Note for Reporters : December 8, 2006
Representatives of 155 states-parties to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) today in Geneva agreed on new measures to strengthen implementation of the treaty, which bans the development, production, and possession of biological arms. The measures were part of a Final Declaration of a once-every-five-years treaty review conference that started Nov. 20 and ended today.
The BWC has been in crisis since negotiations on a mechanism to monitor compliance with the treaty collapsed in 2001. Review Conference President Masood Khan of Pakistan called the meeting results an “historic outcome” for both the BWC and multilateral disarmament.
State-parties agreed on a new set of annual meetings of experts and governments on a raft of issues leading up to the next review conference in 2011. A similar set of meetings occurred between 2003 and 2005. Issues to be discussed include better national implementation of the treaty, regional cooperation, and improved oversight, including biosafety and biosecurity measures. But decisions at the annual meetings will not be binding on all states-parties.
State-parties agreed to fund three staff persons within the United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs to support BWC implementation. This Implementation Support Unit will serve as a secretariat and clearing-house for information sharing but will not be able to follow-up concerns about compliance with the treaty.
Prior to the conference, several states had supported a more ambitious outcome of the conference, including measures to improve transparency on activities, such as biodefense programs, that could be misused for hostile purposes. There was also a push for stronger institutional support for the accord, including annual decision-making bodies, but these efforts failed.
The United States, in particular, objected to stronger measures to improve the operation of the bioweapons ban. An Action Plan aimed at better implementation of the treaty was dropped at the last minute because of a dispute between the United States and Iran over the importance of cooperation on the peaceful uses of biotechnology.
“BWC states-parties failed to seize a key opportunity to significantly bolster the effort to reduce the threat of bioweapons. It is regrettable that state-parties were able to take only limited action to strengthen the BWC,” says Oliver Meier, international representative of the Arms Control Association. “Over the next five years, discussions without decisions will not be enough to address the threat from bioterrorism and the lack of transparency,” added Meier, who attended the conference.
For further information on the BWC, see the Association’s reader for the review conference, http://www.armscontrol.org/pdf/BWCreaderWebVersion.pdf, and its biological weapons resource page at http://www.armscontrol.org/subject/bw/.
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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting effective arms control policies. ACA publishes the monthly journal Arms Control Today.