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– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
June 2, 2022
Europeans Seek to Strengthen BWC
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Michael Nguyen

European states have recently approved a plan to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). But in doing so they made clear that they favor incremental improvements, conscious that they must work around U.S resistance to multilateral efforts.

The joint action plan approved Feb. 27 will provide 867,000 euros to fully fund two projects that aim to increase the convention’s universality and improve national implementation measures over the course of 18 months. The joint action is a part of a broader effort to implement the “EU Strategy Against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction” approved at the end of 2003. (See ACT, May 2005.)

The first EU project will consist of five workshops targeted at regions with substantial gaps in BWC membership, including Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Pacific islands nations. The goal would be to educate diplomats and bureaucrats from these states about the BWC and EU nonproliferation initiatives.

A second project would allow current BWC states-parties to receive legal and technical assistance from EU member states to help draft relevant national legislation. Such legislation would codify the obligations of the BWC, including criminal provisions and measures related to the physical protection of biological agents or related materials and equipment.

Unlike the Chemical Weapons Convention, the BWC has no implementing body to organize these workshops or provide legal and technical assistance. The British government has said that it would support the formation of a secretariat to perform many of these duties, as well as the creation of a scientific advisory panel to monitor developments in the life sciences. However, it is not clear if such a proposal would gain much traction. During a July 2004 meeting of BWC experts, British experts submitted a proposal to enhance the UN secretary-general’s abilities to investigate allegations of biological weapons use but received a lukewarm response from the United States. (See ACT, September 2004.)

Nonetheless, “these are interesting ideas, and we are very ready to discuss them,” said David Triesman, the United Kingdom’s parliamentary undersecretary of state for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, during a March 13 briefing. “Our priority at the review conference will be to support the proposals that are feasible and add value to the effective implementation of the convention.”

Despite its long-standing support for a verification measure for the treaty, the United Kingdom does not plan to press for a resumption of work toward that goal. “The reality is that a number of countries are not prepared to proceed as rapidly as we would all wish on verification,” said Triesman. “Negotiation can often be a matter of catching a tide as circumstances become more favorable.”

The United States has remained the most vocal critic of reopening negotiations on a verification mechanism for the convention. Negotiations on such a protocol have been stymied since the United States abruptly withdrew its support on the last day of the treaty review conference in 2001.

During a Feb. 14 meeting in Tokyo hosted by the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the Japan Institute of International Affairs, the United States indicated that it would prefer to continue to concentrate on national measures to strengthen the treaty and not on any new multilateral effort. “Absent national ‘ownership,’ multilateral obligations are simply empty rhetoric,” said Carolyn Leddy, a senior adviser in the Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. “In case I was not clear from the outset, let me reiterate for you now that the Bush administration will not return to the protocol negotiations or negotiations on any verification mechanism whatsoever for the BWC,” she said.