Meeting of the States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention

Statement by U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood
Special Representative for Biological Weapons Convention Issues

Meeting of the States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention
Geneva, December 1, 2014

Ambassador WoodMr. Chairman, distinguished delegates, colleagues:

March 26th of next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the Entry into force of the Biological Weapons Convention.   It’s a short document, but one with big aims.  It’s a Convention that has faced significant challenges:  cases of noncompliance, politically charged debates about its future, and the increasing salience of the non-state actor threat.  It has faced advances in technology and human understanding that have dramatically changed not only the bioweapons threat, but the broader landscape of legitimate scientific and industrial activity.   Faced with these challenges, on the whole the BWC has stood up pretty well: membership continues to grow, and we have continued to adapt and address new challenges.

Mr. Chairman, my delegation welcomed your early circulation of draft elements for the final document of this meeting as a way to focus our efforts.  I pledge my delegation’s full support to your efforts to guide us to a successful outcome.

Mr. Chairman, your draft elements paper provides an excellent basis for our discussions this week, precisely because it includes specific and detailed language.  Some of that language, in our view, could be enhanced.  Some elements may prove problematic.  There are doubtless ideas and proposals not reflected in this draft that would make for a stronger report.  But it is a good place to start, and as we proceed, my delegation intends to use this document as our roadmap and to provide clear feedback where we think the map needs additional refinement.

Mr. Chairman, the ambitious intersessional agenda has not been matched by the resources, the organizational structure, or the political will needed to achieve the degree of “effective action” to which my government and many others aspire.

Even as we seek to consolidate gains under the existing process, it is important that we look toward the 8th Review Conference in 2016, and begin the dialogue about next steps.

Some will doubtless call for a renewed effort to negotiate a supplemental treaty.  We’ve been down that road.  The problems are well known – and despite the popular narrative, they are not limited to U.S. objections or to disputes over “verification.”  This is a formula for years of inaction, while the threat continues to evolve and opportunities for action are lost. We can – and we must – do better than that.

Mr. Chairman, we can strengthen our intersessional meeting processes.  We can undertake new commitments, establish decision-making or advisory bodies, or increase the staff of our very small secretariat, the Implementation Support Unit.  None of these ideas requires us to wait years for the uncertain outcome of an all-or-nothing negotiating process.   All they require is political will.

Although there are important issues on which we do not agree, we do agree on a great deal.   For example, we agree on the need to strengthen national implementation measures to guard against the threats of proliferation and bioterrorism.  We agree on the importance of international cooperation, especially to build nations’ capacity to address health security challenges.   We agree on the need to further develop approaches to implementing the mutual assistance provisions of Article VII.  And – even if we do not all agree on how best to go about it – we agree on the need to find ways to strengthen mutual confidence that Parties to the BWC are effectively implementing the treaty and complying with their obligations.

Mr. Chairman, it seems clear to my delegation that we need a more structured intersessional process, and one with greater authority to recommend actions and even take decisions.  We need opportunities for focused work by experts on a range of topics – experts who are tasked to develop specific reports or recommendations for consideration by States Parties.  We need a way to coordinate these efforts and ensure that they feed smoothly into meetings of the States Parties, so the BWC isn’t something we address just two weeks out of every year.  We need a process that feeds into BWC Review Conferences in an orderly and constructive way.

This is a much more ambitious vision than our current process, but it is hardly revolutionary.  The first proposals along these lines were advanced by States Parties from Africa and Latin America almost ten years ago at the Sixth Review Conference – clearly, ideas ahead of their time.  But now is the time – the time to take those proposals, and those that came after, as a point of departure, and to start exploring a new way forward.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman