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"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
U.S. Names Countries Thought to Be Violating BWC

Seth Brugger

During a November 19 speech, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton accused Iraq and North Korea of breaching the terms of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and warned of possible violations by other countries.

Bolton spoke to delegations from BWC member states on the opening day of a conference that is convened in Geneva every five years to review and improve upon the treaty’s implementation. The accord outlaws biological weapons but contains no verification measures.

Bolton told the conference that Washington is “extremely concerned” that some states are engaging in treaty-prohibited activities and is “concerned” about potential use of biological weapons by terrorist groups. Specifically, the undersecretary said that Washington is worried about accused terrorist Osama bin Laden’s “stated intention to use biological weapons against the United States…. We are concerned that he could have been trying to acquire a rudimentary biological weapons capability, possibly with support from a state.”

Beyond this threat, Bolton said that “the most serious concern” is Iraq. “The United States strongly suspects that Iraq has taken advantage of three years of no UN inspections to improve all phases of its offensive BW program. The existence of Iraq’s program is beyond dispute, in complete contravention of the BWC,” Bolton contended.

Washington also believes that North Korea “has a dedicated, national-level effort to achieve a BW [biological weapons] capability and that it has developed and produced, and may have weaponized, BW agents in violation of the convention,” Bolton asserted. “North Korea likely has the capability to produce sufficient quantities of biological agents for military purposes within weeks of a decision to do so.”

Bolton added that the Bush administration is “quite concerned about Iran, which the United States believes probably has produced and weaponized BW agents in violation of the convention.” Other countries of concern included Libya, Syria, and Sudan, the latter of which is is neither a party to nor a signatory of the BWC. Bolton also said that he could name other states that are pursuing offensive biological weapons programs but that Washington plans to contact them privately.

Bolton’s speech marked a change from past U.S. practice. At previous review conferences, the United States did not name specific countries it believed were violating the convention, except Iraq. Explaining the shift in U.S. tactics, Bolton said, “Prior to September 11, some would have avoided this approach. The world has changed, however, and so must our business-as-usual approach.”

Iran, Iraq, and Libya denied the U.S. charges. According to a source in Geneva, other delegations did not officially comment on the U.S. accusations, believing that “there are already enough substantive problems that we have to deal with here without trying to sidetrack it and begin another debate, arguing whether the United States was correct to do what it did.”