Arms Control Experts Call Bioweapons Conference Outcome "Useful But Insufficient"

For Immediate Release: November 14, 2002
Media Contacts: Daryl Kimball, 202-463-8270 x107; Oliver Meier +49-171-359-2410

(Geneva): The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Review Conference today agreed on a limited program of further discussions on addressing the biological weapons threat. The agreement was proposed by the chairman of the talks.

Chairman Tibor Tóth's proposal calls for annual meetings of the states-parties on national measures to implement the BWC and measures to control dangerous pathogens, as well as better international response and investigation of alleged use of bioweapons and improved surveillance of infectious diseases.

"The work-plan agreed at the BWC Review Conference is useful but insufficient," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association.

"The process outlined by Ambassador Tóth would limit further international discussions to national and voluntary measures on bioweapons and would not allow for the development of new, legally binding measures to prevent the development and production of biological weapons," according to Oliver Meier, international representative of the Arms Control Association, who was attending the conference.

"The proposal has been crafted so as not to offend the United States, which strenuously opposes additional legally binding measures involving investigations of existing and suspected biological weapons capabilities. The agenda does not adequately address the real and growing threat of biological weapons," Meier added.

"It is regrettable that Washington was successful in blocking agreement on a stronger mechanism that would have reflected the wishes of the vast majority of states-parties," Kimball said.

"Nevertheless, the agreement is positive because, for the first time, BWC states-parties will meet annually to discuss measures to strengthen the ban on bioweapons," noted Meier.

The BWC outlaws the development, stockpiling, acquisition, retention, production, or transfer of biological weapons but does not include mechanisms to monitor and enforce compliance by states-parties.

Last December, the conference was suspended on its final day because of a highly controversial U.S. proposal to terminate talks on a draft compliance protocol. The protocol would have required declarations by member states on their bioweapons-capable facilities and activities, on-site visits, and investigations of suspected illicit activity.

Over the last several months, Western European states had been pushing for continued, regular talks on measures to strengthen the BWC. The United States, however, said in September that BWC states-parties should meet for less than a day for the sole purpose of agreeing to reconvene in four years for another review.

"The United States and other BWC members should keep the door open to talks on more far-reaching and effective agreements to investigate suspected noncompliance and to ensure that biodefense programs are not used to produce offensive weapons," suggested Kimball.

"On the basis of this document it remains possible that states-parties could agree on an effective enforcement mechanism for the BWC in the future," Kimball said.


ACA Resources on the Biological Weapons Convention


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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies. Established in 1971,the Association publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.