This article examines the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a recent US nonproliferation initiative for the interdiction of cargo shipments involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The PSI is analysed in the context of current US foreign policy’s avoidance of traditional international institutional organisation in favour of reliance on the so-called coalitions of the willing, characterised by the Bush Administration as the new multilateralism. The author examines the interaction between the PSI and the United Nations (UN) Law of the Sea Convention and looks to situations of potential international nuclear conflict, for assessing the PSI and the potential role of law and international organisation. It is argued that the PSI approach unnecessarily undermines the legitimacy and effectiveness of interdiction and that the distinctiveness of the threat, involving both state and non-state actors, requires rather than negates the advantages of institutional organisation. It is institutional process, the article explains, that can provide the necessary capacity for intelligence sharing, mutual critique and maximisation of political consensus. This difference in approach would ground the international community’s response to the interdiction challenge on a more solid legal, practical and political foundation, leading to a more effective and comprehensive modality for countering the most serious threat of our time.

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