Light at the end of the tunnel? : the sixth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention

Becker, Una

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URL http://edoc.vifapol.de/opus/volltexte/2008/250/
Dokumentart: Bericht / Forschungsbericht / Abhandlung
Institut: HSFK-Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
Schriftenreihe: PRIF reports
Bandnummer: 79
Sprache: Deutsch
Erstellungsjahr: 2007
Publikationsdatum: 23.01.2008
SWD-Schlagwörter: B-Waffen-Abkommen , Effizienz
DDC-Sachgruppe: Politik
BK - Basisklassifikation: 89.77 (Rüstungspolitik)
Sondersammelgebiete: 3.6 Politik und Friedensforschung

Kurzfassung auf Englisch:

The Sixth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) ended on December 8th, 2006 with a consensual agreement on a Final Declaration, something the BWC regime had not seen since 1996. This document represents a comprehensive and thorough review of the BWC. It reaffirms some important understandings, most notably the prohibition of biological weapons use and the comprehensive scope of the BWC; it also contains an updated reflection on the role of the BWC regarding non-state actors and bioterrorism, an increased emphasis on national implementation, and a recognition of synergies with international organisations and civil society. States parties agreed on several additional measures: they decided on a new intersessional process with annual meetings and a work programme for 2007-2010; they established a small Implementation Support Unit (ISU) in Geneva that will provide administrative support, facilitate communication among states parties and manage the confidence-building measures (CBMs); and they decided to promote universality of the BWC. The working atmosphere had improved significantly since the previous review conference, and there was a willingness to work constructively and pragmatically throughout much of the negotiations. Of the two basic conflicts in the regime, the one concerning cooperation, technological exchange and export controls permeated the negotiations again but did not block consensus in the end. The other one around verification and a legally binding document to strengthen the BWC did not come to bear directly, as there was a tacit agreement not to include these issues in the negotiations, but it was nevertheless palpable in the background. Likewise, general political tensions, especially between Iran and the USA, impacted on the deliberations but did not prevent a substantive consensual outcome. What does this outcome mean for the BWC regime? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Considering the difficult political situation in the regime since 2001, when the efforts to strengthen the BWC through a legally binding compliance protocol failed, and applying a pragmatic viewpoint, the answer is yes. Viewing the results from a more conceptual arms control perspective, however, the assessment must be somewhat more sober. In the political situation prior to the review conference, the conditions for success were far from ideal: Given the desolate state of the regime after 2001, it was no matter of course that a meaningful outcome could be achieved at all. But the full review and the new understandings contributed to solidifying the regime, and the conference results provide a good starting point for pragmatic steps to tackle issues such as national implementation, prevention of bioterrorism and misuse of biological agents, awareness-raising, domestic preparedness and surveillance of infectious diseases. There was also a sense of activism, ownership of the BWC and a convergence of views on some problems that bodes well for the new intersessional process and the future work in the regime. However, the focus is currently only on one dimension of the BWC regime, namely on problems that affect all states parties but that are exogenous to state-to-state relationships. II If, in a conceptual view, the function of arms control is seen in stabilising inter-state relations, preventing armaments, and building confidence between states, the review conference was much less successful in these respects. To fulfil this function, there needs to be a stable, reliable framework for state interaction with a certain degree of predictability and trust in the other parties’ compliant behaviour. But the Final Document remains weak on procedural issues, and there could be no agreement on any new binding obligations, not even in connection with the intersessional topics. Transparency measures like the CBMs could not be significantly improved, and compliance and verification were left aside completely. The latter strategy was essential to avoiding exacerbation of the tensions and to achieving the above-mentioned successes. Nevertheless it means that a whole dimension of the BWC as an arms control instrument is being neglected. The assessment of the conference from these two perspectives leads to recommendations that reflect the same two-pronged approach. In the current situation, the primary focus will be on the work in the new intersessional process. Most of the topics of 2007 and 2008 – national implementation, biosafety, biosecurity, codes of conduct – were already discussed in the last process, so that there is ample material available for substantive discussions. All these topics could be translated into action more effectively if states parties could agree on a systematic reflection and on introducing binding recommendations. If effective follow-up action can be induced, this could address important problems and mitigate some of the deficits of the regime as regards implementation, preparedness against bioterrorism and prevention of the misuse of biotechnology. The topics for 2009 – international cooperation, technological exchange and capacitybuilding to counter infectious diseases – and 2010 – assistance and preparedness in the case of biological weapons use – are new in the intersessional discourse and will require thorough preparation. Both contain areas that have long been of concern to developing countries in the Non-Aligned Movement. The intersessional meetings will provide an important opportunity to discuss the perceived problems and different views around technological cooperation and development. Contrary to some concerns expressed during the review conference, such a discussion could actually contribute to de-politicising and de-ideologising this issue, as it forces states to reflect on and express their expectations, define their needs, and recognise what is already being done. If the discussions can be conducted as factually and pragmatically as in the last intersessional process, they could not only tackle problems of development, public health and disease surveillance, but might even contribute to objectifying a long-standing conflict in the regime. With a longer-term view to the arms control dimension of inter-state relations, several ideas could be considered that go beyond the topics of the intersessionals but are based on existing measures and thus do not require new negotiations. States parties could review and make use of the consultation procedures under Article V to address not only grave compliance concerns, but also other problems. This would provide for an additional framework with regular procedures in which states parties can discuss specific problems, e.g. issues related to development and technological cooperation, or the CBMs. Collective action on CBMs might not be possible until the next review conference, at the earliest, but III states parties could individually explore the scope for improvements and increased transparency. Moreover, states parties could support the UN’s efforts to strengthen the Secretary General’s mechanism to investigate alleged biological or chemical weapons use, for example through training sessions for the experts. Especially if combined with procedures for assistance, this would enhance the ability of states parties to respond to the gravest compliance concerns possible. Finally, making the BWC norms universally binding through international customary law could be considered as a parallel strategy to universalising treaty membership. This would provide for a more solid normative basis for action against proliferators and would enhance the role of the UN Security Council and Secretary General in connection with biological weapons proliferation. The first set of recommendations could bring real progress in the current situation and to the dimension of practical and shared “biological problems”. The second set could pave the way for some modest improvements to the arms control dimension of state-to-state relations and compliance. While the constant interaction in the regime may contribute to improving state relations, this cannot be taken for granted, especially should more confrontational situations arise. In the long term, it would therefore be necessary that states initiate a new discourse on compliance and verification and consider new approaches to these issues, as a return to the protocol approach would be neither feasible nor desirable. Until political circumstances allow for this, strengthening the procedures available in the BWC right now could mitigate some deficits in the regime. Only if both dimensions are addressed – not necessarily in a one-in-all approach, but in the same framework of action – will the regime be truly strengthened and the potential of the BWC as an arms control instrument and core of the regime be fully exploited.


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