On November 16, the Arms Control Association held a press conference to discuss the November 19-December 7 review conference of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention in Geneva. Speakers addressed the role of the convention in fighting the spread of germ weapons and the likely outcome of the review conference. They also evaluated U.S. proposals to strengthen the convention.
The panelists were James F. Leonard, former U.S. ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament, who served as the lead U.S. negotiator for the Biological Weapons Convention; Michael Moodie, president of the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute and former assistant director for multilateral affairs at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; and Elisa Harris, research fellow at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and former director for non-proliferation and export controls at the National Security Council. The briefing was moderated by Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
The following is an edited transcript of their remarks and the question-and-answer session that followed.
Welcome to the Arms Control Association’s press briefing on the Biological Weapons Convention [BWC] review conference, which begins in Geneva this coming Monday, November 19, and ends December 7. This conference takes place every five years to assess and try to improve upon the convention’s implementation. At the top of the agenda will be efforts to put teeth into the convention, which outlaws germ weapons development and possession but contains no provisions to make sure countries are abiding by its terms.
Now, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the recent anthrax letter crisis, I think it is clear to everyone across the political spectrum and around the world that we must improve emergency and public health preparedness. But it’s also more obvious than ever that the best cure for bioterrorism is prevention: making it more difficult for states or parties hostile to the United States or others to have access to biological weapons [BW]. That makes it important to broaden and strengthen our first line of defense—arms control and non-proliferation.
However, as our panelists will discuss, there’s not yet sufficient international consensus on this point. The upcoming Biological Weapons Convention conference will likely see heated debate, and its outcome is uncertain. The chief reason for this is the Bush administration’s rejection in July of a draft compliance protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention—which a majority of the United States’ closest allies and partners supported—that aimed to make it harder for states to cheat on the convention. Upon rejecting the draft protocol, Washington promised to put forward alternative proposals to strengthen compliance with the convention and to combat the biological weapons problem. The Bush administration and other states are expected to formally present their alternatives packages at the conference over the next couple of weeks.
So, in the interest of promoting better understanding and debate on this important and timely topic, we’ve assembled a panel of three of the foremost experts in this field who will address the role of the convention in fighting the spread of germ weapons and likely outcomes of the review conference, as best we can tell at this stage. They’re also going to evaluate U.S. proposals to strengthen the convention and discuss what can be done following this conference to build international support and consensus on this topic. We will lead off with James Leonard.
Thank you. I’m going to try to say where we are and how we got here. Right after World War II, it was widely expected that the major powers would start a disarmament process and that they would give priority to weapons of mass destruction. In fact, this was the subject of the first resolution that the UN General Assembly ever took, in 1946. But nothing happened. The Cold War came along, and there was nothing really of significance done on arms control until the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963. That treaty, as many people have pointed out, was driven as much or more by environmental concerns as by security concerns.
Then, from 1965 to 1968, negotiations on the Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] dominated. There was also talk about doing something on chemical and biological arms. These weapons had been treated jointly in the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which prohibited countries from using them but did not ban their possession, development, or research. But there were obvious problems in dealing with chemical and biological weapons together, and toward the end of the NPT negotiations, the United Kingdom suggested that the problem of biological weapons should be split off from the problem of chemical weapons.
When the Nixon administration came in, it did a comprehensive review of where things stood and what should be done about it, and it decided to support the British proposal for a separate treaty on biological weapons. I’d been in Geneva for some months at that time, and our delegation got instructions from Washington, “Go out there and sell the idea of a separate BW treaty.” We did, and we got the treaty. It was completed late in 1971, signed early in 1972, and brought into force during the next administration, in 1975.
The treaty granted member states the right to appeal matters to the UN Security Council and to ask other parties to clarify situations, but it had absolutely nothing in the way of verification or enforcement provisions. Everybody recognized that this was a grave deficiency, but I make no apology for the treaty. We really had a choice of concluding a treaty without any verification measures or having no treaty at all. I think that, in spite of the Soviet Union’s absolutely atrocious violation of the treaty, we were right to conclude the treaty, get a norm on the books, and to deal with the problems of verification later.
The attempt to deal with verification began very shortly after the treaty was brought into force. Member states have held treaty review conferences about every five years, during which they developed some ideas for verification. Some of these ideas have been put forward as nonbinding or politically binding confidence-building measures. The idea that there should maybe be something mandatory was there in the background, and that instinct was strengthened as the Soviet Union began to come apart. First, the Soviet Union softened its attitude on on-site inspections, which it had absolutely opposed. And, of course, the Soviet Union itself softened up and then split into pieces.
So, starting in 1991, we had a new situation, which allowed for things to proceed in a new manner. First, the 1991 review conference asked to have a group of scientific experts get together and look and see what could be done in the way of verification measures. The experts met for a couple of years and produced a report, which was given to a special treaty conference held in 1994. That conference produced a mandate for an Ad Hoc Group to sit down and develop a legally binding protocol to the treaty that would include whatever verification measures could be agreed upon.
The Ad Hoc Group began meeting in 1995 under the chairmanship of a Hungarian ambassador, Tibor Tóth, who has tirelessly chaired the group ever since. Last fall, Tóth took ideas that had emerged to date, which had been compiled into an enormous “rolling text,” and began working on his own compromise text. In April, he put his text on the table, and the other members of the Ad Hoc Group began forming opinions on it.
That text was what the Bush administration faced as it came into office, and that text was the focus of a BWC policy review the administration conducted over its first couple of months. The review culminated in a statement by the U.S. representative to the Ad Hoc Group in July, who said that Tóth’s text had such serious defects that it could not be cured, no matter what changes might be considered. In fact, it said the text’s basic approach was simply wrong.
That brought to an end the negotiations that had gone on for the previous six years, and the parties adjourned to consider what they would do in the light of this U.S. position. We will see what they have come up with next week at the review conference. At the conference, the United States, it is presumed, will be putting forward in a more formal way the new ideas that it promised in July, which have appeared only in press leaks so far. We’re expecting those, and I hope that Mike Moodie will be able to give you some idea of what these are and provide some comments on them.
Thank you. Much of what you hear about the BWC and the way to improve it has to do with transparency and openness. In the spirit of transparency and openness, let me begin by saying that I agreed with the administration’s conclusion that the protocol couldn’t be supported. But I’m not really going to talk about that decision, other than to say that it is important to understand some of the administration’s reasoning because that shaped the way it has thought about the way forward.
When the United States announced its decision on the protocol in July, it elaborated to some extent on the reasons why it couldn’t support the product of the Ad Hoc Group. First of all, from the administration’s point of view, the protocol doesn’t focus on the real problem. The problem as they see it are states that are party to the treaty but about which there may be serious compliance concerns. From their point of view, the protocol’s procedures do not really do enough to focus on that issue. Instead, the protocol calls for a lot of activity that is, in essence, peripheral to that central concern.
Second, the administration argues that the protocol does not strike an acceptable balance between the risks resulting from some of the protocol’s activities and the benefits to be gained from doing those things. These are issues about which people have disagreed for some time, and I expect that that disagreement is likely to continue.
Third, as Ambassador Leonard suggested, the administration concluded that the protocol was based on an approach that—given the unique combination of politics, treaty language, and science and technology that surrounds biological weapons and the BWC—would not work. It maintained that nothing was really to be gained from further attempts to tinker with the language because the protocol’s basic approach would not lead to productive conclusions.
At the same time, the administration has consistently reiterated, especially after the events of September 11, that it is committed to the fight against biological weapons proliferation. It has said that the BWC is an important tool, but not the only tool—and maybe not the most important tool—in that fight. It has also reiterated its recognition that the convention needs to be strengthened and that the protocol is not the way to accomplish that goal. Therefore, there is a need for a new approach. It is this viewpoint that has informed U.S. efforts to develop some measures to be able to put on the table when the review conference begins next week.
What the administration has tried to do with its new approach is define more broadly both the threat and ways to address that threat. As part of this, the administration wants to create an environment that minimizes the opportunities for misuse of the life sciences—whether misuse is accidental or deliberate. This is a task that is especially important in light of the incredible speed at which science and technology and our understanding of the life sciences is advancing. This is something that is only expected to accelerate as we enter what some people are calling the “Century of Biology.”
So, the administration has identified a series of measures that it thinks will contribute to the creation of this kind of environment. As a consequence, not all of the measures that it suggests would be considered classic arms control. The administration is also very clear that it views these measures only as a beginning on which the international community can build.
These measures are organized into three sets related to various provisions of the BWC. First, there are measures directed toward strengthening Article IV of the BWC, which deals with national implementation of the treaty. In this regard, the administration is going to be calling for legislation that each country could pass domestically to criminalize activities prohibited by the treaty. This has been a long-standing objective of the United States. It sought to get a commitment from treaty states-parties to do this very thing at the 1991 review conference. The fact that, 10 years later, it is still pushing this initiative suggests how much success it has had selling its idea.
The United States is also going to emphasize the development and adoption of standards for the security of pathogenic microorganisms. It will be stressing greater oversight of activities involving genetic engineering, and it will seek the development of professional codes of conduct for those working with such pathogenic microorganisms through national and international societies.
The second set of measures the administration will suggest is oriented toward strengthening Article V of the treaty, which addresses cooperation and consultation mechanisms. In this area, it is going to propose mechanisms to investigate suspicious outbreaks of disease or allegations of biological weapons use. This provision was also included in the protocol, and the administration thinks that it is a good idea and wants to carry it forward.
The United States did not include in its proposals the protocol measures for investigating facilities that may not be in compliance with the treaty. That being the case, the administration is also proposing a mechanism for addressing compliance concerns that would allow one state to engage in a bilateral, or perhaps multilateral, exploration of compliance concerns. This would be based on a voluntary exchange of information, visits, or other procedures.
The third set of measures is oriented toward BWC Article VII, which deals with assistance to victims of a biological attack, and Article X, which addresses technical and scientific cooperation. In this regard, the administration proposes emphasizing states-parties’ commitment to promoting better global disease surveillance activities, creating an international rapid-response team that would provide medical assistance in the event of a serious outbreak of infectious disease, and developing biosafety standards that would govern the activity of biotechnology industries.
Will this set of proposals be accepted at the review conference as the basis for moving forward in the fight against biological weapons proliferation? In my view, the review conference’s success really depends on two factors. One is the willingness of other states-parties to engage on this set of issues. Some countries have already demonstrated that they view the U.S. proposals as the basis for further work, especially if the measures can be supplemented by additional ideas.
But there are other countries that, for a number of reasons, I’m not sure will support the U.S. approach. First, I think there is a degree of bitterness toward the United States for undermining six years of negotiations, and there appears to be willingness on the part of some states-parties to stick it to the United States for doing what it did. Therefore, these states are not going to go along with the U.S. approach.
Countries committed to the protocol’s measures might not support the U.S. proposals either. They don’t want to give up the product of six years of negotiations, and they still see the protocol as the best way forward. Similarly, there are states that are committed to a multilateral process and want to see the mandate of the Ad Hoc Group reaffirmed so it can conclude an internationally negotiated agreement.
Countries with interests other than non-proliferation also may not support the U.S. approach. There was a group of countries during the protocol negotiations and all along—going back a decade or more—that made no secret of the fact that they were involved because they wanted to benefit from the scientific and technical cooperation that the treaty obligates states-parties to promote. Much of this debate dealt with the role of export controls in the protocol regime, and if these states don’t get what they want in this regard, I don’t think that they will be particularly willing to go along with the United States.
The second condition that bears on the success of the review conference is the willingness of the United States to engage on the interests of the others. As I said, some countries feel very strongly that the Ad Hoc Group continue and that negotiations take place. The United States has already expressed its preference for politically binding commitments that individual governments can undertake without legally binding, multilaterally negotiated international agreements, although it has left the door open for that. But how willing the administration will be to go down that road, I think, is open to question.
Similarly, the extent to which the United States will entertain additional measures to those that it puts on the table is also open to question. But there is also the prospect that, during the review conference, a number of countries will go back to the measures in the protocol, either in part or in whole. If that becomes the case, we have the basis for the conference’s breakdown.
So, on the one hand, I think we have to see the extent to which others are willing to go along with the U.S. approach, which reflects a fundamental change in thinking. This is something that governments do not always do very easily. On the other hand, I think the question will be whether the United States is willing to take steps in the direction of what some other countries want, if not in substance then at least in process. So, I wouldn’t lay money on whether this is going to be a success or failure.
I think I’ll use Mike Moodie’s example, and, in the interest of openness and transparency, say that I disagree fundamentally with the Bush administration’s decision to oppose the protocol. Clearly the protocol, in and of itself, would not solve the entire biological weapons problem. But it would establish legally binding procedures for pursuing evidence that other countries are developing or producing biological weapons—something we lack today. It would also clearly provide new data that would enhance our ability to detect and respond to foreign biological weapons programs. In that way, it would complement the other elements of our biological weapons non-proliferation policy, such as export controls, biodefense efforts, and intelligence collection. Moreover, because the protocol has provisions to protect sensitive national security and commercial information—which are the same as or, in some cases, exceed similar provisions in the Chemical Weapons Convention—we in the Clinton administration were convinced that the protocol could achieve these important objectives without jeopardizing other U.S. interests. So, I think the protocol—or something like it with legally binding obligations—is an important part of the overall response to the biological weapons problem and that the Bush administration has made a very serious mistake in rejecting it.
Let me now say a few words about the Bush administration’s proposals and what I believe is needed to deal with the biological weapons problem. As Mike said, most of the items in the Bush package take the form of recommendations for states-parties to enact. These measures aim to increase national controls over activities that could be misused by individuals or subnational groups, including terrorists. Many of these national measures represent a useful first step toward erecting stronger barriers against the acquisition or use of biological agents by terrorists, but they can and should be made more robust. Let me give you two examples.
Mike mentioned the U.S. proposal for national legislation to criminalize illegal biological weapons activities, which includes requirements for the extradition of criminals involved in biological weapons crimes. This is potentially important, but Article IV of the BWC already addresses the issue of parties taking national steps to implement the obligations of the convention. If we’re serious about advancing things beyond what the BWC already does, the administration should be proposing an international treaty that would make it a crime for individuals to engage in prohibited activity. I don’t see how their proposal in this particular area moves us very far beyond what the convention already offers.
The administration’s proposals to establish national oversight of high-risk genetic engineering experiments and to develop a code of conduct for scientists working with pathogens also are very important. But again, if we’re serious about preventing the hostile use of biotechnology, we should be seeking internationally agreed standards, backed up by auditing arrangements. Apparently, that’s not what the administration has in mind.
Regarding international mechanisms, as Mike has indicated, the administration is proposing measures for clarifying compliance concerns and for investigating suspicious disease outbreaks or alleged biological weapons use. Here, too, I think the U.S. package falls seriously short of what is needed.
For clarifying compliance concerns, the United States will propose a voluntary cooperative mechanism, including exchanges of information or on-site visits by mutual consent. This doesn’t move us forward at all. Article V of the BWC already says the states-parties should consult and cooperate with one another to resolve problems, and previous review conferences have agreed on consultative procedures to implement that part of the convention. So it’s difficult for me to see how the administration has moved the ball forward on this issue.
For investigating outbreaks of disease or alleged use of biological weapons, the administration is going to call for investigations by international experts upon determination by the UN secretary-general. But such an arrangement already exists. In 1987, the UN General Assembly called upon the secretary-general to carry out investigations in response to reports by any UN member state concerning the use of chemical or biological weapons. The resolution also asked the secretary-general to convene a group of qualified experts to develop guidelines and procedures and to identify laboratories that could be used for these investigations—all that work was completed in 1989. So it’s hard for me to see how the U.S. proposal on investigations moves us beyond what we already have in place.
What is needed, in my view? I would argue that, given the threat posed by national biological weapons programs—both in and of themselves and as a potential source of assistance to aspiring biological terrorists—we clearly need stronger international measures. I am not prepared to rely upon states that sponsor terrorism to take criminal action against terrorists on their territory, to enforce national regulations on access to pathogens, or to participate in voluntary clarification efforts.
I’m also not comfortable waiting to call on the secretary-general after biological weapons have been used or released into the environment. Biological weapons in the hands of terrorists or states represent such a serious threat to our security and to international security that we must focus on prevention. That must be our first goal. In my mind, this requires effective measures for enforcing the BWC’s ban on the development and production of biological weapons.
To this end, I believe a variety of legally binding—not voluntary or nationally decided—information exchanges and on-site measures should be adopted. This would include the disclosure of information on activities and facilities relevant to the BWC. It would also include provisions to investigate not only the alleged use of biological weapons but also facilities suspected of developing or producing such weapons. To make sure that these measures are implemented, we need institutional arrangements. The need for both of these elements—legally binding measures and institutional arrangements—is clearly demonstrated by the experience with the voluntary confidence-building information exchanges that have been in place since 1986. The record of participation in these exchanges is extremely poor, and there has been no follow-up or review of the information gathered. The exchanges have been a failure. That is one of the reasons why the international community embarked in 1991 on the path that ultimately led to the protocol negotiations.
Finally, given the importance of an effective biological weapons ban to our security, we should view the BWC review conference not as the end but as the beginning of a process. I share Mike’s uncertainty as to whether the administration will indeed do that. We clearly cannot afford to wait another five years until the next review conference to talk about ways of strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention. The minimum that we need to see come out of the review conference is an agreement among all parties for an ongoing, multilateral forum in which all of the various proposals that are on the table—the U.S. proposals as well as other proposals for stronger, international measures—can be discussed. Hopefully, this type of arrangement would allow an acceptable solution to evolve over time.
Question: How does one measure the success or failure of the conference, and what role does a final document play in this?
Moodie: Well, in situations like this, the international community tends to define the success or failure of a review conference by its ability to announce at the conclusion of the allotted time period that there is a final declaration that is approved by all of the states-parties that participated in the conference. It’s amazing how matters of major principle can turn on one or two words in a final declaration. So, although the debate at the review conference will be over single words, there is a lot more at stake than just language in some of these situations.
I think the issue at the review conference will be whether the states-parties will be able to reconcile their different interests and priorities. Right now, I’m not sure that they will be able to do this, but I think that’s one measure that we would look at.
If there is no final declaration, a second measure is the reasons for such an outcome. If this turns out to be a slugging match between the United States and the protocol supporters that deteriorates into name-calling and recrimination, that’s obviously not going to be a success. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily think that it is an unsuccessful outcome if some countries of concern are put on the spot in the final declaration and are not willing to support it, thereby breaking consensus. I think that kind of situation turns attention to those countries and highlights the nature of the problem in a very dramatic way.
But I think the first measure of success will be whether there is a final declaration that bridges states’ differences. A potential problem here is the tendency for final declarations to merely reflect the least common denominator. However, in this case I don’t think that anybody going to Geneva, especially the Bush team, is going to find that an acceptable outcome. September 11 has created a new context within which the international community has to once again put itself on record as underlining the need to strengthen the fight against biological weapons.
Harris: I agree with Mike. If there is no final declaration and the review conference ends with no tangible decisions to help address the biological weapons problem, it would clearly have been not only a failure, but would also represent a very serious blow to the whole regime prohibiting biological weapons. Such a result would send a very bad signal to proliferators that the international community lacks the will to enforce compliance with BWC.
I think that one of the most critical issues that is going to decide whether there is a final declaration is whether parties can come to agreement on a process for moving forward, specifically, whether they can agree to an ongoing multilateral process. It is my sense that the United States opposes the idea of an ongoing process among all BWC states-parties to discuss, evaluate, and reach agreement on measures to strengthen the regime. Washington may be willing to countenance a meeting or two in the future. Many other countries, however, Western as well as nonaligned, feel very strongly about the need for such a process after the review conference. This process would not take up the protocol—it is understood that that is not feasible for the time being—but would discuss U.S. and other proposals for strengthening the regime.
Question: What do we know about the views of U.S. allies, particularly countries like the United Kingdom, with regard to the upcoming conference and their reaction to some of the U.S. proposals, which they have been briefed on in the past couple of weeks?
Harris: I think it is fairly widely known that the countries that have been consulted by Washington view the U.S. proposals as a useful first step but not enough. There is a clear interest on their part in getting agreement at the review conference on a process that would allow not only discussion of the U.S. proposals but also would take up more robust ideas for strengthening the regime. So I think they will be coming to the review conference to press for agreement on an ongoing multilateral process, and I think they’re absolutely right.
Moodie: Looking forward, most of our European allies have regrets about the U.S. decision not to support the protocol, and willingness to engage the United States varies from country to country. But, with the Europeans, Washington has another problem. The members of the European Union [EU] get together and put together their position before meetings, and to a greater or lesser extent, they feel bound by the agreed EU position. That may limit the flexibility each EU country has to do things that it might be interested in doing. This creates a problem for the U.S. delegation because it is sometimes confronted with a European fait accompli: “This is it. We’ve negotiated it all among the countries of the EU. We can’t go beyond this.”
Negotiations need flexibility, and a lack of flexibility in the EU position is going to make it more difficult for the U.S. delegation. If there is a group within the EU that has successfully insisted on protocol-like measures being part of the follow-on package, that’s going to create a very difficult problem. If they have more flexibility, then maybe Washington can also be accommodating.
Obviously there are also other players beyond the Europeans and the United States. You’ve got the large nonaligned block, which brings to this a very different set of interests that is going to come into play as well.
Leonard: I want to add to what Mike said. After the United States delivered its decision to reject the protocol, there was a great deal of anger, particularly within the European group. The Europeans had really led that negotiation. But that all changed after September 11. There was an enormous wave of sympathy for the United States following the attacks. Any inclination on the part of our friends and allies to, as Mike said, “stick it to us” vanished at that point.
Of course, the United States still has enemies, including some governments participating in the Geneva negotiations. But I think that, if the United States approaches this review conference with any sort of openness and willingness to listen to the concerns of others, then there is the possibility of a rather successful outcome.
Question: If most of what the administration is proposing now is already in the Biological Weapons Convention, why is the United States making these proposals? What is the reason for coming back with these particular proposals at this time? Do you think that these ideas do nothing more than the convention does?
Moodie: To say that some of these elements are in the convention already doesn’t mean that they are working effectively. For example, Article IV of the convention says states will commit themselves to taking national measures to implement the treaty. This is a general obligation, but there is no agreement on what the nature of that obligation really entails. By suggesting that countries criminalize treaty-prohibited activities, the United States is rightly attempting to give that commitment some content beyond procedural legislation that allows the treaty to have the force of domestic law.
Regarding the suggestion for investigations of suspicious outbreaks of disease, the UN secretary-general has had the authority to look into an outbreak but has never invoked it. The U.S. proposal intends to give that process some more detail and make it something that actually works. So, general commitments and opportunities may exist, but the content of those obligations and detailed processes for executing them don’t appear to be there. As a consequence, the administration is drawn to these areas when making specific proposals to strengthen the convention.
Harris: On the issue of investigating outbreaks and alleged use, Mike says that the administration is going to add more detail to the procedures that have already been developed, which are very detailed and include lists of experts, laboratories, and so forth. But is the administration prepared to go the next logical step and make participation in these investigation procedures legally binding? Are they prepared to extend them to not just biological weapons use or disease outbreaks but to facilities suspected of harboring efforts to produce or develop biological weapons?
If the administration is prepared to make this voluntary arrangement for investigations legally binding and to extend it to investigating suspect facilities, then I think it will be doing something extremely valuable. But, thus far, we haven’t seen any indications that the administration is willing to do this.
Question: Is there any chance that other nations would come up with plans and just move ahead without the United States à la the global warming treaty?
Moodie: I think it’s an option. But I have the sense that many of the participants, even those who are most disappointed with the United States, are not overly interested in that option. Given the role of the United States in the fight against biological weapons proliferation and as the leader in biotechnology, moving this forward without the United States doesn’t make sense in this case.
Leonard: I would put it more strongly. The option was briefly considered in July after the United States came out against the protocol, and it was rejected, almost without discussion. Even in the heat of the moment, there was a feeling that moving forward in this area without the United States was simply out of the question.
Question: Let me just return to the question that was asked before. What is the motivating factor behind the Bush administration’s reticence to pursue more expansive, legally binding instruments? Do the United States’ biodefense programs have something to do with this?
Harris: I think the administration’s approach here is consistent with its approach toward multilateral agreements and actions more broadly. Richard Haass, the director of policy planning at the State Department, described it as “à la carte multilateralism.” When it suits our interests, we see value in multilateral action. Witness the multilateral coalition that has been put together to deal with the terrorism problem and to conduct the campaign in Afghanistan. But the administration would clearly prefer avoiding any sort of legally binding arrangements that limit its flexibility and freedom to pursue particular courses of action.
Moodie: I don’t accept an argument that says the United States rejected the protocol as part of the long litany of multilateral things it doesn’t like. I think, in this case, the administration took a very careful look at the protocol and said, “We don’t like this protocol because it doesn’t do the job.” Concern about U.S. biodefense activities was part of that decision. It also incorporated concerns about the security of commercial activities. But that was only part of the analysis. The administration did not think that the protocol would have focused attention on countries of concern, put pressure on those countries, or give priority to advancing the international community’s ability to deal with those countries.
To overstate the case, there was a view that looked at the protocol as creating an international organization that was going to spend the bulk of its time looking at declarations and making visits to facilities that were not relevant to the central problem of biological weapons proliferation. The organization would have spent a lot of time and resources on technological and cooperation assistance issues. It wouldn’t have focused on countries of concern and biological weapons proliferation, which would have been its central job. That is the conclusion, in terms of costs and benefits, that the administration associated with the protocol.
At the review conference, if other states-parties say we need a combination of legally binding declarations, on-site activities, and an international organization, they are going to get basically the same response from the administration as they did for the protocol. In its view, that sounds very much like the approach taken in the protocol. The motivation behind some of the U.S. measures is a sense that the old way of doing business is not sufficient: we’ve got to define the problem differently; we’ve got to define the context differently, and if we do that, we may be able to identify some very useful, but different, approaches to dealing with the problem.
Harris: I have certainly heard administration officials make the arguments Mike has made here today, particularly the point that the protocol would not have focused adequately on countries of concern. But it is difficult for me to see how the administration’s proposals, which are predominantly national measures, would address the problem of countries of concern. Are voluntary visits or exchanges going to get at the problem of countries of concern? So, I take the point that this reasoning is part of what was behind the administration’s rejection of the protocol, but the administration has not come up with a package that addresses the problem it raises.