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former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
BWC Won't Harm Export Controls, GAO Says

A September report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) concluded that a draft protocol designed to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) would not have weakened export controls, disputing one of the chief reasons U.S. officials cited for rejecting the proposal.

The BWC prohibits the development and stockpiling of biological weapons but does not include any legally binding mechanisms to monitor and verify compliance by states-parties. Six years of multilateral negotiations produced a draft protocol designed to help enforce the treaty, but the United States rejected it in July 2001. (See ACT, September 2001.) U.S. officials cited several reasons for doing so, emphasizing concerns that the protocol’s measures would have harmed biodefense efforts, endangered legitimate commercial interests, and damaged export controls on potentially harmful biological agents.

U.S. concerns over export controls arose after some less developed countries unsuccessfully tried to include provisions in the protocol that would have prohibited export control regimes, such as the Australia Group, which attempts to control the flow of chemical and biological agents and technology to countries suspected of weapons programs. The GAO report, however, suggests that the final draft protocol would actually have enhanced export controls. “Our review of the draft protocol shows that it required countries to establish export controls for dual-use items, included no provisions to eliminate such controls, and contained language that supported the efforts of the Australia Group and similar entities,” the report says.

The State Department told the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, that the draft protocol included a procedure that would have allowed BWC member states to review other members’ denials of requests to transfer biological agents, thereby opening the door to undermining export controls. In response, GAO investigators reviewed the draft protocol again and found nothing that “cited transfer denials or outlined procedures for overturning such denials.” The report says that the State Department’s “concerns about transfer denial review procedures in the rejected draft protocol are unclear.”