By Kelsey Davenport
A group of states committed to take further action to mitigate the risk posed by biological threats during a meeting in October of the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
The Global Partnership is a voluntary initiative formed in 2002 by what is now the Group of Seven industrialized nations to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Comprised of 31 member states, the partnership funds and implements projects around the world to mitigate the risk of biological, chemical, radiological, and nuclear weapons.
Germany, the partnership’s current chair, prioritized addressing biological threats during its leadership of the initiative this year. (See ACT, July/August 2022.)
In a speech opening the partnership’s annual conference on Oct. 7, Susanne Baumann, state secretary at the German Federal Foreign Office, lauded the accomplishments of the partnership, calling it a “model for successful preventive security policy.” She said that the COVID-19 pandemic reminded the world “how devastating the emergence of a new pathogen can be for our societies” and “we need to re-examine our safeguards against the possible use of disease as a weapon.”
In their concluding declaration, states committed to “intensify our efforts to enhance both our national and global preparedness to prevent, detect, and respond to biological threats,” including examining how scientific developments for fighting disease are a “potential risk for abuse to develop biological and toxin weapons.”
To address these threats, the states called on parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) to make the treaty “fit for the challenges of the 21st century” and expressed support for creating an experts group to “identify concrete steps” to strengthen implementation of the convention. The states also endorsed creating at its next review conference a “systematic and structured mechanism for reviewing technical and scientific developments” that effect the BWC, such as the challenges posed by biotechnology, without impeding access to technology.
The statement also called out Russia, a former participant in the Global Partnership until its expulsion from the Group of Eight, for its “disinformation activities” that undermine the BWC and discredit “legitimate and peaceful international co-operation and assistance in the life sciences and biotechnology, including in the context of the Global Partnership.”
Although the statement did not provide specifics, Bauman in her remarks accused Russia of “leading a malicious disinformation campaign about alleged Western bioweapons in Ukraine, in the desperate and futile attempt to justify its war of aggression.”
The United States and the partnership have provided financial and technical assistance to Ukraine for biological security. In the Oct. 7 statement, the states said that the Global Partnership’s cooperative biosecurity activities have improved safety and security capacities.
States also committed to expand and intensify work on the Signature Initiative to Mitigate Biological Threats in Africa, a Global Partnership project pursued in cooperation with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. That initiative is aimed at strengthening capacities to “prevent, detect and respond to biological threats posed by high-consequence pathogens.”