you can really know.


QUESTION: What would your guess be? I mean, are you talking about (inaudible), I guess, as the tip of the iceberg?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Yeah, I don’t think we’re going to be guessing in this context.

MR. HANDELMAN: The nonproliferation business is always a matter of trying to extrapolate what you don’t know.

QUESTION: And is the nonproliferation business bigger than the proliferation business? In other words, do you have more people – (laughter) – chasing stuff or --

MR. HANDELMAN: Well, we don’t proliferate, so we can only measure against when we know something.

QUESTION: Well, what’s your guess? Are you – are there more of you chasing fewer of them, as it is with counterterrorism, or fewer of you chasing more of them, as it is with, say, narcotics?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: I’m just not sure that’s a useful question either. I think the fundamental point is that the vast majority of proliferation activity involves trying to stop the activity of other states. So while there are criminals involved as facilitators, as fronts, and of course there’s the potential for WMD terrorism, which is criminal, the vast majority of proliferation activity, and therefore the vast majority of counter-proliferation activity, involves dealing with the activities of states. And so that means your adversaries have the advantages of relying on the facilities of a state. They can use intelligence services, they can use embassies, that sort of thing. But we have corresponding advantages. And so it’s really a sort of a measure/countermeasure game.

MR. HANDELMAN: And since we’re here on a briefing about PSI, it’s not a stretch to say that in the past 10 years there are a heck of a lot more people and governments that are thinking about nonproliferation through PSI in a strategic, holistic kind of way.

MR. VAN DIEPEN: As well as the practical building blocks of capacity-building at the bottom. So it’s not just a top-down thing, but it’s a bottom-up thing as well.

MODERATOR: So – and I know you’ve got a few more questions. I would like to see if there’s anyone else who has any questions, and I think we might hopefully have a little bit of time for follow-up afterwards.

QUESTION: I’m sorry for being a little bit late for this briefing. Maybe I have missed something. But how much have you spent for these 10 years – during these 10 years for this program, and where do the money come from? Is it – do you consider it to be the State or the Pentagon program? What budget is it financed from?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Well, I mean, it’s not a – we don’t regard it as a program per se. And as Ken indicated, agencies throughout the U.S. Government participate both in interdiction activities, co-interdiction, as well as in supporting our participation in the PSI. And so there’s not sort of a singular budget item. Basically, agencies are financing, if you will, their participation in these activities out of their regular budgets.

MR. HANDELMAN: So, for example, if my department is holding an exercise – like, for example, Leading Edge was an exercise that was just hosted by the UAE on interdiction issues. It was in December* [correction: February] 2012 – very successful, wide participation. The United States Central Command had a large role. They just financed it out of their day-to-day budget. Their – CENTCOM does not have a PSI budget line. In my office, we probably reserve a couple of tens of thousands of dollars for the travel associated with PSI. But this is not a – as Vann said, this is not a program that you can go to someplace in the federal budget and find a specific dollar amount.

MR. VAN DIEPEN: And nor should it be.

MR. HANDELMAN: Yeah. Yeah.

MR. VAN DIEPEN: I mean, this is sort a sort of distributed activity. It’s a whole-of-government thing on our side, plus it’s 102 countries. So you multiply this out and it’s – you can’t really conceive of it as a singular --

QUESTION: You said that you expect at this upcoming anniversary meeting in Warsaw to attract new participants to this initiative, to this program. So what are important players that don’t take part in it yet can be involved in this program from – in your view?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Well, I mean, we’ll --

QUESTION: Should be – or should be involved?

QUESTION: What are the challenges?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Well, I mean, how to answer this. I mean, among the significant countries that are not yet endorsers of PSI – let me put it that way, and I won’t speculate as to our probability of persuading them to participate – but in terms of the kinds of countries out there that have yet to sign up, Vietnam in Southeast Asia, India, Brazil. So these – so there are significant countries that have not yet become endorsers that we would like to see endorse. But many of their neighbors already are endorsers, and they will assist in the effort to try to persuade these countries into deciding to endorse.

QUESTION: What are the reasons that, for example, India or Brazil haven’t endorsed this program?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: I think that that’s something that you’d really need to take up with them. I don’t think it’s my place to characterize their positions.

QUESTION: And Pakistan is a member?


QUESTION: And what are the chances that it will become? Or are you – are there efforts to convince Pakistan to become a member?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Well, again, I mean, there’s been – has been and there will be increased outreach to many, many countries that have not yet endorsed PSI.

QUESTION: What about China? Are they a member of this?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: No. No, China is not an endorser.

QUESTION: Is it one of them, the list of the important countries that has not yet --

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Yeah. I mean, certainly their endorsement would be something that we would welcome, yeah.

QUESTION: Janie Boschma from the Yomiuri Shimbun from Japan. You mentioned that you kind of hoped that this meeting next week will put you in the sunlight for a while. What specifically do you hope to gain from that exposure? Is it the clout to maybe bring in some more coalition-building, more members, or more funding, or just more influence in general?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: I think it’ll have a number of positive benefits. I mean, one of the most important for me is this idea of adding to the deterrent message to the proliferators themselves to make sure that they understand that this remains an active and vibrant and forward-looking initiative. But I think it will also help devote more attention to the idea of additional countries thinking about subscribing, and continue the sort of the political – giving the political priority to interdiction that will help us continue to get good receptivity from other countries when it becomes time to cooperate in real-world interdiction activities. So I think all of those will be benefits from the – being in the sunlight for this 10th anniversary meeting.

MR. HANDELMAN: The PSI – the so-called Operational Experts Group, it’s sort of a group of nations that are particularly active in exercises and communicating on the effort. They are rolling out what’s called the Critical Capabilities and Practices Initiative. Remember earlier I spoke about how the key practical aspect of this whole thing is building relationships, understandings of other countries’ authorities and abilities, working together with other countries in practical exercises, whether it be a ship-boarding exercise or something related. The Critical Capabilities and Practices Initiative is putting a little bit more methodical and formal structure on that; I’ll label it a sort of establishing a curriculum for this whole activity. And so the political level focus that the 10th anniversary is creating will also, I think, help us work with all of the 102 PSI endorsers as this Critical Capabilities and Practices Initiative gets pushed out, and get them as actively involved as they possibly can.

QUESTION: You were talking about --

QUESTION: So after a decade, is there a single example of an interdiction that you can talk about publicly and point to it and say this was a good thing and a good example of it working?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: One case that we can talk about is a case that occurred in May of 2011. A ship called the MV – Motor Vessel Light, L-i-g-h-t – that was departing North Korea and was on its way to deliver a suspect arms-related cargo in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. And we --

QUESTION: Cargo to?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: I’m not in a position to say. A place where we would rather it not go. And so the United States and a number of other PSI-endorsing countries worked together and managed to induce that ship to turn around and go back to North Korea, thereby preventing the shipment.

QUESTION: So you didn’t board it?


QUESTION: You just threatened to, essentially?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Well, I’m not going to say exactly what we did, but the shipment was interdicted. And as Ken noted, interdiction can mean a lot of different things, and this is a good example of something other than physically seizing the shipment.

MR. HANDELMAN: It’s not – yeah, it’s not necessarily even a good thing that an interdiction – and bear in mind my caution about how you define interdiction – involves a gray-hulled warship of any nation. This whole effort is equally and perhaps even more successful when either a government’s or a combination of governments’ law enforcement agencies or customs agencies give effect to a national decision about something that’s moving that’s of concern. So this isn’t about guns blazing and commandos fast-roping.

QUESTION: So, I mean, the vast majority of these dozens of interdictions are stopping a container, stopping a something from going from one place to another at a pretty low level – we’re talking customs?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Well, the physical stopping may be at a low level, but oftentimes there’s high-level political interactions that result in that activity. But every case is different and there’s – some of them can be done very – in a very low-key, routine way; some of them require more high-level interaction.

QUESTION: So in that example that you mentioned, is that something that was specifically led by the PSI or, for example, that PSI enabled those relationships to exist to bring the coalition together?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Right. Right. And that’s a good question in the sense that PSI doesn’t do things as a collectivity.


MR. VAN DIEPEN: And so there’s no such thing as a PSI interdiction. What PSI does is create a framework so that countries can cooperate in specific cases to prevent specific shipments from taking place. And this was certainly an instance where, because of the advent of PSI and the cooperation that was occurring under PSI, that facilitated the cooperation between the countries that resulted in this ship turning around.

QUESTION: Can you say what countries?


QUESTION: Do you see less and less suspicious activities related to this WMD project for Asia since PSI was launched 10 years ago, or the proliferators getting smarter and smarter and the game is like catch me if you can?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: It’s a – I mean, it’s a sort of a process flow thing in the sense that by definition, particularly when you’re dealing with states, they’ve devoted resources and priorities to continuing these programs, and they’re very determined. So they’re going to keep working to try to get what they want to get. And so – and then on top of that, we have a constantly changing intelligence window into what they’re doing. So there’s really no way we’re in a position to say there’s more of it going on, there’s less of it going on. We – sometimes our window gets bigger; sometimes our window gets smaller. So we really can’t do it that way.

But what we are in a position to know is that we’re continuing to successfully interdict substantial numbers of cargos, and we see – like when you walk into the kitchen and turn the lights on, you see the cockroaches running for the corner, we can see that we’re having an impact on the activities of the proliferators, and we are forcing them to work harder and try to do things to evade our activities. And we’re simultaneously sort of expanding our network, so to speak, through the increasing PSI cooperation and through the increasing capacity-building, to make it easier and easier for the endorsing states to actually conduct interdictions.

MR. HANDELMAN: It’s going to be frustrating because I can’t give you specific examples, but one way to amplify on Vann’s comments that we know that there – the international community is having some effect on the group of proliferators that we’re trying to address is that they’re changing techniques a little bit. There’s more stuff going by air, for example. We’ve – I mean, the relationships that have been built over the past 10 years to address maritime shipments are pretty good. Again, as we said earlier, we never know what we don’t know. But one of the things we’re hoping in PSI’s next 10 years that we can get equally good at is dealing with cargo flows by air. Obviously it involves a whole different set of operational issues.

MODERATOR: We’ve got time for one more question.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Well, this declaration of the situation with North Korean vessel you described looks rather sensitive from the legal point of view, from the point of view of international laws, maritime rules, et cetera. So how would you say – what is the legal basis for such an activities, for such an operation? The PSI, you said, was endorsed by the United Nations. So such an activities by North Korea and by Iran can be considered as a violation of Security Council resolutions. Does it mean that it gives enough legal background, legal basis to conduct such an operation or such an activity against the supposed proliferators?

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Right. Well, first of all, one of the founding principles of PSI in the so-called Statement of Interdiction Principles that all of the endorsing countries endorse is that all PSI activities are undertaken consistent with international and domestic laws and legal frameworks. So by definition, there’s no issue of illegal activity when you’re talking about interdictions or PSI-related activities. And the – as Ken was noting earlier on, sort of the trick in any particular situation is to look and see what legal authorities come to bear in that situation based on the countries that are involved. It could be the country of flag of the ship, the country of registration of the ship, which is not the same, the country whose territorial waters the ship is going through, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And every situation will be unique. But in the great majority of cases there will be some available domestic or international legal authority that can be relied upon to effectuate the interdiction.

Now, the frameworks are not perfect, and one of the things we talk about in PSI are things that we can do to improve the legal frameworks, both the individual domestic legal frameworks of the subscribing countries as well as improving the international legal framework. And so, for example, there is a protocol that was concluded several years ago to the Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts at Sea, the SUA or SUA Protocol, that makes – specifically internationally criminalizes the transport of WMD and related materials. And encouraging countries to accede to that protocol is one way that the PSI is trying to expand the international legal framework.

There’s a similar convention for air transport called the Beijing Convention under the International Civil Aviation Organization that criminalizes the transport of WMD and related materials. And so in addition to getting the most mileage out of the various frameworks that all of us have, we’re also looking for a way to expand those frameworks to improve our capabilities.

MR. HANDELMAN: Let me give you a practical example that I think will illustrate a little more the process Vann described. And I’ll start by saying that at many of these PSI exercises and seminars and multilateral meetings, there are as many lawyers in attendance as there are customs officials, diplomats, ministry of defense officials. And that’s really important.

So here’s why: Some country – and I really want to emphasize this is not always the United States or even primarily the United States – comes into information that something is moving a distance. Okay. So maybe you have good information or just speculation. But let’s take the maritime example, that the ship – you understand what the size of the ship is. You can actually predict how long it can travel before having to refuel. So countries can work together, understanding the options for refueling, which ports in which countries are available for that ship if it’s going where we think it’s going. So you ring up your counterparts in those countries, because if they’ve been part of PSI, the lawyers in the various agencies understand what – is a particular port – is the particular country a party to SUA? Maybe not. What is their domestic law? It could be that you approach a country at a political level and say, “Okay, look. We have this information. We know you’re not a party to” – take the Suppression of Unlawful Acts at Sea example --

QUESTION: Or even PSI, presumably.

MR. HANDELMAN: Yeah, but remember I’m talking legal authority. We’re not – I mean, PSI does not confer a legal authority. So just to finish the illustration, though, it could be that based on just the interchange over time, under PSI, countries have an understanding that this particular port – this particular country has a domestic law related to health and safety associated with maritime shipments. And it may be that upon provision of the information about what could be on this vessel, that country could exercise its domestic authority to conduct a health and safety inspection, and might be able to open up one of these large containers and find something that’s being – some contraband.

This stuff is really hard. I mean, I think in government we often underestimate how hard it is to put together a quality piece of journalism. To go to a foreign government and say – even a close ally, for us among the Western Europeans or NATO or Japan or South Korea, and to try and address a problem, if there’s not a preexisting understanding of how that other government works with respect to a particular issue, if there are not some sort of relationships built up, it just – there’s – it adds a whole front end of sort of communication and diplomatic overhead. And if you’re working on perishable information, shrinking that overhead down, which is really what PSI has been all about, it gives you a leg up.

QUESTION: I presume this is why transporting by air is harder for you guys. It’s faster, right?

MR. HANDELMAN: This – yeah, that’s a much more complicated issue. And let me emphasize this is not – whatever PSI might be able to accomplish in terms of building capacity on air-related interdictions, this is not about shooting down aircraft. (Laughter.) Absolutely not. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: All right. Well, with that I’d like to thank both of our briefers for their time today. This event is concluded. If you have any questions about a transcript, please see me, but we’ll try to get this out as soon as we can.

MR. HANDELMAN: And thank all of you.

MR. VAN DIEPEN: Yeah, thank you all very much.

MR. HANDELMAN: And kudos to Poland, which, even before this high-level political meeting, has really played a very, very important role in PSI and other activities like this.

# # #