Some supporters of “multi-lateralism” prefer to talk about its glories in the abstract rather than take action in the here and now. The Bush administration's non-proliferation policies fall into the latter category. Rather than rely on cumbersome treaty-based bureaucracies, this administration has launched initiatives that involve co-operative action with other sovereign states to deny rogue nations and terrorists access to the materials and knowhow needed to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Our policies show that robust use of the sovereign authorities we and our allies possess can produce real results.

The Bush administration is reinventing the non-proliferation regime it inherited, crafting policies to fill gaping holes, reinforcing earlier patchwork fixes, assembling allies, creating precedents and changing perceived realities and stilted legal thinking. The frontlines in our non-proliferation strategy must extend beyond the well-known rogue states to the trade routes and entities engaged in supplying proliferant countries. This can properly be described not as “non-proliferation”, but as “counter-proliferation”. To accomplish this, we are making more robust use of existing authorities, including sanctions, interdiction and credible export controls. Most importantly, we have taken significant steps to improve co-ordination between sovereign states to act against proliferators.

As we learned from the unravelling of the clandestine nuclear weapons network run by A.Q. Khan and from the Libyan WMD programme, proliferators employ increasingly sophisticated and aggressive measures to obtain WMD or missile-related materials. They rely heavily on front companies and illicit brokers in their quest for arms, equipment, sensitive technology and dual-use goods.

In his September 2003 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, George W. Bush proposed that the Security Council pass a resolution calling on member states to criminalise WMD proliferation, enact export controls and secure sensitive materials within their borders. The resulting Security Council Resolution 1540, unanimously adopted, achieved the president's goals. Rather than requiring years negotiating treaties and creating elaborate institutions, Resolution 1540 rests on the notion that sovereign states are responsible for writing and implementing laws closing the loopholes exploited by black market WMD networks.

Among the most prominent of this administration's counter-proliferation innovations is the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). We say that PSI is “an activity, not an organisation”, in this case an activity designed to halt trafficking in WMD, their delivery systems and related materials. In developing PSI, our main goal has been a simple one: to enable practical co-operation among states to help navigate this increasingly challenging arena. The initiative focuses on enhancing states' operational capabilities in the intelligence, military and law enforcement arenas. More than 60 countries gathered in Poland just over a month ago to mark PSI's one-year anniversary - and some notable successes. The interception, in co-operation with the UK, Germany and Italy, of the BBC China, a vessel loaded withnuclear-related components, helped convince Libya that the days of undisturbed accumulation of WMD were over, and helped unravel A.Q. Khan's network.

Another important administration initiative is the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, launched by the Group of Eight at its June 2002 summit. Here again, this effort relies on the commitments of sovereign states acting separately and in concert to secure sensitive materials. Like PSI, the Global Partnership is an activity, not an organisation. The G8 Leaders and 13 additional partners have pledged to raise up to $20bn over 10 years for projects to prevent dangerous weapons and materials from falling into the wrong hands.

The US already has non-proliferation projects under way not only in Russia but in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia and other former Soviet states, as do other Global Partnership countries. We recently began assistance in Iraq and Libya and are encouraging our partners to undertake their own projects in such states. At Sea Island this year, the G8 agreed to use the Global Partnership to co-ordinate activities in these areas.

This administration is working to make up for decades of stillbornplans, wishful thinking and irres-ponsible passivity. We're already late, but we are no longer bystanderswringing our hands and hoping thatsomehow we will find shelterfrom gathering threats. We are nolonger lost in endless internationalnegotiations whose point seems to be negotiation rather than decision,and no longer waiting beneath theempty protection of a reluctant international body while seeking grudging permission to take measures to protectourselves.

Mr Bush has begun laying the foundation for a comprehensive, root-and-branch approach to the mortal danger of the proliferation of instruments intended for our destruction. We are determined to use every resource at our disposal - using diplomacy regularly, economic pressure when it makes a difference, active law enforcement when appropriate and military force when we must.

We are just at the beginning, but it is an extraordinary beginning. Not only are we meeting this ultimate of threats on the field, we are advancing on it, battling not only aggressively, but successfully. And so we must, for the outcome of this battle may hold nothing less than the chance to survive.

The writer is US Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security

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