Interview With Amb. Masood Khan of Pakistan President-Designate of the Sixth Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference

Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) member states will gather Nov. 20 to Dec. 8 for a review conference five years after a similar meeting ended divisively. Prospects for success this year are uncertain even as a modest work program has helped restore confidence in the BWC process. Arms Control Today spoke on September 23 with the designated conference president Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan about his expectations for the 2006 review conference.

ACT: Ambassador Khan, as President-designate, what are your expectations for the forthcoming Sixth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)? In particular, in your view, what would constitute success for the review conference?

Khan: I will come to [what constitutes] success later but let me tell you that the sixth review conference should succeed. That’s an imperative. It should have concrete, tangible results that add value to the BWC and strengthen it as a barrier against biological weapons. Its outcome should be based on consensus but with added value. We will not use the lowest common denominator as the yardstick for success, but the median point that represents common ground.

ACT: How do you think the global context, in particular U.S. tensions with Iran, will influence discussions?

Khan: First, on the overall, global context with regard to disarmament diplomacy. Three major events—the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May 2005,[1] the UN Summit in September 2005,[2] and the Small Arms and Light Weapons Review Conference[3] in June—did not seem to have achieved the results that a majority of states were hoping to achieve. At the BWC review conference, however, we should have a strong possibility of bringing the international community to one shared platform. This event could represent a peak in disarmament diplomacy.

About the other external dynamics: We will try to manage them within the setting of the BWC, and we will try to keep them specific to biological weapons issues.

ACT: Which topics do you expect to be the most difficult ones at the review conference, and on which issues do you expect to see convergence?

Khan: There is a growing convergence that there should be a solid outcome, to build on the successful engagement of the states-parties in the recent past, particularly during the expert and the annual meetings from 2003 to 2005. At the moment, we are not talking about divergences but common ground.

ACT: The last review conference in 2001 ended in controversy, as the U.S. blocked consensus on a draft verification protocol and thus member states haven’t agreed on a substantive final document since 1996. What do you think will be the consequences if member-states again fail to agree on a substantive final document?

Khan: Well, I think there was a compromise of sorts in 2002 and that is why we had the annual meetings.[4] But in our preparations I have banished the word “failure”, because the use of this word could be self-indoctrinating and, consequently, self-debilitating. I have advised negotiators of states-parties to do the same, that is to banish the word failure. We are trying to put success on the table and define what it could mean and what it could be.

ACT: You already mentioned the intersessional process. What in your view are the lessons of this novel exercise that has taken place the last three years, and how can the review conference reflect on those lessons?

Khan: [The meetings] touched on very important dimensions including national implementation, security and oversight of pathogens, capabilities for responding to and investigating alleged use of biological weapons, mechanisms for disease surveillance and response, and codes of conduct for scientists. Now, let me enumerate some of the lessons that were learned, and this is my personal view. As these discussions were not expected to lead to binding commitments, they tended to be more collegial, cooperative, and constructive. In such a setting, states-parties and all other actors learn more from each other. These meetings have also raised awareness about the threat of biological weapons. The process was less polemical. The meetings also kept the focus on the BWC and tried to make it responsive to contemporary challenges, for instance scientific and technological developments. In my view, such discussions serve as building blocks that states-parties can use for possible agreements when they are ready to do so, and they also work as catalysts for agreements.

ACT: Now in your consultations, did you get a sense that member-states want there to be a continuation of this intercessional process? In particular, there have been conflicting signals from Washington whether this process should be continued. Do you think the United States would support a new intercessional process?

Khan: It is for the United States to elaborate its position. While speaking to the states-parties and delegations in informal settings, I haven’t received any conflicting signals. There is a growing sense among states-parties that the sixth review conference should recommend or decide on an intersessional calendar from 2007 to 2010. But first they have to give their concurrence in principle and then they have to [decide on the specific issues to be included in a work program]. There are some states who have said that the calendar should not be the only outcome, and that there should be a focus on other issues as well.

ACT: What other issues do you mean? Are you talking about a substantive review of the convention itself?

Khan: Yes absolutely. But let me share my personal thoughts, about the likely outcome of the review conference. When I have been talking to the different groups or states-parties, I have been emphasizing that we should have a concise document that will not only be useful to states-parties as a record of their understandings and commitments in the fight against biological weapons but it should be such a document that can communicate effectively to the media, to the scientific community, industry, and the general public, because they are all stakeholders.

Second, in terms of the outcome it’s important for the states-parties to recapture and reaffirm very briefly core elements of the convention and understandings reached by states-parties in the past. One theme that I have been emphasizing is the phenomenal advances in the life sciences, as it will be both prudent and desirable to state that the convention applies to all relevant scientific and technological developments.

And from my point of view, it would also be useful for states-parties to recall the understanding that the convention implicitly prohibits the use of biological weapons. And a final point in this context that I want to make is that we should in the final document or the declaration reflect in some way our deliberations on a number of specific issues that were passed on to the states-parties by the fifth review conference as well as any fresh proposals that states parties may put forward.

Such proposals would of course be subject to consensus.

ACT: I would like to ask you two brief questions on the intersessional process. Do you think that it would be desirable for states-parties to develop uniform guidelines for implementation so as to avoid creating a patchwork of inconsistent national regulations? And more generally, what is your sense of what topics might be on the agenda of a new intercessional process and the work program for such a process?

Khan: Let me tell you that the comfort level for having a calendar is high, so it’s not a cause of concern but it is inextricably linked to the question of what would constitute the calendar or what would constitute the work of the states-parties. These two things are interrelated. My sense is that in this area the states-parties are consulting with each other. I know that the European Union is meeting and within the Western Group there is a smaller group meeting who call themselves Jacksnnz[5]. The Non-Aligned Movement[6] is meeting and there is a group of Latin American countries, who are preparing these proposals.[7] Some of these proposals have already been circulated.

You asked me what the most urgent topics from my personal point of view were. I would list four. They are universal adherence, faithful and effective compliance, the fight against the threat of bioterrorism, and the capacity to deal with the developments in the biosciences that have enhanced the lethality and range of biological weapons. Now these subjects from my own personal perspective are the most urgent and should receive the attention of the states-parties.

You mentioned biosecurity. This has high priority. In fact, it was discussed extensively during the previous intercessional process. And I think that biosecurity is part of overall compliance. You need to streamline your national institutions, not just the legislative and administrative part, but all of the mechanisms that are there. It will receive the attention of states-parties, but I’m not so sure with how much specificity.

ACT: Another issue is biodefense and the huge increase in biodefense spending. Do you hope to address this issue at the review conference in anyway?

Khan: Biosecurity in a wider sense includes not only physical security but non-transfer of tangible or intangible bioweapon technology. All precautions should be taken to ensure that research into biodefense programs has a defense orientation; it is amenable to scientific oversight; and it conforms to the BWC.

ACT: How would you like to see the issue of compliance addressed this year?

Khan: I won’t go into specifics but let me give you my sense of what the states-parties have been focusing on. More or less everybody is comfortable with an article by article review [of the BWC] that should cover all aspects. States-parties want a comprehensive review.

And then, as you mentioned, there should be a review of action on the five topics, mandated by the fifth review conference, and which were considered during 2003 and 2005 and I have listed them.

The third responsibility—and there has been intense debate on this subject—is the preview of and possible decisions on an intersessional calendar or meetings and activities on agreed topics.

Then there is confidence-building measures, universalization of the convention, and interest of the states-parties in new scientific and technological developments relevant to the convention. I already mentioned bioterrorism, compliance, and verification.

And one important point is coordination with other organizations and activities. In the past four of five years other organizations have been very active, such as the World Health Organization [WHO], the Security Council which has passed Resolution 1540,[8] Interpol, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health, the International Committee of the Red Cross. You need to develop a new approach toward coordinating their activities. The WHO in particular has come up with International Health Regulations (IHR) and they also have a sophisticated disease surveillance center here in Geneva. All these organizations need to talk to each other, need to share information with each other, and need to strategize together. Finally, states-parties have been talking about implementation support arrangements for the convention, because if you have a robust intercessional process in the next cycle, then you would need some sort of support.

ACT: Do you have any other remarks?

Khan: I would like to emphasize the importance of building good interpersonal chemistry among negotiators and states-parties. Another requirement is that there should be good conference management. It should not be inefficient. Then I’m saying: build synergy at the international level between different organizations dealing with deliberate or natural release of disease, and I have just listed them. And finally I would like say that there should be enhanced coherence and cohesiveness at a national level, to show the success of the implementation of the BWC.

ACT:Thank you very much.


1. After four weeks, the 2005 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference ended May 27 without consensus on next steps for stopping the spread of or eliminating nuclear weapons. (See ACT, July/August 2005.)

2. At the UN Summit in New York Sept. 14-16, world leaders endorsed a document setting out a broad agenda for the international organization and its member states in the coming years. However, the document contained no action plan for mitigating threats posed by chemical, biological, and nuclear arms.

3. A two-week UN conference in New York aimed at cracking down on the worldwide illicit trade of small arms ended July 7 without a final agreement on measures to reduce the spread of the weapons. Delegates also failed to create a road map for future action.

4. At the second part of the fifth review conference in November 2002 states-parties agree to meet three times before the next review conference to discuss ways to improve national measures and existing international mechanisms to combat biological weapons. Meetings between experts and states-parties representatives took place

  • in 2003 on improved national legislation and better national oversight over dangerous pathogens;
  • in 2004 on enhancing international capabilities to deal with alleged cases of biological weapons use and strengthening and broadening national and international efforts for disease surveillance;
  • in 2005 on codes of conduct for scientists.

5. The Jackson are an informal grouping of non-EU, non-nuclear participants of Western Group states. Participants are Japan, Australia , Canada, (South) Korea, Switzerland, Norway and New Zealand.

6. The Non-Aligned Movement is an international organization of 115 members representing the interests and priorities of developing countries. The movement has often demanded a time-bound framework for nuclear disarmament.

7. At the meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the Review Conference Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay tabled a joint working paper.

8. Passed April 28, 2004, UN Security Council Resolution 1540 requested all governments to put in place “appropriate, effective laws” to deny terrorists access to biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, their delivery systems, and related materials. The 15-member Security Council approved the resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter opening the door to punitive actions to enforce the resolution. The United States was the chief architect of the measure.