BTWC Ad Hoc Group Gains Political Momentum

by Graham S Pearson

In the Action Plan for the Ad Hoc Group (ASA 98-1, February 12, 1998) I concluded that "what is needed is the political momentum to complete the negotiations" as the goal of an effectively strengthened Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) is in sight and achievable. There have been encouraging political developments since then that augur well for the Ad Hoc Group (AHG).

First, President Clinton in his State of the Union address to the US Congress on 27 January 1998 set the scene by saying that "On the eve of a new century, we have the power and the duty to build a new era of peace and security....To meet these challenges, we are helping to write international rules of the road for the 21 st century, protecting those who join the family of nations, isolating those who do not." He then said "I also ask Congress to join me in pursuing an ambitious agenda to reduce the serious threat of weapons of mass destruction.... Together, we also must confront new hazards: chemical and biological weapons which could be used against us by outlaw states, terrorists and organised criminals." He went on to say "Now, we must act to prevent the use of disease as a weapon of war and terror. The Biological Weapons Convention has been in effect for 23 ye ars. The rules are good, but the enforcement is weak -- and we must strengthen it with a new international inspection system to detect and deter cheating."

A Whi te House Fact Sheet issued on the same day said "Under the new initiative announced by the President today, the United States will seek to complete the framework of a strong BWC protocol by the end of 1998." thus
reiterating and reinforcing statements made by President Clinton to the United Nations General Assembly in September 1996 that the BTWC should be given the means to strengthen compliance and that "we should aim to complete this task by 1998."

Second, the United Kingdom in its role as President of the European Union (EU) announced on 9 March 1998 a common position that is legally binding on not only the EU Member States but also the 14 Associated Countries. This commits a total of 29 States to &quo t;actively pursue decisive progress in the work of the Ad Hoc Group, with a view to concluding the substantive negotiations by the end of 1998, so that the Protocol can be adopted by a Specia l Conference of States Parties early in 1999."  

Third, Australia in a statement to the AHG on 9 March 1998 said the Australian Minister of Foreign Af fairs had a week earlier announced, as part of Australia's response to the recent Iraq crisis, an Australian initiative to strengthen the BTWC. This initiative is "aimed at fast-tracking the negotiations on a verification system for the Biological Weapons Convention by: - calling for the convening of a high level meeting to inject into the negotiations the necessary politica l commitment for urgent action, help secure early conclusion to the negotiations." It seems likely that a meeting may be held at Foreign Minister level in New York during the UN Gen eral Assembly meeting in the autumn to give the political impetus to complete the negotiation of the Protocol.

However, a note of caution was sounded by the Non-Align ed Movement and other Countries in a statement to the AHG at the end of the March 1998 meeting. They noted that, "having reviewed the progress achieved so far at the Ad-Hoc Group, noted that certain issues remain to be adequately addressed and...affirm as follows: (i) They remain committed to and have confidence in the work of the Ad-Hoc Group which is being conducted in ord er to fulfill the important objective of strengthening the BTWC. They will contribute fully to this work in order to promote consensus on key issues which will facilitate the conclusion of th is undertaking in a manner acceptable to all States Parties and be conducive to the universalisation of the regime to be established." This statement goes on to note the decision of the Fourth Review Conference urging completion of the AHG negotiation, as soon as possible, enjoys consensus support from all States Parties and that alternative time frames should be avoided.

A second sub-paragraph stresses that the mandate needs to be fully implemented and the NAM "express their concerns at attempts to reduce the scope and importance o f issues related to Article X of the Convention ... Substantive progress in strengthening the application and full operationalisation of Article X is crucial to the conclusion of a universall y acceptable and legally binding instrument designed to strengthen the Convention. They reaffirm readiness to work with other delegations in order to achieve an appropriate balance in the Pro tocol." The final sub-paragraph stresses "that there is no alternative to negotiations and the promotion of agreements and consensus on specific issues within the AHG. Therefore, ne gotiations should be conducted within the AHG and on the basis of the existing rolling text."

There is consequently a sense in Gene va of real purpose and seriousness in the negotiations. All the participating States are engaged in formulating consensus language and removal of square brackets from the text.

The EU common position commits the 29 States "to work together to promote agreement in the negotiations on the following measures, including verification measures, which are b oth central and essential to an effective Protocol to strengthen compliance with the BTWC:

-- Declarations of a range of facilities and activities of potential relevance under the Convention, inter alia so as to enhance transparency;
-- Provision for visits to facilities in order to promote accurate and complete declarations and thus further enhance transparency and confidence;
-- Provision for rapid and effective investigations into concerns over non-compliance, including both facility and field investigations;
-- A cost-effective and independent organization, including a small permanent staff, cap able of implementing the Protocol effectively."

It is encouraging that there is much common ground with the US position ind icated in the White House Fact Sheet of 27 January 1998 which said the US "will work closely with US industry to develop and reach international agreement on the following tools:

spot.gif (62 bytes) Declarations: BWC Parties would be required to submit annual declarations to the BWC implementing organization about facilities and/or activities especially suited for possible BW purposes, such as facilities...that send or receive international transfers of dangerous pathogens, such as anthrax.
spot.gif (62 bytes) Voluntary Visits: BWC Parties would be encouraged to allow visits to their facilities declared under the protocol to address questions regarding the BWC or the protocol. These ... would be at the discretion of the facility concerned...
spot.gif (62 bytes) Non-Challenge Clarifying Visits: BWC Parties would be required to accept a reasonable number of on-site visits by the BWC implementing organization to clarify an ambiguity, uncertainty, anomaly, omission or other issue related to their an nual declaration....
spot.gif (62 bytes) Challenge Investigations: BWC Parties would be required to accept an investigation by the BWC implementing organization of any location ... if there is evidence of noncompliance with the basic prohibitions of the BWC. Such investigations should be subject t o a "green light" filter ..."

Although the common ground is encouraging, there are several details in the US position which would benefit from further consideration and modification. When the firm position that the US and UK rightly took earlier in 1998 in requiring that Iraq meet its ob ligations under UN Security Council Resolution 687 (1991) and other Resolutions is considered, it will be recognised that a concept of "voluntary the discretion of the facili ty concerned" would not be acceptable to the US in regard to any of the 8 countries listed in the Chapter (VII) of the ACDA Annual Report under the heading of "V. Other Nations Comp liance with Multilateral Agreements, A. The 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention". However, there are circumstances in which voluntary visits could help to increase transparency and build confidence; for example, in visits to check declarations, a voluntary visit to other parts of the
facility or activity would be valuable.

As for challenge investigations, these need, as the EU common position recognises, to be rapid and effective. The difficulties of investigations at some time after an alleged event are clearly shown in the recent Cuban allegation (see ASA 97-5 and 98-2). Furthermore, the US experience in the confrontation with Iraq earlier in 1998 showed the difficulties of building an internat ional consensus even in a case where the evidence was as clear and internationally accepted as that of Iraq. The US should recognise that there are good grounds for the BTWC having a similar "red light" filter mechanism to that of the Chemical Weapons Convention where a majority of States parties have to vote to stop an investigation. As both the BTWC and the CWC rightl y cover toxins, thereby ensuring no gap between the Conventions, it would not be beneficial to have two significantly different mechanisms under the two Conventions.

The NAM statement shows a welcome commitment to the strengthening of the BTWC through the completion of the negotiations as soon as possible.  They quite rightly point out the importance of addressing key issues that will help to conclude the work of the AHG in a way that is acceptable to all States Parties. They then go on to state that substantive progress in strengthening the application of Article X of the Convention is crucial to the conclusion of a universally acceptable Protocol. The remarks relating to Article X appear to have resulted from moves in the March AHG meeting to constrain the scope of the Article VII of the rolling text; in the January rolling text (BWC/AD HOC GROUP/39, 2 February 1998) Article VII has the title "Scientific and Technological Exchange for Peaceful Purposes and Technical Cooperation" which has no square brackets, whilst the version resulting from the March meeting has a title reading "[S cientific and Technological Exchange for Peaceful Purposes] [Implementation Assistance] and Technical Cooperation". The effect of this change with its square brackets and introduction of the term "[Implementation Assistance]" is to cast doubt on the intention to address the element of the mandate requiring the AHG to consider inter alia: "Specific measures designed to ensure effective and full implementation of Article X, ...".

The need to consider measures relating to the implementation of Article X has been recognis ed as an issue of particular importance to the developing countries. Although it will be important to avoid duplication of activities such as those under Agenda 21 and the Convention on Biological Diversity, it is becoming apparent that there are common goals in respect of both international security and public health and environmental safety that can complement the moves being taken by the AHG to increase transparency and build confidence. Two Briefing Papers prepared by the Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford setting out buildi ng blocks for Article X were presented and distributed during the March 1998 AHG meeting.

These show that there is already considerable international effort to harmonize national and international regulations relating to pathogens that present danger to public and animal health and to the environment. It is evident in that in many countries, for public health and environmental safety reasons, national authorities are already establishing regulations, collecting relevant information about facilities and activities and inspecting these facilities and activities. As the BTWC Protocol is likely to contain declarations and inspections of facilities and activities together with national implementation measures, as well as measures to i mprove implementation of Articles III and X of the Convention, there is potential for a two way synergy between the strengthening of the BTWC and the strengthening of national procedures for the handling, use and transfer of harmful pathogens for public health and environmental safety. Consequently, in regard to the strengthening of the implementation of Article X of the BTWC, th ere appears to be scope for measures to facilitate the harmonization of national, regional and international safety rules for pathogens involving both the collection of data and the inspectio n of facilities thereby enhancing both national public confidence as well as regional and international security.

There is a real opp ortunity for the AHG to make progress this year. The next political indication will be in May with the communique of the G-8 meeting. In June 1997, the G8 communique -- and the subsequent NAT O Heads of States and Government communique a month later in Madrid -- said "Recognizing that enhancing confidence in compliance would reinforce the Biological Toxin Weapons Convention, we reaffirm our determination to complete as soon as possible through negotiation a legally-binding and effective verification mechanism." The G-8 in May 1998 can be expected to parallel the commitment of the EU Common Position.

The AHG can and should make real progress towards a Protocol this year. It behoves all concerned with the strengthening of the BTWC, whether government, industry or academia, to address the remaining issues, to formulate solutions and to finalise the text of the Protocol. This is an achievable goal and one that i s indeed well worthwhile. Let us all put our shoulders to the task of completing an effective protocol and so reducing the danger that deliberate disease may be used as a weapon of war.

Editor's Note: Graham Pearson is Honorary Visiting Professor in International Security, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK and previously Director General and Chief Executive, Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment.

University of Bradford: BTWC Project

The Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, has a project to strengthen the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention which is preparing Briefing Papers addressing key issues relating to the strengthening of the BTWC for presentation and distribution to the States Parties. Thus far,
some seven Briefing Papers have been produced:

1. The Importance of On-Site Investigations... July 1997
2. The Necessity for Non-Challenge Visits ...September 1997
3. Discriminating Triggers for Mandatory Declarations...September 1997
4. National Implementation Measures...January 1998
5. An Optimum Organization....January 1998
6. Article X : Some Building Blocks...March 1998
7. Article X : Further Building Blocks...March 1998

These Briefing Papers are all available on the project web site which is constantly being updated with the Proced ural Reports and Working Papers of the Ad Hoc Group.

A project objective is to make available on this website, the papers presented at meetings of the Ad Hoc Group as well as other papers relating to the BTWC such as the Final Report of the Fourth Review Conference held in November 1996. This web site is a joint CBW project with SIPRI.

98-2, issue no. 65