Ambassador Wood Remarks to the BWC Universalization Workshop in Africa

Remarks by
Ambassador Robert Wood
Representative of the United States to the Conference on Disarmament; U.S. Special Representative for Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) Issues; U.S. Commissioner, New START Bilateral Consultative Commission.

at the BWC Universalization Workshop in Africa
March 4, 2021

Greetings. I am Ambassador Robert Wood and I am the U.S. Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and Special Representative for Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Issues.

It is a great honor to be able to address you today on the important matter of the Biological Weapons Convention, or “BWC.”

I want to thank the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs, the Implementation Support Unit of the BWC, and the European Council for hosting this workshop to promote the universalization of the Convention.

I also want to commend all of the countries participating in this virtual meeting.

The COVID-19 pandemic has tragically demonstrated that biological threats can affect every corner of the globe.

In his very first National Security Directive, President Biden said the United States “will treat epidemic and pandemic preparedness, health security, and global health as top national security priorities, and will work with other nations to combat COVID-19 and seek to create a world that is safe and secure from biological threats.”

Therefore, now more than ever, my Government places great importance on achieving the full universality of the BWC, a legally binding commitment that helps reduce such threats.

While this is a natural pandemic, it should serve as a warning of the need for all countries to come together to agree on measures to reduce the threat of disease being used as a weapon.

The States Parties to the BWC will be seeking to do just that in the upcoming Review Conference.

And I encourage each of your countries to join the Convention in advance of this important meeting, so that you can be part of the international community’s effort to ensure that the ban on these abhorrent weapons remains strong.

The Convention is part of the foundation of the global regime to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Achieving full universalization of the BWC in Africa is achievable and would send a powerful message of solidarity with the global community’s norm against biological weapons.

Being part of the international effort to prevent the misuse of biology is a fundamental responsibility of all nations. The rapid advances and new discoveries in the life sciences bring great promise to humanity.

But they also present a growing risk that the materials, equipment, or technology needed to develop these weapons could be obtained and used by non-state actors, including terrorist groups.

It is also important to keep in mind that, although biological weapons are primarily thought of as targeting humans, they could also be used against animals and crops.

Let me describe some of the benefits of joining the Convention and implementing it effectively:

• First, it strengthens the global nonproliferation regime and thus the security of all states.

• It helps to prevent the acquisition of biological weapons by both states and terrorists and ensure that legitimate science is not misused.

• It increases access to international cooperation in the use of biology for peaceful purposes. Article X of the Convention contains a commitment to such cooperation, which has stimulated efforts by States Parties to strengthen national and international capabilities to detect and respond to disease outbreaks, regardless of their cause, and to promote public health systems in the developing world.

• It provides eligibility to participate in the BWC’s sponsorship program, which funds representatives from developing countries to travel to Geneva to participate in BWC meetings.

• Finally, it contributes to meeting the requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 1540.

Of course, the Convention also contains obligations:

• The most fundamental of these is never to develop, produce, stockpile, acquire, or retain biological weapons or their means of delivery.

• In addition, the BWC’s Article III obligates Parties not to transfer biological weapons and their delivery means, and its Article IV requires measures to prohibit and prevent the acquisition of such weapons.

• Implementation of these obligations requires national laws, regulations, policies, and other measures.

Smaller countries often rely wholly or in large part on existing laws that criminalize intentional efforts to kill or inflict harm in general, rather than developing special legislation on biological weapons. This approach might well be appropriate for your country.

• Finally, States Parties must make a financial contribution to cover the costs of BWC meetings and the small UN staff that supports the Convention. However, the average annual contribution for African countries is less than $100 per year.

In closing, I want to reiterate my gratitude to the organizers of this virtual meeting for the opportunity to speak to all of you.

My Government looks forward to working with you to help prevent the acquisition or use of biological weapons on the African Continent and elsewhere, and to promote the use of the life sciences for the good of humanity.

Thank you.