Issue No. 10, November 1996
4th BWC Review Conference:
UK & US statements
Speech by David Davis, Minister of State, Foreign &
Commonwealth Office, to the Biological Weapons Convention Fourth
Review Conference, 26 November 1996
"... I welcome this opportunity to add some thoughts, from the
United Kingdom's perspective, on the important issues facing this
... Biological weapons have for 25 years remained something of a
Cinderella in international efforts to control the spread of
weapons of mass destruction. The Biological Weapons Convention is a
Convention which bans an entire class of weapons, but it lacks any
effective means of enforcing its prohibitions. For years, this
major gap lay largely unremarked.
A general perception held that the biological weapons problem
was solved; that it did not present a real risk or threat; and that
it did not merit a place on serious arms control agendas - which
throughout the 1970s and 1980s were dominated by nuclear arms
But over the last decade, we have seen these comfortable
assumptions overturned. We know now, thanks to the UN Special
Commission's painstaking work, that thousands of Coalition troops,
as well as neighbouring civilian populations, were at real risk
from Saddam Hussein's extensive offensive biological weapons
programme during the Gulf War. ...
The existence of a massive offensive biological weapons
programme conducted illegally for years in the Soviet Union has
also recently come to light. The United Kingdom, with the United
States, continues to work with Russia to re-establish confidence
following President Yeltsin's admission that this programme had
existed and the 1992 Joint Statement.
Over this same period, the advantages of biological weapons to
the proliferator have become more evident. Widely considered to be
the poor man's weapon of mass destruction, biological weapons are
in theory concoctable from materials and equipment in common use in
even the most basic brewing and pharmaceutical industries...
And there is no doubt that the rapid development of
biotechnology and genetic engineering in recent years - welcome
though this is - has a bearing on the potential risk of biological
weapons proliferation. ...
This knowledge, these advances, are being explored, developed
and harnessed for the benefit of mankind - and must be universally
welcomed for that.
But we must recognise, too, that these advances could be
misused. They make the possibilities of BW all the more real; and
potentially all the more devastating. The United Kingdom continues
firmly to believe that the Convention fully covers all microbial,
other biological agents and toxins, whether naturally occurring or
not, including any
resulting from the application of genetic modifications or other
technologies. We look to this Conference unequivocally to reaffirm
Recent revelations have proven what has been clear for some time
now: that a simple, international ban on biological weapons alone
is not enough. The ban has been flagrantly violated. The Biological
Weapons Convention needs teeth. It needs systematic and reliable
mechanisms to detect, and hence deter, proliferators - if it is to
be fully effective. Otherwise, the Convention's worthy prohibitions
will continue to be flouted.
This task is already well in train. The Third Review Conference
in 1991 took the first steps towards the process of establishing a
verification system which would make this Convention work for us.
Progress in the five years since then has been slow, but steady.
The United Kingdom recognises that, just as the uniquely
destructive potential of biological weapons makes tackling the
threat an urgent priority, so the unique nature of these weapons
has made the task of doing so particularly difficult.
Principal among these difficulties is the dual-use nature of BW
agents, materials and equipment. ...
We are also faced with the difficulty of devising a verification
regime which is sufficiently comprehensive and intrusive so as to
be effective, without however hampering the use of microorganisms
and access to biotechnology for legitimate peaceful purposes...
But these difficulties should not be seen as insuperable
obstacles. They are, rather, challenges to the negotiators. ... We
would not be devoting such attention and resources if we did not
firmly believe that BW verification was not only possible - but
Work towards this end has made progress this year. ... it is
clear that after two years of initial discussions, a consensus is
emerging around the basic shape of a credible compliance
By this, I mean a regime which can effectively monitor activity
at relevant sites through a comprehensive system of declarations;
and is able to investigate, speedily and effectively, both sites
and incidents which have given rise to concerns about possible
offensive BW activity.
It is clear too that there is now strong consensus in favour of
intensifying work on this regime: I am glad to see the time
allotted for this work over the next year in the Ad Hoc Group has
We would like to go further, and see a firm deadline set. We do
not have to wait for the 5th Review Conference to complete this
work. Nor should we. We believe this urgent work can be completed,
with the right political will on the part of all States Parties,
within the next two years.
It is in the Ad Hoc Group, as all participating delegations are
aware, where the painstaking progress towards a verification system
is taking place - and where detailed work will rightly need to
But this Conference has an important political responsibility.
The world will look to the decisions and declarations of this
Conference for confirmation that States Parties to the Biological
Weapons Convention are serious about making the BW Convention work;
and that we are prepared to devote the necessary efforts and
urgency to the task of achieving this. ...
This Conference would be failing in its duty if it did not do
all it could to ensure that - well before the millenium - there is
in place a verification system which will consolidate and
strengthen the 1972 Convention's total ban on biological weapons;
and thereby ensure that it is extremely difficult for any
proliferator to contemplate developing or maintaining in his
arsenals these potentially most horrifying of weapons.
We can only count ourselves extremely fortunate that the
Biological Weapons programmes which were developed in violation of
this Convention have not been used. Time for trusting to luck has
run out. The responsibility is ours."
Speech by John Holum, Director of the Arms Control and
Disarmament Agency (ACDA), to the Fourth Review Conference of the
Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), Geneva, 26 November
See next issue for coverage of the Conference.
"In recent years the international community has made major
strides against the threats of nuclear and chemical weapons. But we
have yet to exploit new opportunities to address more effectively,
in a legally binding way, the threat of biological weapons.
It is time this gap was closed. ...
The United States unilaterally renounced all uses for biological
and toxin weapons and destroyed its offensive stockpile before the
Convention's effective date in 1975.
After more than 20 years under that global norm, the threat of
biological warfare remains all too real.
In 1992, for example, President Yeltsin publicly and bravely
acknowledged and then renounced the massive offensive biological
Russia had inherited from the Soviet Union. The challenge to
demonstrate full eradication of that program still remains.
Through UNSCOM and other sources, we have learned in disturbing
detail about the scope, ambition, and persistence of Saddam
Hussein's biological weapons program in Iraq. Iraq's successive
'full, final and complete' disclosures - each one proving the
dishonesty of its predecessors - give good cause to treat the Iraqi
program as an active menace.
Overall, the United States believes that twice as many countries
now have or are actively pursuing offensive biological weapons
capabilities as when the Convention went into force.
And behind our specific concerns is a broader reality. The
potential for biological programs is spreading. Biotechnology is
booming - a boon for health, agriculture, the environment and a
host of other fields. But it also means BW-relevant knowledge,
equipment, and materials are more accessible, often at declining
costs, and are available in ever more facilities worldwide. The
result is a burgeoning global BW potential. ...
How, then, shall we respond? Let us begin with the principle,
'first, do no harm.' The international community must not abide any
change that would, whether by intent or inadvertence, weaken the
That would be the effect, for example, of interpreting Article I
to state the Convention's basic undertaking by way of definitions,
lists or other objective criteria. The international community has
been well served by the descriptive, non-exhaustive approach of
Article I - a coat that has grown with its wearer. Here, more
precision would mean less confidence in compliance, for the threat
can evolve in unpredictable ways. Would anyone seriously argue that
the next Ebola [virus], for instance, could be allowed in weapons
under the Convention, so long as the new organism came to our
attention after the definition was fixed?
Some would weaken the Convention by twisting Article III into a
mandate to let all equipment and materiel transfers presumptively
run free to States Parties. But surely we know, based on
experience, that membership in a regime is no guarantee of
compliance. The Article III prohibition on proliferant transfers
and assistance is and must remain absolute. Its duty of vigilance
cannot be suspended as to members, but rather demands constant
attention as to all.
Some, under the banner of 'nondiscrimination,' have sought to
make Article X a vehicle for the worldwide obliteration not only of
export controls, but intellectual property rights as well. But
Article X encourages scientific exchange and cooperation; it does
not rule out restrictions on trade.
The fact is that scientific cooperation and trade are both
faring well under Article X. The United States and other States
Parties have many well-known programs of biotechnology assistance
and cooperation. And last year, while the United States approved
well over $250 million dollars in export license applications
relevant to the Convention, we denied applications worth a grand
total of $2,443.
In contrast, if Article X became the means for expropriating
biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies' hard-won proprietary
advances, such progress would promptly dry up - and would be
available for neither assistance nor trade. Article X must remain
the friend of scientific advance, not become its enemy.
Beyond preventing the Convention's erosion, the looming danger
obliges us to make it stronger and more effective.
One straightforward way is to extend the Convention's reach.
Some 140 States Parties is far short of universality. We must do
better. Indeed, there is every reason for the BWC to rival the NPT
(Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty), or the U.N. itself, in
membership. All States that have not signed and ratified should do
We can also strengthen the Convention through broader
application of the voluntary confidence-building measures adopted
at the last two Review Conferences. Only about half of the States
Parties have ever submitted any information to the U.N. Secretariat
in New York pursuant to the CBMs (Confidence and Security Building
Measures). The final report of this Review Conference should
reaffirm the CBMs and call on all States Parties to take part.
The Convention will become stronger as parties implement Article
IV, enacting its prohibitions into their domestic criminal law.
Each State's law enforcement apparatus should be used to enforce
the Convention against anyone under its jurisdiction - including
terrorists - who might flout it. ...
Of course, the most potent vehicle for strengthening the
Convention is the Ad Hoc Group, established independently more than
two years ago by a Special Conference of States Parties.
The Ad Hoc Group is a means to take up tools that were
unavailable when the Convention was negotiated two and one-half
decades ago. Then, on-site inspection was too controversial, and
the Convention as signed provides no specific mechanisms to address
compliance concerns other than recourse to the United Nations
But now, on-site inspections have become an accepted and
essential part of modern arms control regimes, and their
enforcement is taken more seriously. The Ad Hoc Group thus can
bring the Convention into the 1990s, through a legally binding
compliance protocol that provides for new off-site and on-site
The protocol should strengthen compliance by making certain
national information declarations mandatory - a matter already
The Ad Hoc Group should also build upon the voluntary confidence
building measures I mentioned earlier. Meanwhile, of course,
today's voluntary CBMs should remain in force.
As to on-site work, the Ad Hoc Group is considering various
kinds of field and facility investigations. The United States
believes the protocol must, at a minimum, include all cases of
concern about compliance with the Convention. This would include,
for example, investigations in all cases presenting credible
evidence of BW development or production.
What about the pace of this work? The Ad Hoc Group itself
recently decided upon a more rigorous approach, to intensify its
efforts with a view toward completing its work as soon as possible
before the Fifth Review Conference in 2001.
But let me suggest that in light of the mounting BW danger, such
a timetable is still inappropriately relaxed. Certainly arduous
work remains in translating concepts into protocol language, and
completing needed procedural and logistical elements. But most of
the States Parties here today could identify and write down the
essential elements for a protocol.
President Clinton's September address to the United Nations
called for completion of the Protocol by 1998 - a goal shared by
the European Union. Progress to date makes that goal realistic.
Some countries object to Ad Hoc Group sessions in parallel with
those of the Conference on Disarmament (CD). I am eager to hear
their ideas on how work on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty can
become unblocked, so our CD delegations can do more than tread
water. But even if that happens, it need not impede work on the BWC
protocol. For the Ad Hoc Group is quite specialized - its experts
are typically not those working on other arms control negotiations.
And in any case, this work deserves due priority.
We should resolve here that a protocol cannot await the next
Rather, the final report of this Review Conference should:
(1) urge the Ad Hoc Group to further intensify negotiations in
1997, even if that may entail some overlap with the CD
(2) set a target date of 1998 for completion of a legally
binding protocol; and
(3) call for the convening promptly thereafter of a Special
Conference of States Parties to consider the draft instrument.
Source: United States Information Agency, 26
© 1999 The Acronym Institute.
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