On July 14, members of the Ad Hoc Group (AHG) to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) began their second meeting of the year in Geneva with a "rolling text" for a verification protocol ready for negotiations and a number of difficult issues still on their agenda.
The AHG, which will meet through August 1, has a mandate to consider appropriate measures to improve compliance with and strengthen the treaty's provisions. The BWC requires the 140 states-parties not to develop, produce, stockpile or acquire biological agents other than for defensive or peaceful purposes. It has been repeatedly criticized for its lack of an enforcement regime.
The chairman of the AHG, Ambassador Tibor Toth of Hungary, presented the rolling text in early June, based on the work of four "Friends of the Chair" committees. The document was hailed by negotiators as a significant step toward completion of the compliance protocol. However, as presented, many pages of the rolling text and even entire articles, such as the one describing the organization that will oversee verification, are blank.
In early July, Toth identified four major issues that would be discussed at the Geneva meeting: determining the modalities and procedures for on-site inspections; delineating the contents of data declarations; defining terms and criteria relevant to protocol issues; and resolving conflicts over export controls and the peaceful exchange of technical information, a source of ongoing contention between industrialized states and developing countries.Donald Mahley, head of the U.S. delegation to the AHG, said July 15, the most critical national security issue during negotiations will center on compliance inspections, with an emphasis on safeguarding commercial proprietary information. The final AHG meeting of the year is scheduled for September 15 to October 3.