U.S. Statement at the Meeting of Experts to the BWC

Statement by Ambassador Robert Wood
Special Representative for BWC Issues
United States of America
Meeting of Experts to the Biological Weapons Convention
August 10, 2015
Geneva

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me join other delegations in congratulating you on  your Chairmanship for this year.  I can assure you of my delegation’s full support.

First, the United States would like to welcome Andorra as the newest State Party to the Biological Weapons Convention, becoming the 173rd.  In addition, I am pleased to note that the United States is sponsoring Guinea’s participation in our meeting this week as a non-Party observer, and looks forward to the time when that country and all others not now in the BWC join us in the important obligations of the Convention.  Every state that adheres to the BWC brings us closer to our fundamental goal of universal adherence.

Mr. Chairman, the United States continues to welcome the opportunity these meetings present for a substantive dialogue on ways we can strengthen the Convention and its implementation.  We hope that both this Experts Meeting and the annual Meeting of States Parties will foster discussions that lead to consensus on common understandings and effective action to achieve these goals.  This week, my Delegation will contribute to our dialogue in a variety of ways, including both with national and joint working papers and with contributions from experts here in plenary and in side events.

Clearly, a critical area of this dialogue is international cooperation and assistance, and the United States remains committed to doing our part to facilitate the fullest possible exchange of relevant material, equipment, and information, including through the Global Health Security Agenda.  We look forward to a continuation of our discussion on practical ways to strengthen such exchanges, including in such areas as public health, bio-risk management, and national implementation of the Convention.

Closely related is our consideration of how more effectively to implement Article VII.  We seek the widest possible agreement on means of addressing the major obstacles and challenges to international response to a major disease outbreak, whether or not it is deliberate in origin.  The world’s experience with Ebola reminds us that these challenges are significant, and as BWC Parties, we must consider how we would deal with the even more horrific scenario of an outbreak caused intentionally.

Mr. Chairman, Article XII of the Convention, which states that our review of the operation of the Convention should take into account relevant new scientific and technological developments, is particularly significant for the business of this experts meeting.  The United States will continue to contribute to the BWC discussion of developments in the life sciences, including how to mitigate the risks of dual-use and gain-of-function research.  Our emphasis is on identifying areas where there may be a need for Parties to take action and on promoting convergence of views on such matters.

The United States will also continue to stress the vital importance of national implementation of the Convention, which is important to ensure that the BWC actually fulfills its lofty objectives and – through transparency – that Parties have confidence that others are complying with our mutually held obligations.  We believe that these goals can best be served through increased availability of information about national implementation and a more common understanding of what effective implementation involves.

To implement Article III in particular, the Seventh RevCon called for appropriate measures, including effective national export controls.  To respond to this call, we and [29] other Parties have submitted a working paper proposing a common understanding on key elements of an effective national export control system that fulfill the obligations of Article III.  We urge all Parties to support this understanding.

Of course another critical aspect of implementation is effective bio-risk management.  Parties may be aware of recently discovered, inadvertent shipments of live anthrax spores by the U.S. Department of Defense.  These samples were shipped to industry, academia, international, and other Federal laboratories for research, development, testing, and evaluation of countermeasures to protect military and civilian populations from the threat of biological agents.  The United States has undertaken numerous actions to rectify this situation, including notification to the recipients of samples from all 149 batches produced since 2003, IHR Article 7 notification to the World Health Organization, and a comprehensive review by an independent committee.

As directed by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, a full accountability investigation is underway, and a moratorium for inactivation and shipping of inactivated anthrax spores has been imposed until new measures can be put in place.  To maximize transparency, a great deal more information is available on a website, updated daily to provide the latest information to the public.  The address is http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2015/0615_lab-stats/. In addition, a representative from the Department of Defense will be available to address States Parties questions on Thursday.  The time and the room number for this briefing will be announced in advance.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, as we are now less than 15 months from our next Review Conference, I would like to remind Parties of the need this year to begin our preparations for that Conference, the culmination of our efforts over five years.  As in past review cycles, we will look to you, as this year’s Chairman, to consult with Parties, the Implementation Support Unit, and eventually the RevCon President to organize the most productive possible meeting next year.  It will be essential for the Conference to record consensus among Parties on the fundamental value of the Convention, how to strengthen it, and how more effectively to organize our work in the next intersessional period.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.