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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 70, Cover design by Paul Aston

Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 70, April - May 2003

Opinion & Analysis

Biological Disarmament Diplomacy in The Doldrums: Reflections After The BWC Fifth Review Conference

By Nicholas A. Sims


The Fifth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which had been adjourned amid high drama on December 7, 20011, reconvened on November 11, 2002 and concluded on November 15 with the adoption of a single Decision, having abnegated all its other responsibilities. The Decision created a new multilateral process, consisting of three weeks of meetings in each of the years 2003, 2004 and 2005 before a Sixth Review Conference to be held in 2006.2 So it will be left to the Sixth Review Conference to fulfil the prime function of such reviews as laid down in Article XII of the BWC: "to review the operation of the Convention with a view to assuring that [its] purposes are being realized", taking account, among other things, of the impact of scientific and technological development. That review needs to take account of all the purposes of the BWC's preamble and the provisions of its Articles. This implies a survey of its effectiveness in the round: something signally lacking in the 2002 resumed session of the Fifth Review Conference, which did not even attempt to complete the work towards a Final Declaration accomplished in its Drafting Committee during the first week of December 2001.3

Those who feared an even bleaker outcome - no agreement at all, or no meetings of any kind permitted between 2002 and 2006 - rallied around the 'rescue operation' formulated by the President, Ambassador Tibor Tóth of Hungary.4 They praised the patient and constructive diplomacy with which he had persuaded governments to back it, culminating in a representative meeting of the General Committee of the Conference at the beginning of November 2002 which positioned his plan centre-stage. This followed rounds of consultations he had undertaken in capitals and at Geneva in April, July and September.5 Those governments which endorsed Ambassador Tóth's proposals were already resigned to setting their sights low: so low, indeed, that they would not even aim at a Final Declaration. They expressed relief when a fragile consensus held for the Decision, embodying the 'rescue operation', which he presented on a take it or leave it basis when the Conference resumed on November 11.6

The Conference dragged its feet a little, amid mutterings of protest in protracted meetings of the Group of the Non-Aligned Movement and Other States (NAM)7, but even the NAM fell into line only 48 hours later than the President's preferred timetable had envisaged.8 And so it was all over, well within the first of the two weeks (November 11-22, 2002) which had been reserved for this resumed session.

If this was a success it was a very modest one. If it was a failure it was not as disastrous as it might have been.

Marie Isabelle Chevrier has told the story well in Disarmament Diplomacy No. 68, and her title reflects faithfully the ambivalent feelings of many 'friends of the Convention' who witnessed the proceedings in the Palais des Nations at Geneva last November: 'Waiting for Godot or Saving the Show? The BWC Review Conference Reaches Modest Agreement'.

This article takes that story as read and instead reflects on the state of the BWC and its treaty regime after the Fifth Review Conference. It is a bad case of disarmament diplomacy in the doldrums. How can it be steered out of the doldrums, and what would enable a reasonable agenda to be shaped for recovery of its true course?

The New Multilateral Process

The single most important feature of the new process which the Fifth Review Conference created for the BWC is that it holds the United States within a multilateral framework. Such an outcome, however minimal it may sound, was not a foregone conclusion. Some US policy advisers - ideologically suspicious of multilateralism in general, and arms control multilateralism in particular - would have been happy to see Washington withdraw completely from the Convention's existing decision-making framework: the conventional diplomatic world of working groups and negotiating mandates that they find so arcane and ineffectual. Such advisers may or may not be placated by the Bush administration's insistence on keeping many aspects of the BWC - from verification (or the lack of it) to the whole area of export controls - out of the Convention's new multilateral process altogether, to be handled through the more congenial mechanisms of plurilateral diplomacy (the Australia Group, and potentially G-8 and NATO) or bilaterally or unilaterally as suits the US best.9

The new multilateralism is certainly tightly regulated. No voting is allowed; no legally binding agreements can emerge; above all, no hint remains of any purposeful discussion that might, when ripe, blossom into negotiation (as the 1995-2001 Ad Hoc Group exploring a Protocol bloomed, with initial health and vigour, in July 1997). Not only that: the agenda is strictly limited to just five topics, drawn - in a rather blatant appeal for US support - from a list of key issues set out by President George W. Bush on November 1, 2001.10

The Decision which created the new process contains, as the Group of the Non-Aligned Movement and Other States (NAM) noted in its official statement of November 14, 2002, "many ambiguities"11; some of which may provide scope for progress and meaningful work. That was the theme of a recent briefing paper which I entitled: 'The New Multilateral Process for the BTWC: Ambiguities and Opportunities'.12 Some of the ideas put forward in that paper are further developed here.

It was repeatedly emphasised by the President of the Fifth Review Conference, and by the Western Group, that the Decision "provides for a qualitatively different outcome to that found in the final products of previous Review Conferences"13 because the new process was intended to produce "concrete actions with results".14 But against this implied criticism of Final Declarations as the characteristic, and inferior, product of the first four Review Conferences, it was observed at an NGO briefing held during the resumed session that "inadequacy of follow-up has not been a fault inherent in the cumulative process of successive Final Declarations. It has had far more to do with the chronic institutional deficit from which the Convention suffers. And now, far from remedying that deficit, the Fifth Review Conference looks like adding to the BTWC's lack of systematic supporting organization...[by failing to agree] a declaration recording the politically-binding commitments adopted by the states parties."15

As proved, later that week, to be indeed the case.

Optimistic Construction or Dismal Context?

Putting the most optimistic construction on the Decision, it will contribute something (albeit only within its five topics) to the cumulative process of regime-building for the BWC. Its official purpose is to "promote common understanding and effective action."16 The new process will certainly be judged by that yardstick, but also, informally but necessarily, by its ability to achieve sharper focus on key BWC topics without fragmentation of the overall treaty regime, and by its success in steering the BWC towards a resumption of the cumulative process through a productive and full-scope Sixth Review Conference. Full-scope is important, because it will be vital in the preparations for 2006 to ensure that the agenda of the Conference is not unduly skewed by input from the meetings of 2003-2005. It is indeed asked to "consider the work of these meetings and decide on any further action"17, but its agenda must not be narrowed down to that input alone. Deliberate efforts will have to be made to get sufficient attention paid in the run-up to 2006 to all the other aspects of the Convention as well, so that the review process proper, when it resumes at last, resumes as a review in the round.

The NAM Statement of November 14, already quoted, included as its 'fourth understanding' that the "BWC forms a composite whole and that while it is possible to address related issues separately, it will be necessary for all of the inter-linked elements of the Convention - whether they relate to regulation, compliance or promotion - to be dealt with."18 This strong affirmation of the need for a comprehensive review reflects NAM disappointment at the selectivity of the 2003-2005 agenda (despite Ambassador Tóth's insistence that balance had been foremost in his selection of the five topics19). It may also reflect a fear of fragmentation. Certainly the concern was expressed at Geneva that a sharper focus on individual topics, if achieved at all, might be achieved only at the cost of neglecting the unity of the treaty regime as "a composite whole".20

Yet reliance on the robustness of such formally expressed NAM positions to put things right by 2006 may be as misplaced as Western Group optimism over the supposed superiority of the new process for 2003-2005. What happened in November 2002 was all too predictable, given the marked reluctance of most pro-BWC governments to do more than criticise US positions sotto voce in the 11 months between the two sessions of the conference. Even in September 2002, when US policy on the future of BWC multilateralism was at its most extreme (following US confrontation with the Western Group at Geneva21), it seemed most likely that other governments, far from organising to defeat US intransigence by a two-thirds majority vote under Rule 28.422, would instead confine themselves to grumbling behind the scenes and allow the US to set the pace, agenda and limits of both the Fifth Review Conference and any follow-up process. Beyond question, the US is now in the driving seat, applying the brakes hard, however much faster most of the passengers would like the BWC to go; and it may still be there in 2006.

It is, alas, in that dismal context that the future of the BWC has to be considered.

Further Reflections on the 2001-02 Crisis of the BWC: Where Was the Resistance?

Reflections after the Fifth Review Conference cannot evade the uncomfortable truth that there was no effective resistance to the United States. In retrospect, resistance cannot even be said to have crumbled: it never got itself organised in the first place.

Those governments which deplored the wrecking tactics employed by the United States in four successive stages during 2001 (in July and August at the Ad Hoc Group, and in November and December at the Review Conference) nevertheless let it get away with them. US success in the 2001-02 crisis - which was largely though not entirely a crisis of its own making - was near-total. The only respect in which the US can be said to have failed in its objectives was that the Ad Hoc Group and its mandate were not terminated (as the US demanded on December 7, 2001) but merely left in suspended animation for the indefinite future. The only concession it made was in rowing back from its most extreme position of September 2, 2002, when the US was insisting to a stunned Western Group that the adjourned Conference must be wound up quickly and quietly - the scenario for November 11 which came to be derided as a mere "10-minute revolving-door" exercise23 - with no decision allowed other than the date of the next Review Conference and no follow-up meetings of any kind between conferences allowed until 2006. By the end of September, Washington had pulled back from that position to one still drastic but less extreme, with which Ambassador Tóth's 'rescue operation' was broadly consistent.

The Road Not Taken: Voting and Other Options

What other states parties might have done includes:

  • building a wider coalition on the basis of the Madrid Commitment of European Union (EU), Latin American and Caribbean governments24 (instead of which, the apparently tough BWC element of the Madrid Commitment evaporated rapidly after May 2002);
  • insisting on completing the Final Declaration which had been largely drafted and 75% or 95% agreed25 on December 6-7, 2001 (instead of which they abandoned it);
  • preparing to overcome US intransigence with a two-thirds majority vote.

With regard to this latter option, in the months leading up to the resumed session the possibilities of voting were carefully analysed, as were the (surprisingly few) sanctions available as retaliatory options to a United States that might find itself in a minority of one. This analysis was made available to states parties' ambassadors at Geneva.26 But, as this author ruefully admitted on 12 November 2002: "Alas, it was predictable that, with the tradition of consensus for all review conference decisions so long established and so firmly embedded, there would be great reluctance to have recourse to voting. And so it turned out. But at least no one could claim that the possibility was not there. States parties chose not to use it; it was their choice."27

Voting is now ruled out explicitly for the new multilateral process, and implicitly for the review process too, because having failed to take up the possibility in 2002 it will be all the harder to invoke the option thereafter. Any state party might be tempted to misuse the consensus rule if forced on to the defensive at a future Review Conference, confident that Rule 28.4 will not be used to overcome its intransigence. The failure to force, or even seriously to contemplate, a vote against the United States in the BWC crisis of 2001-02 opens the way for other governments, on other BWC issues, to cast what amounts to a veto and thereby hold back the review process, once again, to the pace of the slowest. The alternative scenario, almost as grim, is that those other states parties will not be afforded the same generous, 'kid gloves' treatment as the US, thus establishing a double-standard certain to stir political resentment and diplomatic disquiet.

Failure of Nerve?

Was this a failure of nerve? Or was it, rather, a realistic appreciation of US dominance? How necessary was it for other governments to resign themselves to a no-Final-Declaration outcome? Had they lowered their sights too far? Certainly that was the impression gained by non-governmental 'friends of the Convention' when they met key BWC diplomats at unofficial conferences and seminars during 2002.

The chances of effective resistance were not helped by the Common Statement group, consisting of China, Cuba, Indonesia, Libya, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and, most prominent of all, Iran. Daniel Feakes and Jez Littlewood drew attention to the dire effect of the Common Statement of May 4, 200128 in which that "small, but politically powerful, group of states"29 opposed the transition from the square-bracket-laden Rolling Text to the Chair's more focused Composite Draft as the basis of Protocol negotiations in the Ad Hoc Group. Its members were able to mask their coolness towards the Protocol by joining the more pro-Protocol delegations in expressing outrage at US wrecking tactics in July, August, November and December 2001. At the resumed session of the Fifth Review Conference, Iran and others had to be persuaded to back the Decision proposed by Ambassador Tóth, and grudgingly signed onto the November 14 NAM statement - but by then it was much too late to offer an alternative outcome for the Conference as a focus for like-minded delegations to coalesce around.

NAM Dynamics

The internal dynamics of the Group of the Non-Aligned Movement and Other States and its key NAM members will be central to the recovery of a viable multilateral process for the BWC. That Group has the responsibility of nominating the chair for the Meetings of Experts and of States Parties in 2004. (Ambassador Tóth, nominated by the Eastern Group, was immediately appointed to chair the 2003 meetings, and a nominee of the Western Group will have the chair in 2005.30)

South Africa and Malaysia, which has succeeded it as NAM Group Coordinator, will have leading roles to play in making the NAM role in the BWC more effective, both in the new process of 2003-2005 and at the Sixth Review Conference. The challenge includes building bridges to the more independently-minded members of the Eastern and Western Groups - which means, in effect, those governments readiest to stand up to the United States - and shifting the NAM centre of gravity back from the Common Statement group, perhaps detaching its more positive from its most negative members.

At the Fifth Review Conference, the NAM stance was essentially reactive and defensive. This needs to change. There is no reason why NAM states should not return to their earlier, more agenda-setting role and play a more constructive part in taking the BWC regime forward. Without such a change, it is difficult to see the BWC thriving in a framework of revived multilateral diplomacy.

But why does multilateral diplomacy matter?

Multilateral Diplomacy and the BWC

Just as it has become necessary in recent years, in light of the pervasive suspicions of the treaty route now prevalent in the US, to restate some elementary propositions about the value of treaties31, so it is necessary to put the basic case for multilateral diplomacy.

Put simply, the value of multilateral diplomacy is threefold:

1. It promotes universality through the search for solutions which are tolerable (if not optimal) for as many participants as possible.

2. It steers the evolution of treaty regimes in an acceptable way, because everyone can feel involved, and common understandings about norms and expectations have a basis not just in consent but in shared formulation.

3. It reaffirms such basic structural elements as mutuality, reciprocity and equality of obligation within existing and prospective treaty regimes, thereby emphasising cooperation and consultation, with compliance concerns more likely to be addressed in problem-solving than in adversarial mode.

However, 'friends of the BWC' need to recognise that the treaty they cherish has never been a shining example of multilateral disarmament. Against the better judgement of its multilateral negotiators in the UN and at Geneva it was drastically cut back and weakened by US-Soviet bilateralism in April-August 1971; its earlier Review Conferences were always constrained by the diplomatic imperatives of superpower concerns (if not as blatantly as in 2001-02); and indeed, for much of its history, it has been faltering rather than striding confidently towards multilateral maturity. There never was a Golden Age for this treaty. This is not a reason for despairing of the BWC as a multilateral treaty; it is, rather, an incentive to ground its multilateralism in a stronger identity. Which brings us to the lack of BWC-dedicated institutions.

The Institutional Deficit

For the BWC suffers still, after a quarter of a century, from its original institutional deficit. This has been a familiar complaint over the years, but one which has assumed far greater saliency with the halting of the 'strengthening sequence' (considered below) of 1991-2001. There is still no Organisation for the Prohibition of Biological Weapons (OPBW), notwithstanding the gravity of the biological warfare threat and a need for an implementing authority at least as pressing as that which brought the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) into being immediately upon the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1997.

The BWC has no annual assembly, no governing council, no standing committees or advisory panels, not even a permanent secretariat. Its depositary governments - the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States - have only limited formal responsibilities; the United Nations still fewer. Between them the depositaries and the UN do valuable work for the BWC on occasion, but their involvement remains at a low level of activity much of the time; and it is by no means certain that the other states parties would allow the depositaries to assume a greater role or higher profile, even assuming the three of them could agree what needed to be done. While the establishment of a UN secretariat unit dedicated to support of the BWC seems a distinctly more feasible proposition, in principle, than relying on the depositary powers, it seems an equally distant political prospect.

Instead the BWC relies upon Review Conferences at five-year intervals, with no institutions mandated systematically to follow up decisions or recommendations, and with no chance to get the states parties together more regularly to steer its treaty regime or even commission work in the common interest.32

True, the new process will bring them together regularly, but only on specific agenda topics each year and with many key BWC issues off-limits altogether until 2006. Much ingenuity will no doubt be expended in pushing those limits and stretching that 2003-2005 agenda as far as the US will allow. The prospects for success in this attempt, however, are not good. The US got all the guarantees it wanted - directing that the new process be strictly confined - written into the Decision of the Fifth Review Conference. What more, one wonders, could Washington ask for? It is protected absolutely against voting, against negotiation of any legally-binding texts, and against direct (and probably indirect) consideration of any compliance measures even approaching verification. The new process is a severely constrained form of multilateral diplomacy. It does nothing to meet the institutional requirements of the BWC.

The 'Strengthening Sequence' of 1991-2001

To some extent this institutional deficit of the BWC regime was masked between 1991 and 2001 by a reasonably coherent 'strengthening sequence' of conferences and ad hoc groups. The Third Review Conference mandate of 1991 produced an ad hoc group of experts to identify, examine and evaluate possible verification measures from a scientific and technical standpoint (the VEREX exercise of 1992-93). This in turn generated the Special Conference of 1994 and the Ad Hoc Group of 1995-2001, which was given renewed encouragement (although regrettably not enough urgency) by the Fourth Review Conference in 1996. There was both continuity and progression in this series of discussions, blossoming from July 1997 into a negotiating process with the agreed goal of strengthening the BWC.

For the EU and like-minded states, perhaps some 50 in all, this strengthening could only mean a Verification Protocol. For others, it might include some elements approximating to verification in a package deal, with a strong Cooperation Committee to promote Article X measures to the benefit of the South, and with a prominent question-mark over the future of the Australia Group. For a few, mainly in Asia, it meant an immediate end to the Australia Group with as much dismantling of export controls and as little intrusive verification as possible. For the United States, it is difficult to know what it meant, since US policy was hard to discern with confidence until the Ad Hoc Group was abruptly informed on July 25, 2001, that it had been misdirected all along, and on December 7, 2001, that both it and its mandate ought to be terminated forthwith.

But at least through those ten years there was a common procedural goal (clearer after the Special Conference of 1994), however diverse states' views on verification might be, and however varied their degrees of enthusiasm for the 'strengthening sequence'. That procedural goal was the negotiation of a new, distinct, legally-binding instrument, which would be additional to the BWC but not supersede it, containing agreed measures (possibly including verification measures) to strengthen the Convention. This new instrument would at last remedy the institutional deficit. Some kind of OPBW would be created. And the sequence had a clear, unambiguous end-point: the Ad Hoc Group under its 1994 mandate would complete its work by concluding the new instrument - latterly known as the BWC Protocol - which would thereupon be handed over to a Second Special Conference to be formally adopted and opened for signature.

All Swept Away: What Now?

All that has been swept away. For 'strengthening sequence' we can now, in regretful retrospect, read 'the lost decade'33 for the BWC. And without the Protocol as an agreed goal, BWC states parties have been casting around for an alternative strategy. The Protocol would have been exogenous (supplementary) to the BWC. What about endogenous strategies instead (internal development), if only faute de mieux?

The only endogenous strategy so far developed at all in the BWC's history has been the cumulative review process. The more far-seeing states parties have used Review Conferences carefully and cumulatively to draw out implications and possibilities latent in the existing text of the Convention: elaborating procedures; agreeing definitions; formulating extended understandings; reaffirming norms and expectations against new threats to the BWC; and gradually - albeit hesitantly and imperfectly - giving shape and direction to a still largely embryonic treaty regime with the aim of steering it into a balanced evolution of all its different sectors.

However, the gaping void arising from the crisis of 2001-02 is made worse by the relative neglect of endogenous means of strengthening the BWC at the Fourth and Fifth Review Conferences. The Fourth had the best of motives: to avoid complicating the work of the Ad Hoc Group when the latter's outcome was still uncertain and its prospects for success needed to take priority. The Fifth had no such excuse. Its failure to complete work on a Final Declaration was a conscious choice and extended the prolonged hiatus still further. The Sixth Review Conference in 2006 will be picking up the pieces and taking forward the cumulative process of 1980-1986-1991 to which 1996 made few additions and 2001-02 none at all. Whether the new process of 2003-2004-2005 will help remains to be seen: but, at best, any achievements it registers by way of "common understanding and effective action"34 are allowed to contribute only at five points on a much wider BWC agenda.

Most of the work of identifying and shaping a coherent endogenous strategy - for strengthening the BWC without a Protocol - remains to be done. It will do well to build on the cumulative review process, and this will mean bridging the long gap to bring it up to date from the 1980s and early 1990s. This will have major implications for all concerned in generating proposals for 2006 as well as for the new-process meetings in the interim; all the more so as science and technology have not stood still.

The BWC Glass: Half-Full or Half-Empty?

It is difficult to strike the right balance between moderate optimism and pessimism when surveying the future of the BWC after the Fifth Review Conference. Is the glass half-full (the optimistic view) or half-empty (the pessimistic view)?

The Convention has been endowed with a new multilateral process, which may prove productive; but it has failed to undergo a proper review, let alone acquire its long-awaited 'strengthening' Protocol. And it has lost, at least temporarily, the momentum generated by the cumulative regime-building activity of recording extended understandings and procedural agreements in its Final Declarations.

So there is much reason for pessimism. And yet the 'friends of the BWC' have proved themselves a tenacious, even obstinate, bunch of people. In the face of repeated disappointment, they have remained stubbornly committed to its nurture. Discouraged, but not despairing, they are now one of its strongest assets.

Half-full or half-empty? David Atwood got the balance right when he wrote, in the aftermath of much NGO activity which he had helped organise around the Fifth Review Conference in 2001-02: "In the light of current global concerns about biological weapons proliferation and new threats emerging from the revolution in biotechnology, the current state of multilateral response is woefully inadequate if not irresponsible. There are real political reasons why it has not been possible to achieve more but it simply is not good enough. While far less than the world community has a right to expect of responsible governments, the series of interim meetings over the coming three years does at least offer a way of keeping attention globally on the biological weapons problem and for generating greater public knowledge of and engagement with this issue area. It is vital that the most is made of this opportunity."35


The way out of the doldrums in which BWC diplomacy has got stuck will almost certainly involve a convergence of two new developments.

One, which is already discernible but has not yet fully taken shape, is a civil society movement built around the BioWeapons Prevention Project which was launched in 2002.36 Some key civil society players are already active in the BWPP. If it can gain a reputation for steadiness of judgement and timeliness of intervention, and does not fall prey to the endemic problems of prickly inter-NGO relations or US/European differences of perspective, it will acquire the necessary credibility and come to occupy a central place among the wider circles of 'friends of the Convention'. Most importantly, potential partners include the medical and scientific communities and their professional associations, which could complement the Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity initiative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), with its distinctive emphasis on the humanitarian tradition in its repudiation of biological warfare.37

The other necessary development has not even started yet. A group of key, like-minded, states parties is needed, to take the lead in defining and promoting among governments a new agenda for the recovery of the BWC treaty regime. At the technical level this group could provide the core of a draft Final Declaration for 2006; at the political level it could encourage ever widening circles of states parties to set their sights for the Sixth Review Conference much higher than they did for the Fifth.

This new like-minded group would need to span Groups (Eastern, Western, NAM) and regions of the world in order to be sufficiently broad-based and to attain global credibility and wide political acceptability. If it could embrace some members of the Common Statement group, that would be a distinct advantage, demonstrating constructive movement beyond the damaging differences of April-July 2001 over the proposed supersession of the Rolling Text by the Chair's Composite Draft in the Ad Hoc Group negotiations for the Protocol.

The group could begin to coalesce in the margins of the first Meeting of States Parties (November 10-14, 2003). By that time the ICRC and BWPP initiatives will be a year old, and everyone will have had time to leave behind the prolonged crisis of the Fifth Review Conference, to complete their reflections on what went wrong in 2001-02, and to gather their thoughts for the future. The Geneva Forum and the Pugwash CBW Study Group, among others, could continue their valuable work in providing acceptable auspices under which to bring governmental and non-governmental people together in informal discussions where, as for some years past, ideas can be pooled and proposals refined which may steer the process of recovery.

Something akin to a New Agenda Coalition may be needed, although not necessarily with all the same governments as came together on nuclear weapons issues in the late 1990s - indeed, preferably wider in membership than that Coalition managed to be.38 There are significant differences between how biological and nuclear issues are best handled in a multilateral framework, partly but not solely explicable in terms of the obvious differences between the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the BWC. The NPT is not a Nuclear Weapons Convention. Certainly, its Article VI requires negotiations in good faith towards nuclear disarmament, and its review process is very properly concerned with assessing progress made in that direction; but a separate, stand-alone treaty will be needed to accomplish the abolition of nuclear weapons. In the case of the BWC, disarmament is already of the essence, and the task ahead is to rescue and reinforce the disarmament regime already agreed: to use the review process and other means to strengthen the BWC and to draw out the potential latent in its provisions, so as to steer it into a constructive evolution. That is what its New Agenda Coalition (or equivalent) will need to do.

An agenda for recovery will take time to work through in detail, but the main elements of a common platform are already beginning to take shape. The alternative to renewal, after all, will not merely be continued stagnation but a potentially terminal decline in the fortunes of the BWC. In an age of bioterrorism anxieties and rapidly accelerating biotechnology, such a prospect is appalling to contemplate.

Notes and References

1. Jenni Rissanen, 'Left in Limbo: Review Conference Suspended on Edge of Collapse', Disarmament Diplomacy No. 62 (January/February 2002), pp. 18-45.

2. BWC/CONF.V/17, paragraphs 18-20. The new process begins with the first Meeting of Experts (August 18-29, 2003) and the first Meeting of States Parties (November 10-14, 2003).

3. The draft Final Declaration as it stood on the morning of December 7, 2001 was reproduced in Disarmament Diplomacy No. 62, pp. 33-45 (see endnote 1). It was not included in the (procedural) Interim Report of the Fifth Review Conference (BWC/CONF.V/12), and is not listed in the List of Documents of the Conference (BWC/CONF.V/17, Annex III) annexed to the Final Document. The draft therefore has no official status. The Final Document consists instead of a Final Report to which are annexed the Interim Report, Rules of Procedure and List of Documents of the Conference. There is no reference to work on a Final Declaration anywhere except in the mandate of the Drafting Committee (BWC/CONF.V/17, Annex I, paragraph 28.2) agreed on November 19, 2001, which is reported historically in the Interim Report. The Drafting Committee held 13 meetings between November 30 and December 7, 2001, but was not reconvened at the Resumed Session.

4. "Rescue operation" was the favoured headline in the press following briefings on November 11, 2002. The description was attributed to Ambassador Tóth.

5. For example, the Statement on behalf of the Western Group, November 14, 2002 (BWC/CONF.V/16) - "Mr President: You have consulted widely here in Geneva, New York and in various capitals around the world and have left no stone unturned to craft a text that could attract a consensus. The text you circulated to us a week ago and which we adopted today, carefully balances the views of all the States Parties and results in a substantive and valuable conclusion to the Fifth Review Conference... I would like to express appreciation for all your efforts that have resulted in this agreement here today." The words "patient and constructive diplomacy" were used by Jayantha Dhanapala, UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, in his tribute to Ambassador Tóth at their joint press conference at noon on November 11, 2002.

6. BWC/CONF.V/CRP.3 (November 6, 2002), 'Draft Decision of the Fifth Review Conference'.

7. Marie Isabelle Chevrier, 'Waiting for Godot or saving the show? The BWC Review Conference reaches modest agreement', Disarmament Diplomacy No. 68 (December 2002/January 2003), pp. 11-16.

8. Officially, the seventh plenary session (November 11, 2002) "adopted the President's proposal for a flexible programme of work for the resumed session, with the schedule of meetings to be determined as needed in consultation with the General Committee and the Regional Group Coordinators" (BWC/CONF.V/17, paragraph 16). Unofficially, the General Committee was intended to meet on the afternoon of November 12 to register acceptance of CRP.3 obtained by then in each Group meeting in turn, with a final plenary session to conclude the Conference on the morning of November 13, if not in the late afternoon of November 12. Chevrier, p.12 (see endnote 7).

9. For succinct official expressions of the US view of the limited role of the BWC, see 'Fact Sheet: The Biological Weapons Convention', US Department of State, Bureau of Arms Control, May 22, 2002; 'US Efforts to Combat the Biological Weapons Threat', US Department of State, Press Release, November 14, 2002; Stephen G Rademaker, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, quoted in Dale Gavlak, 'UN Biological Weapons Meeting Concludes', Voice of America, November 14, 2002. For unofficial criticisms of the multilateral treaty approach with specific reference to the BWC, see Kathleen Bailey, 'Why the United States Rejected the Protocol to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention', Fairfax, Va.: National Institute for Public Policy, 2002; Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., 'Delusions of arms control', Los Angeles Times, November 20, 2002.

10. United States, The White House, 'Statement by the President: Strengthening the International Regime Against Biological Weapons', November 1, 2001. The five topics (with the year to which each is allocated) are listed in BWC/CONF.V/17, paragraph 18a, as: i. the adoption of necessary national measures to implement the prohibitions set forth in the Convention, including the enactment of penal legislation (2003); ii. national mechanisms to establish and maintain the security and oversight of pathogenic microorganisms and toxins (2003); iii. 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 (2004); iv. strengthening and broadening national and international institutional efforts and existing mechanisms for the surveillance, detection, diagnosis and combating of infectious diseases affecting humans, animals and plants (2004); v. the content, promulgation, and adoption of codes of conduct for scientists (2005).

11. Statement on behalf of the Group of the Non-Aligned Movement and Other States, November 14, 2002 (BWC/CONF.V/15).

12. Nicholas A. Sims, 'The New Multilateral Process for the BTWC: Ambiguities and Opportunities', in Graham S. Pearson & Malcolm R. Dando (eds.), Strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention: Briefing Papers (Second Series), No. 2 (University of Bradford Department of Peace Studies, January 2003).

13. BWC/CONF.V/16.

14. President of the Fifth Review Conference, press conference, 11 November 2002.

15. Nicholas A. Sims at the Palais des Nations launch of Review Conference Papers Nos. 8 and 9 in the Bradford series, November 12, 2002: fully reported in Graham S. Pearson, 'Report from Geneva: Review No 18: The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Review Conference', The CBW Conventions Bulletin 58 (December 2002), pp. 19-26 at p.25.

16. BWC/CONF.V/17, paragraph 18a.

17. BWC/CONF.V/17, paragraph 18e.

18. BWC/CONF.V/15.

19. President of the Fifth Review Conference, press conference, November 11, 2002, stating that 2½ of the topics belonged to the 'compliance' category and 2½ to the 'cooperation' category of BWC concerns.

20. BWC/CONF.V/15; and Sims (see endnote 15), in Pearson at p.25.

21. Chevrier (see endnote 7), p 11.

22. Rule 28.4 reads: "If by the end of the period of deferment [specified as 48 hours in Rule 28.3] the Conference has not reached agreement, voting shall take place and decisions shall be taken by a two-thirds majority of the representatives present and voting, providing that such majority shall include at least a majority of the States participating in the Conference."

23. The phrase was used - with reference to Washington's 'Biological Weapons Talking Points', presented at the September 2, 2002, Western Group meeting - by Jayantha Dhanapala, UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, in his statement to the UNGA First Committee, September 30, 2002.

24. European Union, Latin America and Caribbean Summit, Political Declaration: The Madrid Commitment, 8802/02 (Presse 133), Madrid, May 17, 2002. See Daniel Feakes, 'The Emerging European Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Agenda on Chemical and Biological Weapons', Disarmament Diplomacy No. 65 (July/August 2002), pp. 17-25 at p.22.

25. Rissanen (see endnote 1). '75% agreed' and '95% agreed' are thought respectively to refer to the state of the draft Final Declaration before and after the Friday morning session on December 7, 2001, as reported in press conferences by the President of the Fifth Review Conference.

26. Graham S Pearson & Nicholas A. Sims, 'Return to Geneva: uncertainties and options', in Graham S. Pearson & Malcolm R. Dando (eds.), Strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention: Review Conference Papers, No. 8 (University of Bradford Department of Peace Studies, October 2002), following earlier presentations on this theme to delegates and others by Sims under the auspices of the Geneva Forum at Geneva (July 16, 2002) and Glion-sur-Montreux (September 13, 2002).

27. Sims (see endnote 15), in Pearson at p.24.


29. Daniel Feakes & Jez Littlewood, 'Hope and ambition turn to dismay and neglect: the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 2001', Medicine, Conflict and Survival, vol. 18 (2002) p.170.

30. BWC/CONF.V.17, paragraph 18c and (for the approval by the Conference of the Eastern Group's nomination of Ambassador Tóth to chair the 2003 meetings) paragraph 19.

31. Nicholas A. Sims, 'Route-maps to OPBW: Using the Resumed BWC Fifth Review Conference', The CBW Conventions Bulletin 56 (June 2002), p.6.

32. Despite this structural reality, the NAM Statement of November, 14, 2002, in reacting against the restricted agenda of the 2003-2005 meetings, sounds a defiant note in its 'second understanding', insisting that: "The States Parties are sovereign and that as masters of their own fate they can together and at any time decide on further work that may be required." BWC/CONF.V/15.

33. I owe this apt description to Dr. Jez Littlewood of the Mountbatten Centre for International Studies at the University of Southampton.

34. BWC/CONF.V/17, paragraph 18a.

35. David Atwood, 'Resumed BW Review Conference: progress?', Geneva Reporter (Quaker United Nations Office), vol.21, no.3/4 (July-December 2002), p.2.

36. 'New Civil Society Watchdog Monitors Biological Weapons', BioWeapons Prevention Project, press release on launch at Geneva, November 11, 2002.

37. International Committee of the Red Cross, Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity: Summary Report of an informal meeting of government and independent experts, Montreux, Switzerland, 23-24 September 2002; 'Red Cross launches biotechnology appeal', Disarmament Diplomacy No. 67 (October/November 2002), pp. 58-59.

38. The New Agenda Coalition was formed in June 1998 with the issuing of a Joint Declaration - 'A Nuclear-Weapons-Free World: The Need for a New Agenda' - by the Foreign Ministers of eight states: Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa and Sweden. Slovenia subsequently disassociated itself from the Coalition.

Nicholas A. Sims is a Reader in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, UK.

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