Wednesday 13 Oct 2021 | 19:53 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 13 Oct 2021 | 19:53 | SYDNEY

WMD proliferation: A tighter net


Rory Medcalf


6 August 2009 10:07

Today is Hiroshima Day, and a strengthened regime to stop nuclear proliferation-related shipments is an essential part of wider efforts to ensure nuclear weapons are never used again.

A policy brief published today by the Lowy Institute calls on Australia and other countries to redouble their efforts to fix serious gaps in an international arrangement to stop maritime shipments of materials destined for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs.

The report argues that heightened concerns over North Korea provide an opportunity to bolster the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a 95-country arrangement to promote interception of transfers of cargoes related to weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Media reports this week raising concerns about Burma’s possible nuclear activities add to the urgency of strengthening PSI’s Asian coverage in particular.

In A Tighter Net: Strengthening the Proliferation Security Initiative, non-proliferation scholar Emma Belcher notes that PSI relies on participating states and their domestic laws, yet some key states remain outside, including China, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia. They question its legitimacy and transparency. And within PSI, information-sharing is limited. 

To address these problems, Emma recommends that:

  • Participants should redouble efforts to recruit missing states by persuading them of the PSI’s legitimacy and providing incentives. These could include legal and operational capacity-building, plus a mechanism to share information. 
  • Australia should take a lead in bringing more Asian countries on board, beginning with Indonesia and Malaysia. 
  • Australia should also renew efforts to urge the US to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which would reinforce the legitimacy of US-led maritime operations. PSI states could strengthen the legality of interdictions by pushing the limits of Article 27 of UNCLOS.

This piece makes it clear that a stronger Australian role in PSI would be consistent with the Rudd Government’s aspiration for Australia to be an active middle power with expanded maritime reach. If Canberra is looking for something practical to do to reduce nuclear dangers in the region and the world – something beyond its nuclear disarmament commission – then this could well be it.

Photo by Flickr user (stephan), used under a Creative Commons license.