Statement of Ambassador Laura Kennedy,
U.S. Special Representative for
Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Issues
at the Preparatory Committee for the BWC Review Conference
April 14, 2011
Role of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention
The risk of state development and possession of biological weapons, which drove the negotiation of the BWC nearly forty years ago, still exists today. However, the nature of the biological risk is far more complex than it was in 1975 when the BWC came into force. Advances in the life sciences have expanded both states’ ability to covertly pursue a broader range of biological weapons and sub-national actors’ capability for serious BW attacks. At the same time, the risk of severe natural outbreaks of infectious diseases has increased due to expanded travel across national borders. These increased risks have triggered intensive efforts to prevent and respond to large-scale outbreaks of infectious disease of natural or deliberate origin.
The BWC is sufficiently broad and flexible to address this expanded range of threats, and we should work together to do so. The Seventh Review Conference should consolidate and build on efforts since the last RevCon and focus on concrete actions to reduce the threat of disease as a weapon.
The U.S. National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats notes that:
The risk [of acquisition and use of biological weapons] is evolving in unpredictable ways; advances in enabling technologies will continue to be globally available; and the ability to exploit such advances will become increasingly accessible to those with ill-intent as the barriers of technical expertise and monetary costs decline. Accordingly, no country can be complacent but instead must take action to ensure that advances in the life sciences positively affect people of all nations while reducing the risks posed by their misuse.
The BWC provides the premier forum for members of the security, health, scientific and law enforcement communities to come together to better understand and address biological threats. The RevCon can decisively direct this forum to pursue three critical objectives:
• Promoting confidence in effective BWC implementation and compliance
• Preventing bioterrorism; and
• Building global capacity to combat infectious disease.
Several important issues will require action at the RevCon:
• We need to establish a Mechanism for Identifying and Addressing the Impact of Advances in Science and Technology – Ensuring States Parties’ awareness of innovations in the life sciences and their implications for the BWC is essential to addressing 21st century challenges.
• We should work to update and strengthen the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) – Last revised in 1991, the CBM forms need to be updated to increase the relevance of State Parties’ submissions to build confidence in compliance. It is likely that a combination of RevCon action and continued work in the next intersessional period will be required. In our view, this is one important element of a constructive effort to increase mutual awareness and confidence in BWC Compliance. We should also explore other means of promoting transparency and confidence in this regard, the United States intends to promote, and if necessary lead unilaterally, in demonstrating greater national transparency, especially with respect to biodefense programs.
• Identify practical steps to achieve our shared goal of Universality – Currently, there are 32 countries that are not party to the BWC. Because repugnance to the use of disease as a weapon is a nearly universal norm, all States Parties should encourage countries to join the BWC, including provision of necessary support.
• We should ensure the Implementation Support Unit (ISU) is resourced in Proportion to its Future Workload – The three-person ISU has been a success by any measure since its creation during the Sixth RevCon in 2006. Although any expansion of the ISU staff or resources must be tied to specific tasks that will be agreed upon at the RevCon, we are prepared in principle to support a modest expansion.
• We must continue and expand our efforts to involve industry and academia – The United States will expand its efforts to heighten awareness about scientific and technical advances and dual-use technology that raise concern. Possible areas to explore are programs to bring together academic, industry, and government scientists to discuss life sciences and security challenges, and involve industry in development of technologies to enhance transparency and avoid misuse of biological activities.
Finally, we should agree on an intercessional Work Program that strengthens promotes concrete, specific action by States Parties to strengthen implementation of the Convention.
Priority Topics for intercessional work include:
• Promoting confidence in States Parties’ compliance with Article I and other obligations;
• Strengthening national implementation of the BWC, including oversight of relevant activities and the identification and promotion of specific risk-management practices;
• Strengthening and promoting outreach, education, and awareness to and of those engaged in the life sciences to reinforce strong norms of responsible, ethical, and safety- and security-conscious behavior;
• Building international capacity to detect and respond effectively to infectious disease outbreaks, particularly those of suspicious origin. The assistance provisions of Article VII are inherently limited by the requirement for a Security Council determination before they are triggered; a pragmatic approach to achieving the underlying goal of Article VII is to strengthen national detection and response capabilities and work to enhance international coordination in the event of a suspicious outbreak.
The Seventh Review Conference should place the BWC on a trajectory that: enhances the effectiveness of the treaty as a categorical norm against the misuse of the life sciences; leads to near-universal adherence; and provides the premier forum for members of the security, health, scientific and law enforcement communities to come together to address biological threats.