SEVENTH REVIEW CONFERENCE OF BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION HEARS FROM FOREIGN MINISTER OF THE NETHERLANDS AND SECRETARY OF STATE OF THE UNITED STATES
7 December 2011
The Seventh Review Conference of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction this morning heard statements from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands Uri Rosenthal and the Secretary of State of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton. Nigeria and Iran also took the floor in the general debate.
Uri Rosenthal, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, said that curbing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and promoting arms control and disarmament were central components of Dutch foreign policy. The proliferation of biological and other weapons of mass destruction was a major threat to international peace and stability. The threat of these weapons falling into the hands of terrorist groups, rogue States and organized criminal networks had strongly increased over the last couple of years. The interlinkage between terrorists groups and organized crime and their connection with rogue regimes was the more worrisome. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was one of the three fundamental pillars of the international community’s efforts to combat weapons of mass destruction. The Netherlands therefore attached great importance to the Convention. The danger of bioloigical terrorism was only too real. The Netherlands was honoured to be presiding over this Review Conference.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State of the United States, said that President Obama had made it a top goal of this administration to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The United States viewed the risk of a biological weapons attack as both a serious national security challenge and a foreign policy priority. Ms. Clinton noted that one of the unsung successes of the Convention was that it had ingrained a norm among States against biological weapons so that even countries that had never joined the Convention could no longer claim that acquiring biological weapons was a legitimate goal. Although some in the international community had had their doubts about the odds of a mass biological attack or major outbreak the United States had reached no such conclusions. The United States remained convinced that, given the nature of bio-weapons technology, it was not possible to create a verification regime that would achieve this goal. However, she urged the Convention’s annual reporting system to be revised and said that countries should also take measures to demonstrate transparency.
Also taking the floor in the general debate this morning were Nigeria and Iran.
The Biological Weapons Convention opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975. It prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, retention, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons and is a key element – along with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention – in the international community's efforts to address the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Biological Weapons Convention is the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning an entire category of weapons. It currently has 165 States parties, with a further 12 having signed but not yet ratified it.
The plenary and general debate of the Seventh Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference were then suspended for meetings of the Committee of the Whole and informal plenaries. The next public plenary will be on Thursday, 15 December when the Committee of the Whole will give a report on its work.
URI ROSENTHAL, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, said that curbing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and promoting arms control and disarmament were central components of Dutch foreign policy. The proliferation of biological and other weapons of mass destruction was a major threat to international peace and stability. The threat of these weapons falling into the hands of terrorist groups, rogue States and organized criminal networks had strongly increased over the last couple of years. The interlinkage between terrorists groups and organized crime and their connection with rogue regimes was the more worrisome. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was one of the three fundamental pillars of the international community’s efforts to combat weapons of mass destruction. The Netherlands therefore attached great importance to the Convention. In the twenty-first century, security, freedom and prosperity were strongly interdependent. That interdependence was clearly visible in the field of biological agents. On the one hand, advances in science and technology brought about cures for infectious diseases. On the other hand, research results and technological advancements could be misused for terrorist purposes. The danger of biological terrorism was only too real.
The development of the Biolgoical and Toxin Weapons Convention was prompted by concerns over the use of these weapons by States. But today, they also had to confront the danger of biological arms falling into the hand of non-State and quasi-State actors like international terrorist groups, organized crime and rogue States. Today, they saw a disturbing increase in illegal arms smuggling and links with transnational, organized crime. The danger of bioloigical terrorism was only too real. The deliberate use in 2011 of anthrax to cause death, panic and mass disruption in the United States had been evidence to this threat. The Netherlands was honoured to be presiding over this Review Conference. The main aim of the Netherlands for this Seventh Review Conference was to secure a positive outcome and to further strengthen the Convention. In line with the priorities of the European Union Member States for this Review Conference, the Netherlands was committed to supporting national implementation, enhancing compliance with the Convention and promoting universality.
A lot of work remained and three points should be stressed. First, the level of national implementation, although generally improving, remained patchy and inconsistent. States still had no clear idea of how to respond if a biological weapon were to be used, nor any way of objectively monitoring or assessing compliance. Therefore, all States parties should focus on supporting and strengthening national enforcement measures, like creating criminal legislation and appropriate bio-safety and bio-security measures. Second, the Biological Weapons Convention should be improved in order to enhance compliance. There was no binding verification protocol. Mr. Rosenthal urged all States parties to play their part in shaping the future of the Biological Weapons Convention and take specific, effective steps to reduce the risk posed to international security by biological weapons. Third, they needed to aim at universal adherence to the Convention. This involved reaching out to those States that were not yet a party to the Convention. States needed to coordinate and improve their efforts to call on those States to legally commit themselves to the non-proliferation and disarmament of biological and toxin weapons. With 165 Treaty parties, they were still lagging behind most other multilateral disarmament treaties. States had to ensure that advances in biological science and technology were used exclusively in support of peace, security and development.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, Secretary of State of the United States, said that President Obama had made it a top goal of this administration to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The United States viewed the risk of a biological weapons attack as both a serious national security challenge and a foreign policy priority. In an age when people and diseases crossed borders with growing ease, bio-weapons were a transnational threat which required transnational action to protect against them. The advances in science and technology that had made it possible to prevent and cure more diseases had also made it easier for both States and non-State actors, including terrorists, to develop biological weapons. A crude but effective terrorist weapon could be made using a small sample of any number of widely available pathogens, inexpensive equipment, and college-level chemistry and biology. As it had become easier to develop these weapons, it had remained extremely difficult to detect them because almost any biological research could serve dual purposes. One of the unsung successes of the Convention was that it had ingrained a norm among States against biological weapons. Even countries that had never joined the Convention could no longer claim that acquiring biological weapons was a legitimate goal.
Although some in the international community had had their doubts about the odds of a mass biological attack or major outbreak, Ms. Clinton stressed that the United States had reached no such conclusions. The warning signs were too serious to ignore. In the 1990s the apocalyptic cult Aum Shinrikyo had unleashed two attacks in Tokyo by spraying a liquid containing anthrax spores into the air and sarin gas in the subway. In 2001, coalition forces in Afghanistan found evidence that al Qaeda had sought the ability to conduct bio-weapons attacks. And less than a year ago, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had made a call to arms for ‘brothers with degrees in microbiology or chemistry to develop a weapon of mass destruction.’ All States had an interest in ramping up their efforts both to prevent outbreaks and attacks and to respond if they were to occur. Shoring up domestic and international defenses against international attacks would make it easier to detect and respond to naturally occurring outbreaks, and would provide benefits for every country in the region. All States needed public health systems that could quickly diagnose outbreaks and mobilize the right medical resources and personnel.
Ms. Clinton discussed three areas which deserved particular attention. First, there was a need to bolster international confidence that countries were living up to their obligations under the Convention. The United States remained convinced that, given the nature of bio-weapons technology, it was not possible to create a verification regime that would achieve this goal. However, there were other steps that could be taken. The Convention’s annual reporting system should be revised to ensure that States parties were answering the right questions, such as what were they doing to guard against the misuse of biological materials. Countries should also take measures to demonstrate transparency. The United States had made its annual reports public and under the new Bio-Transparency and Openness Initiative, it would host an International Forum on Health and Security to exchange views on biological threats and to discuss the evolution of domestic bio-research programmes.
Second, to build global health security, there should be a strengthening of each country’s ability to detect and respond to outbreaks and improve international coordination. Five years ago, 194 countries came together at the World Health Organization and committed to building their core capacities in this area by June 2012. The United States would support the World Health Organization in this area and had encouraged other countries to do the same. Finally, there was a need for a thoughtful international dialogue about the way to maximize the benefits of scientific research and minimize the risks that it would be turned against countries. For example, the emerging gene synthesis industry was making genetic material more widely available which had led to benefits for research but which could also potentially be used to assemble the components of a deadly organism. How could State parties balance the need for scientific freedom and innovation with the need to guard against such risks? The answer would come from open conversations in this forum and others, among Governments, the scientific community and other stakeholders.
SYNDOOPH PAEBI ENDONI (Nigeria) said that the negative effects of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their eventual use could not be over-emphasized. The fast moving pace of developments in the life sciences would constitute a threat to the Convention if the review process failed to recognize this. Nigeria considered the issue of international cooperation under article X as vital to the implementation of the Convention and urged this Review Conference to give the issue some bite so as to encourage its full and effective implementation. If this objective could be realized, countries in a similar situation to Nigeria would have capacity building for their academicians, biological industry workers and other stakeholders in the field. Nigeria suggested that the intersessional process be streamlined with a reduced number of meetings so that small missions with limited resources were able to meet the demands of other parallel meetings. On the issue of national implementation and domestication, Nigeria was an avowed advocate of the need to ban the use of biological weapons, having signed and ratified the Convention in 1972 and 1973 respectively and it had organized a workshop on national implementation for West and Central Africa in October 2010. In the second and third quarter of 2012, Nigeria promised to host a national sensitization workshop for the Biological Weapons Convention. The Implementation Support Unit was critical in the overall implementation of the Convention. Nigeria supported calls to give the Unit another five year term.
MOHAMMED REZA SAJJADI (Iran) said Iran was proud to have been among the first 20 governments that had signed and then ratified this very first international disarmament treaty. Iran as a victim of chemical weapons and as an active State party to all international disarmament instruments had always renounced the development, production, acquisition and stockpiling of any weapons of mass destruction, including biological and toxin weapons. No State party should have any offensive bio defense programmes. The Biological Weapons Convention was established with the main objective of the total elimination of bacteriological and toxin weapons but it had failed to ascertain the achievement of this goal. The only sustainable way for regime building in the Biological Weapons Convention was through the legally binding instrument to comprehensively strengthen the Convention.
The universality of the Convention was of high importance to Iran. Iran welcomed the accession of Mozambique and Burundi to the Convention. This Review Conference should call upon all non-parties, and in particular Israel, to accede to the Convention without delay. There should be targeted timelines for ensuring the universality of the Convention. Pending their accession, States parties should refrain from any transfer of biological agents, toxins, equipment, materials, technology to the non-parties. Also, the full, effective and non-discriminatory implementation of article X, as one of the main pillars of the Convention, was essential to achieve the object and purpose of the Convention. Many developing countries had suffered from the systematic denial of the inalienable right of States parties to exchange equipment, materials and technology for the use of the biological agents and toxins for peaceful purposes. This Review should address these unjustified restrictions posed against States parties in contravention with the Convention. There was an urgent need for the establishment of a mechanism on article X, in this vein Iran supported the Non-Aligned Movement Paper on article X. Also, the intersessional process should be directed towards the strengthening of the Convention in its entirety.
Confidence-Building Measures as voluntary measures would lead to enhanced confidence among States parties. However, these measures should not constitute a mechanism for verification of compliance. Lastly, Iran needed to recall that in addressing the need for institutional support for States parties in implementing the Convention provisions and Review Conference decisions, the Sixth Review Conference had established the Implementation Support Unit with a specific mandate. Caution should be exercized not to substitute the Implementation Support Unit with an organization with a comprehensive mandate to implement the Convention.
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