16 November 2002
US Department of State
International Information Programs
15 November 2002
(Rademaker describes BWC program as "constructive and realistic") (620) By Wendy Lubetkin Washington File Staff Correspondent Geneva -- The United States has welcomed the adoption November 14 of a three-year work plan on measures to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the international treaty which bans the use, production or stockpiling of biological weapons. "The United States is very pleased by the outcome here today," said Stephen Rademaker, assistant secretary of state for arms control. "We believe that the decision that has just been adopted unanimously by the conference represents a constructive and realistic work program for the States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention over the next three years. The problem of biological weapons is of great concern to all of humanity." At a briefing following adoption of the work plan, Rademaker said the United States is committed to the BWC because it establishes the important norm in international law that the possession of biological weapons is "immoral and illegal." But he added that the U.S. has long believed that the BWC is "inherently unverifiable." Biological weapons are very different from the other two weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons and chemical weapons, since they do not require a large and relatively conspicuous infrastructure to produce, Rademaker explained. In Iraq, he noted, it has been suggested that there are mobile units that can travel from one location to another while producing biological weapons. Another problem is the necessity of maintaining bio-defense activities, which are allowed under the treaty, but can be very difficult to distinguish from offensive weapons programs. Inspectors investigating suspicious activity would have to prove the "intent" of the government, something that would be very difficult, if not impossible, to do. And by exposing the details of defensive programs, inspections would carry the risk of potentially hostile nations discovering where a nation's bio-defense vulnerabilities lie. Rademaker emphasized that the United States believes efforts to combat the threat of biological weapons have to be pressed "on multiple fronts" and in several different national, plurilateral and multilateral fora. The work of the Australia Group on export controls is a good example, he said. "It is the view of the United States that the single most effective step to combat the threat of biological weapons is to prevent proliferation in the first place. In other words: not to discover biological weapons programs once they are in existence, but rather to prevent such programs from getting off the ground. Central to that policy is the effective enforcement of export controls, and the Australia Group is a mechanism that is showing a critical value in preventing proliferation." Rademaker said it is necessary to be realistic about what can and cannot be achieved by the Conference of the Parties of the BWC. "The five agenda items identified in the decision adopted today are things that can realistically be achieved," he said. "There are other things that cannot be achieved in a forum that includes violators of the convention." The decision adopted November 14 by States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention calls for three annual meetings of the States Parties of one week duration each year beginning in 2003 to promote "common understanding and effective action" in five areas. Those five areas, as stated in the text of the agreement are: -- "the adoption of national measures to implement the prohibitions set forth in the Convention including the enactment of penal legislation; -- national mechanisms to establish and maintain the security and oversight of pathogenic microorganisms and toxins; -- enhancing international capabilities for responding to, investigating and mitigating the effects of cases of alleged use of biological or toxin weapons or suspicious outbreaks of disease; -- strengthening and broadening national and international institutional efforts and existing mechanisms for the surveillance, detection, diagnosis and combating of infectious diseases affecting humans, animal and plants; [and] -- the content, promulgation, and adoption of codes of conduct for scientists. " (The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
Three-year work plan agreed as States Parties put aside differences and look to future
The Fifth Review Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction concluded today with the adoption of a Final Report setting out a fresh approach to combat the deliberate use of disease as a weapon.
Under the agreement, reached late on Thursday evening, States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention are to meet annually in the lead up to the next Review Conference in 2006. In preparation for each annual meeting it was agreed to hold a two-week meeting of experts.
These meetings of States Parties will discuss and promote common understanding and effective action on a range of issues pertinent to strengthening the Convention. Each meeting will focus on specific elements to strengthen the Convention. On the agenda for next year will be consultations on national measures to implement the prohibitions of the Convention, and on national measures to ensure the security of pathogenic microorganisms and toxins. In 2004 the focus of the process will shift to enhancing international capabilities for responding to, investigating and mitigating the effects of cases of alleged use of biological weapons or suspicious outbreaks of disease, and to strengthening national and international efforts against infectious diseases. The 2005 meetings will address codes of conduct for scientists.
The terms of the new approach are detailed in the Final Report of the Fifth Review Conference, which was adopted today by consensus. The successful conclusion of the Conference marks the end of a year-long series of informal negotiations by its President, Ambassador Tibor Tóth of Hungary. Significant differences were overcome to achieve this agreement. A round of applause from delegates greeted Ambassador Tóth after it was decided that he was to return as the Chairman of the first series of meetings of States Parties in 2003.
This new process has been described as part of a multi-pronged approach by the international community to deal with the threat posed by biological weapons. International resolve to deal with the immediate threat has been demonstrated by the recent unanimous decision of the UN Security Council. The process adopted by the Review Conference to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention demonstrates the continued commitment of States Parties to combating the threat of biological weapons over the longer term.
Ambassador Tóth said the outcome allowed States Parties to overcome their recent difficulties and dedicate themselves to innovative and constructive work, preparations for which he would start at once.
In its reaction to the adoption of the new approach, the Group of the Non-Aligned Movement and Other States expressed its disappointment at the inability to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention through the proposed Protocol. The Group noted that the language of the decision included ambiguities and that only a practical approach from States Parties would ensure that the required work was done. It noted that States Parties were sovereign and that at any time they could together decide upon any further work that may be required. It was the Group's understanding that the time set aside to reach a decision over the Final Report had been extremely limited and that during the next Review Conference in 2006, discussions over further action would take place. Furthermore, the Group believed that the Biological Weapons Convention represented a composite whole and while it was possible to address related issues separately, it was necessary for all of the inter-linked elements to be dealt with.
The statement by the Non-Aligned Movement and Other States also indicated that the Review Conference had succeeded in preserving multilateralism as the only sustainable vehicle for preventing the use of disease as instruments of terror and war. The Group echoed Ambassador Tóths comments by calling upon States Parties to work in a constructive fashion and concluded by saying that the time for division should now be past and States Parties should unite around the Convention.
The Western Group welcomed the adoption of this decision and noted that it provided for a qualitatively different outcome to that found in the final products of previous Review Conferences. Moreover, the Western Group felt that the decision carefully balanced the views of all States Parties; was clear and self-explanatory; and strengthened the effective implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention by establishing a framework for an ongoing multilateral process in the lead up to the Sixth Review Conference.
Shortly after the adoption of the new approach of follow-up meetings, Ambassador Tóth asserted that "we must continue to work cooperatively in this multilateral forum to ensure that the threat of biological warfare is diminished" - a sentiment seconded by the Republic of Korea, who took the opportunity to announce the withdrawal of their reservation to the 1925 Geneva Protocol.
The Fifth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention formally closed on Friday 15 November 2002.
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Documents for the Fifth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention:
Status of the BWC treaty: