GENEVA — The United States has again found itself at odds with a number of friends and allies on how to strengthen international controls over biological weapons at an annual meeting here of the Biological Weapons Convention (see GSN, Aug. 13).
Treaty participants are meeting this week to discuss ways to encourage nations to pass and enforce domestic rules to implement the 1972 treaty, and more specifically, to establish common measures for securing pathogenic biological agents.
This week’s discussions, preceded by a two-week experts’ meeting in August, are the first part of a three-year program to review various issues related to the treaty in preparation for the next treaty review conference in 2006.
The August meeting assembled documents from dozens of states describing the measures they have implemented so far and their plans for future steps. The result was “a mass of uncollated documents with no recommendations,” said Malcolm Dando, a biological weapons arms control expert from the University of Bradford.
Many nations hoped this week’s session could consolidate those reports and recommend common principles to guide countries in creating and enforcing treaty implementation legislation and for establishing enhanced biosecurity measures.
“In our view, the primary task of this meeting of states parties should be the adoption of an agreed final document, identifying those common elements and recommending them for national implementation,” said German Ambassador Volker Heinsberg, in comments similar to those by New Zealand, Sweden and others.
“It is our desire and hope that by the end of this week we would have arrived at some common understandings on the basis of the best practices, to be pursued on a voluntary basis,” said the statement by Pakistan.
U.S. Wants a Different Direction
The U.S. delegation opposes those aims and instead views the conference principally as an opportunity for exchanging information and encouraging states to take action at home regarding specific issues.
“We do not believe we should try to negotiate an agreement by the parties at this annual meeting on sets of ‘common elements’ or ‘best practices’ relating to national implementing measures and/or biosecurity,” said U.S. delegation leader Ambassador Donald Mahley.
He said the conference should produce two outcomes: a determination to review, update or implement national measures and a commitment to help treaty parties meet their obligations.
“Any attempt to negotiate common elements will only serve to distract states from acting sovereignly now, when it is necessary,” Mahley said.
He further urged the assembled nations to abandon the “common elements” goal at future annual meetings.
“The United States believes that if future work program topics are to be successful, as were those of 2003, the focus of the limited time for those programs should remain on the preapproved topics and should not attempt to reprise, report on, or revisit the 2003 work program, however important we find that work to be,” Mahley said.
Parties “now understand well enough what has to be done with regard to national implementation and biosecurity measures,” he said.
Some close U.S. allies, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have not weighed in on the debate.