On May 31, 2003 in the royal castle of Wawel, Krakow, during a state visit to Poland, U.S. President George W. Bush, delivered another forceful blow. This latest onslaught is part of the hegemonic strategy of absolute domination that the Bush administration has assumed in its efforts to consolidate a unipolar vision of the world that the international community rejects with certain timidity but, with a few exceptions, has ended up accepting in real life.

Significantly, little is known and even less has been commented on in relation to the so-called “Krakow initiative” or, more formally, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), in principle aimed at halting the trafficking and increase in weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In formalizing his proposal, Bush’s explanation was as follows: “The greatest threat to peace is the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. And we must work together to stop proliferation …. When weapons of mass destruction or their components are in transit, we must have the means and authority to seize them.”

Although he attempted to cloak his words in the rhetoric of legality, the U.S. president promoted and continues to promote a dependent mechanism used by Washington, outside the confines of the United Nations, to control international air space and maritime routes. Initially, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom responded to the call, emphasizing, according to an official statement from the White House released on September 4, 2003, “the need for proactive measures to combat the threat from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

The goal, to be sure, appears worthy of approval. In practice, however, other nations — Brazil, China, Canada, Russia, South Korea, India, and Pakistan, for the time being, have expressed their concern that the United States seeks to use an instrument of such a scope to strengthen its supremacy in the production of cutting-edge nuclear, ballistic, biological, and chemical technology and to control global transportation routes.

If the PSI is indeed concretized as conceived by Bush and his strategists, Washington will monopolize espionage, the interception of ships on the high seas and aircraft in international air space, and multilateral control devices, all under the pretext of the simple suspicion that WMD or their components could be in transit.

The countries that openly oppose the U.S. proposal have pointed to the danger of a quite flexible interpretation of the legal basis for intercepting international transport, as understood by Washington. A first consequence would be the displacement of other producers of weapons and chemical, biological and nuclear products, in favor of the U.S. industrial complex.

According to the interpretation offered by the Bush administration, almost all cutting-edge technology products can be used in the production of WMD and for the same reason, they can be subject to confiscation by the United States and its allies. This immediately and directly threatens compliance with purchase-sale contracts worldwide and with free international trade, which would become a virtual monopoly of large U.S. corporations and, to a lesser extent, Washington’s European and Asian partners.

The threat of bioterrorism, for example, which has still not thus far been concretized in specific incidents, has allowed Washington to unilaterally impose much stricter measures of control over foodstuffs and agricultural products exported to the United States and its allied or nearby countries. This, in reality, is an instrument of pressure on exporter countries, which contradicts the norms of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In this sense, the law on bioterrorism that is expected to be approved next October is, from the point of view of the Latin American countries, a new and virtually impenetrable barrier to the development of free international trade in agricultural products. This measure, coupled with the U.S. government’s protectionist measures, will sooner than later, cause the collapse of the economies in the region.

To be sure, no one can have doubts on the importance of strengthening measures to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and in this sense, Bush’s initiative is aimed in the right direction. However, the way in which its functioning has been structured moves away from such real and desirable objectives, to become an element of hegemonic domination.

The principles that should prevail in the Proliferation Security Initiative should respect international law and the system of norms accepted within the framework of the United Nations. Otherwise, the blow to world legality will be devastating and perhaps definitive.

*The author is President, Latin American Circle for International Studies (LACIS).