Arms Control Experts Urge Negotiations to Strengthen Compliance With Biological Weapons Ban

Governments Meeting November 11 in Geneva

For Immediate Release: November 6, 2002

Contacts: Daryl Kimball, +01-202-463-8270 x107 or Oliver Meier +49-171-359-2410

(Geneva): A leading American arms control and international security organization called upon the 146 member states of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) to strengthen measures and controls on biological weapons when they meet November 11 in Geneva. It is feared that this meeting could be a repeat of last year's review conference, which ended in acrimony with no agreements.

"It is vital that the member states work together at this review conference to conclude effective, preventative, and legally binding measures to combat biological weapons proliferation," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association. "If BWC members fail once again to strengthen the convention, they will have abdicated their responsibility to guard against the spread and possible use of these terrible weapons," he warned.

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 called for declarations by member states on their bioweapons-capable facilities and activities, on-site visits, and investigations of suspected illicit activity. The Bush administration opposed the draft protocol, which had been under negotiation for over six years, on the basis of concerns about its impact on U.S. pharmaceutical interests, biodefense efforts, and its enforceability.

Western European states are pushing for continued, regular talks on measures to strengthen the BWC. The United States, however, proposed in September that BWC members should meet for less than a day for the sole purpose of agreeing to reconvene in four years for another review.

"As an alternative to the draft BWC compliance protocol, the United States offered constructive but insufficient proposals for strengthening the norm against biological weapons," said Oliver Meier, international representative of the Arms Control Association, who is attending the conference. "Unfortunately, the United States has withdrawn earlier support for annual meetings to discuss its own alternative proposals, stiffened its opposition to other states' proposals to improve the BWC, and has once again threatened to block further talks on a compliance protocol," he noted.

"The BWC members should agree on a strong and flexible strategy to address the most urgent threats facing the biological weapons nonproliferation regime. They must improve the international community's ability to develop the means to investigate suspected noncompliance and ensure that biodefense programs are not used to produce offensive weapons," Meier proposed.

"The United States and other BWC members should also keep the door open to agreements on proposals forwarded by the United Kingdom and other countries earlier this year," added Kimball. "These include: a convention to criminalize the development, production, acquisition, transfer, or use of biological (and chemical) weapons; a convention on standardizing national regulations on the handling of dangerous pathogens; expanding the UN secretary-general's mandate to conduct field investigations of suspected bioweapons use to include investigations of suspicious facilities; and establishing an independent secretariat to implement these agreements," Kimball said.

"The biological weapons nonproliferation regime is in need of repair. In light of last year's anthrax attacks and the threat of biological weapons proliferation in places like Iraq and North Korea, it is incumbent upon the United States to become part of the solution, not part of the problem," said John Steinbruner, chairman of the Arms Control Association and director of the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland. "At the end of the day, an effective enforcement mechanism for the BWC must include legally binding measures that apply to all states," he concluded.

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.