Issues Develop as BWC Review Approaches
Issues such as the search for ways to increase confidence in compliance and efforts to spur international cooperation on peaceful uses of biological agents are likely to feature prominently at the upcoming review conference for the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), comments by delegates at a meeting in December indicate.
As part of a process of annual meetings with a narrow mandate, the Dec. 6-10 meeting, held at the UN Office at
During statements at the December meeting, many delegations announced preliminary positions on major issues for the review. Some of the issues, such as implementation of the BWC’s provisions for peaceful scientific cooperation among the parties, could pit the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), a bloc representing about 100 developing countries, against Western countries.
The treaty’s peaceful-cooperation provisions, which are contained in Article X, are a perennial focal point, and debate over them could complicate consensus at the review conference, according to a nongovernmental BWC expert.
“Article X will be the real problem, particularly if
During the 2006 review conference, the
The Australia Group, which controls exports of biological and chemical dual-use materials, consists principally of Western countries. Dual-use items are those that can be used for both peaceful and military purposes, such as virulent pathogens and certain technologies.
BWC diplomacy has long been marked by the debate over what constitutes adequate implementation of Article X. Driving the debate are divergent views over the proper balance between sharing of technology and nonproliferation obligations, as well as ideological differences over the function of the BWC, according to the State Department official.
Verification and Compliance
Verification remains a hot-button issue and was addressed in several opening statements at the December meeting.
“A certain amount of energy is going into determining if there are alternatives to a traditional verification mechanism,” the State Department official said. The
In an opening statement on behalf of the European Union,
Meanwhile, in keeping with their long-standing position on the matter, the
This persistence was not unexpected, and rhetoric on verification is likely to continue, according to the State Department official. “The question is not the rhetoric, but whether there will be follow-through based on it,” he said.
“We should have a pretty clear idea in advance of the review conference where the broad lines are drawn,” he predicted.
Many countries have advocated using this year’s review conference to modernize and increase participation in the parties’ information exchange system, known as confidence-building measures.
Possible improvements to the current system identified by governments and independent experts include revising the information queries to make submissions easier to analyze, broadening the scope of shared information to better reflect new scientific developments, and facilitating and streamlining the submission process, for example, through the creation of an online submission tool.
However, all parties are not convinced of the desirability of revising the current information exchange process. In its opening statement at the December meeting,
Although the number of submissions reached a record high in 2010, that number was only 70 out of 163 parties, as of Dec. 10.
An essential task awaiting the parties is determining the program of official work and meetings that will take place between the seventh and eighth review conferences.
Since 2003, this program, known as the intersessional process, has included two annual meetings that are convened to “discuss, and promote common understanding and effective action” on topics prescribed in the final reports of the previous two review conferences. Although the parties have generally viewed the meetings as successful in the context of their limited mandate, some countries have expressed a desire to broaden the scope of the intersessional process in terms of the topics addressed and the authority to make decisions, a power that the current mandate excludes.
In her opening statement at the December meeting, Laura Kennedy, head of the U.S. delegation, outlined a vision for the future intersessional process that includes “greater flexibility to address sets of related issues,” standing working groups “to deal with specific issues,” and “greater authority” for adopting decisions. The joint statement by
“The weight of international focus is on how to improve the intersessional process, rather than whether or not we do,” the State Department official said.
Scientific and Technological Advances
Referring to the last two decades of BWC meetings,
As agreed in the final document of the 2006 review conference, the parties will address the impact of scientific and technological advances on the operation of the BWC during this year’s conference.
The possibility of taking this issue beyond the review conference also has been endorsed. In an address at the December meeting delivered on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the director-general of the UN Geneva office, Sergey Ordzhonikidze, said, “With the pace of advances in biological science and technology growing ever quicker, there is a pressing need for a structured and regular means of monitoring developments and assessing their implications.”
“A lot of the thinking on how to deal with this issue is still fuzzy,” cautioned the State Department official. “This issue should be addressed in some way,” he said, but “whether that means doing so in a working group or through some other process is still an open question.”
Dissent and Optimism
One source of controversy at the December gathering was the draft of the meeting report.
During the plenary discussion of the draft report, a collection of
Also during the December meeting, the states-parties officially accepted by consensus the nomination of Paul van den IJssel, the
In his acceptance speech to the parties, Van den IJssel declared that “ambitious realism will be my guiding principle in the coming year.” In an e-mail exchange after the meeting, Van den IJssel said that, in the course of his consultations with a wide range of delegations on the margins of the meeting, he observed that his principle was “broadly shared among States Parties.”
In his speech, Van den IJssel said, “Compromises will undoubtedly have to be made at the Review Conference, but we can keep them to a minimum by working together openly and constructively, avoiding surprises, and accommodating the interests of others wherever possible.”
The 2011 review conference of the BWC was officially scheduled for Dec. 5-22, with a meeting of a preparatory committee scheduled for April 13-15 to set the formal agenda of the review conference.
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