EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference 2015 Special Session 7
Chair: Daniel Feakes, Chief, Implementation Support Unit of the Biological Weapons Convention
John Hart, Senior Researcher and Head, Chemical and Biological Security Project, Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme, SIPRI
Masood Khan, Director-General, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad
Una Becker-Jakob, Research Associate, HSFK/PRIF

Provisional Transcript:

Daniel Feakes, Chief, Implementation Support Unit of the Biological Weapons Convention
Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to this panel on the Biological Weapons Convention, BWC, and thank you for spending your time attending this afternoon. This year is an important time for the BWC. We had the celebration for the 40th anniversary of the BWC in Geneva and around the world in March this year, and obviously next year we have, as the title of this session implies, the eighth Review Conference next November in Geneva.

If we look at the agenda for this conference, we have already had discussions on bio issues in a previous session on New Technologies and Challenges to Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, and it looks as if bio issues will also come up in a session tomorrow afternoon on CBRN: Lessons Learned from Fukushima, Ebola and Syria. This session fits into that sequence by focusing mainly on the diplomatic activities surrounding preparations for the Review Conference next year.

As Head of the Implementation Support Unit of the BWC in Geneva, I am obviously very happy to have been asked to chair this panel. I am looking forward to, and will listen with great interest to, both what we will hear from the three panellists we have here, and also your questions and comments from the audience afterwards. I will not speak for long myself and will soon hand over to the panellists. Each of them will have ten minutes to speak, which will hopefully give us plenty of time for questions, answers and discussion from the audience afterwards. We will hear from each of them sequentially, and then will take questions and comments after all three presentations. I have also been asked to remind you all that this is on the record and is being recorded.

In discussion with the panellists, we have agreed that Ambassador Khan will speak first, followed by Una Becker-Jakob and finishing off with John Hart. The biographies of each of the panellists are on the conference app, so I will not provide detailed introductions now. First of all, I would like to introduce Ambassador Khan, who is currently Director-General of the Institute for Strategic Studies in Islamabad, but of most direct relevance, I suppose, to us here on this particular topic, Ambassador Khan was the President of the sixth Review Conference of the BWC in 2006.

Mohammad Masood Khan, Director-General, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad
Thank you very much. I will stick to the basics. Firstly, what is the purpose of a Review Conference? It is captured in Article XII. The purpose of the Review Conferences is to review the operation of the BWC, and relevant scientific and technological developments. We must not forget the big picture. The big picture is that we have to recognise that the BWC, in the last 40 years, has made the world a safer place and it has contributed considerably to multilateralism and disarmament. There is a broad agreement that the life sciences will be used only for benign purposes and that we will continue to fight present and future threats of their destructive use, e.g. biological warfare and bioterrorism.

It has also built a robust norm. The Convention has eliminated an entire class of weapons of mass destruction. It is a very simple treaty, but it has many shortcomings. Over the decades, it has built a robust norm against the repugnant notion of using disease as a means of warfare. Although membership of the BWC is not yet universal, no state claims today that biological weapons are a legitimate means of national defence. The BWC is by far the most successful WMD non-proliferation and disarmament regime.

As far as the Review Conference is concerned, it all boils down to leadership and consensus-building. There is historical baggage. We know about it. I understand that political differences are once again creeping up and there appears to be a reluctance to work together constructively. This is most unfortunate. We should stem this drift before the Review Conference, and we must generate the requisite political will to resolve divisive issues, or, more pragmatically, to work around them in the collective interest of strengthening the BWC regime. We should try to explore not the lowest common denominator, but a common denominator reflecting the best interests of all.

There is also a dark strategic overhang, as we proceed to the next Review Conference. This is the differences between the US and the Russian Federation, in Ukraine, in Syria, in the context of the Nuclear Security Summit: they should not overshadow the Review Conference. To achieve that objective, we need to start informal and wide-ranging consultations with all stakeholders to focus on areas that could command consensus. I understand from Daniel Feakes that a cross-regional approach is gaining momentum. I will not go into the details.

Now I will talk about the challenges. There has been a fundamental shift in the way the BWC has taken place over the past 15 years. There is widespread recognition that biological weapons are just one part of the spectrum of biological risks, which includes naturally occurring disease, laboratory accidents and so on. This spectrum of risks must be dealt with in an integrated and coordinated way. We have succeeded, but we cannot just sit on our laurels. Biological science and technology are developing at a very rapid speed, and the global security situation is evolving in unpredictable and alarming ways. Asymmetric warfare, terrorism and violent extremism have multiplied security risks and threats in many parts of the world. The BWC community must respond to all these challenges effectively. We should continue to invest in preparedness and response to avert and manage an unforeseen hostile outbreak of disease. We should overcome reluctance to explore new ideas that might help deal with contentious issues, such as compliance verification and Article X. We should now tackle some of our historical problems with an open mind and renewed entrepreneurial spirit.

On verification, the Treaty in itself would not be sufficient to erect barriers against biological weapons. The lack of verification provisions, coupled with suspicions of deception and cheating, and concerns about the implications of scientific and technological advances, have led states parties to begin discussing how the Convention might be strengthened. This debate is fundamental to the success of the Treaty and the forthcoming Review Conference. There is a Russian proposal on the table. It talks about strengthening the Convention to include – and, of course, there is the usual caveat ‘as appropriate’ – in a legally binding instrument to be submitted for the consideration of the states parties.

If you look at the proposed mandate, it covers pretty much everything: confidence-building, transparency measures, national implementation and monitoring developments in areas of science and technology, and it talks about international cooperation for peaceful purposes in accordance with Article X, and assistance and protection against biological weapons in accordance with Article VII, and a mechanism for investigating the use of biological weapons. For some this is too modest; for others, it is a diversion. This is not my assessment or formulation; this is Daniel Feakes’s assessment that he shared with me via email.

There is also the area of cyber security. Biological sciences and increasing dependence on information technologies makes cyber security a growing risk, and thus a threat to BWC objectives. BWC should be used as a model for regulating dual-use cyber technologies because the Treaty attempts to advance scientific progress while preventing its exploitation for hostile purposes.

Let me now move on to the ISU, Implementation Support Unit. Its agenda is quite heavy. The six responsibilities listed are: administrative support and assistance; national-implementation support and assistance; support and assistance for CBMs; support and assistance for obtaining universality; administering the database of assistance requests and offers and facilitating associated exchanges of information; and supporting states parties’ efforts to implement the decisions and recommendations of the Review Conference. This is quite a bit. All states parties agree that the ISU has demonstrated extraordinary performance in the past several years. It is high time that ISU is expanded. It should not remain a poor relative of the NPT and the CWC.

Then there is bioterrorism. There is a growing risk that biological weapons might be obtained and used by non-state actors. New allegations have surfaced that tens of billions of dollars are being invested into bioweapons laboratories. I do not want to elaborate on that point.

On universalisation, the number of parties stands today at 173, and there are nine signatory states. The point that I want to make here is that in the run-up to the BWC Review Conference, the ISU and the President-Designate can really accelerate the process. This is a golden opportunity to expedite the process. Another point that I want to make is that we need to build on the synergies between the BWC, OPCW, the UN, the WHO, the FAO and the OIE.

While other matters are being sorted out and differences grow, I think that four things can be done. One is strengthening implementation and building mutual confidence on compliance by strengthening, streamlining, updating and refining legislative, administrative and security and safety measures, and disseminating information about what member states are doing. Secondly, we must build national and international capacities. Thirdly, we must encourage investment in preparedness and response. Lastly, we must enhance dialogue with bioscientific academic research and the business community to keep track of the benign and malign uses of biosciences in order to prepare well for emergencies and make best use of the breakthroughs in biotechnology.

In conclusion, the international community should remain vigilant and prepared to deal with the threats of bioterrorism as well as deliberate or accidental releases. We must support. ‘We must come together to prevent, detect and fight every kind of biological danger, whether it is a pandemic like H1N1, a terrorist threat or a treatable disease.’ So said President Barack Obama at the UN General Assembly on 22 September 2011. I selected this quote because it pretty much says it all. Lastly, I would like to make an attribution to Daniel Feakes. We had an exchange of emails and he said – and I wanted to capture and highlight this – that the BWC should remain a living treaty. It should not lose relevance, but it should reinvent itself and refire itself.

Daniel Feakes, Chief, Implementation Support Unit of the Biological Weapons Convention
Thank you very much, Ambassador. That was a really good way to begin this panel. Thank you.

Una Becker-Jakob, Research Associate, PRIF/HSFK
I am very glad to be here today and have the opportunity to speak to you about the upcoming BWC Review Conference. My presentation is based on a few assumptions that I would like to share with you, namely that the BWC is an important disarmament treaty, that it is working quite well as a treaty but that there is room for improvement in terms of its operation, and that there is – or at least I hope there is – a sufficient number of states willing to work on such improvements. Of course, the most suitable venue that we currently have for such work is the upcoming Review Conference, and this is why we are discussing this here today.

In my presentation, I would like to address just two of many, many possible ways in which the eighth Review Conference might take the BWC forward. The first – and, to some, maybe not the most obvious – way is through final declaration. The second way I would like to address is in the area of compliance, and we have heard a little bit about that already.

First, on the final declaration, as we all know, the review of the operation of the Convention, which is the function of the Review Conference, is partly to help enhance the Treaty’s effectiveness, provide a forum to agree, review and possibly improve additional measures to that end, and also to reaffirm old and record new shared understandings of the Treaty’s core norms and their interpretations. This also includes any new common understandings that might have been formed out of the inter-sessional interactions that, as I suppose you all know, we have had over the past few years. These new common understandings, if there are any, could also be recorded in the final declaration. The final declaration has been part of the final documents of all Review Conferences except one.

Though it might sound a little academic at first to talk about the final declaration in this way, these declarations are more than just words on paper and do have consequences and certain functions. This is why I believe that the final declaration deserves attention already in the preparation process. At previous Review Conferences, parties have, for example, prepared language proposals for inclusion in the final declaration well before the Conference, so there was some basis for discussion already at the Conference. For instance, in 2006, the EU members shared between them all the BWC articles and prepared elements for all articles. Other parties have done the same back in 2006 and also in 2011, which the EU did not do then. I think similar preparations might be helpful for the Conference next year too.

As important as I think it is, the final declaration is of course only one possible outcome of the Conference, and other topics will have to be discussed and hopefully decided upon. As we have heard before, states parties will have to consider the future of the ISU, since its mandate will expire next year. There might be some work left over from 2011 to do on CBMs that are part of the BWC regime, and other agenda items from the last inter-sessional process will have to be considered in one way or another. That includes cooperation under Article X, assistance under Article VII, national implementation, and, of course, scientific and technological developments that are relevant to the BWC. There is quite a lot to work on. States parties will also have to think about new inter-sessional meetings: whether there should be any and, if so, in what format they should take place and which topics they should cover. I expect from previous experience and current discussions that that will also keep states parties quite busy.

There will be much to say on every single one of these topics, but rather than doing that and probably going well beyond my time limit, I would like to focus on another topic that has not been on the agenda for a while but has been mentioned in Ambassador Khan’s presentation just now, and that is compliance. I certainly do not want to go into the history of the verification and compliance deadlock in the BWC, but just to remind everyone briefly, the last time compliance was an official topic at a Review Conference was in 2001, and that was in connection with the question of the verification system. It was not formally mentioned in the Review Conference in 2006, and there were some unsuccessful attempts to reintroduce it in 2011, but the principled opposition persisted, and still persists, between those who prefer a legally binding instrument to strengthen the BWC and those who reject this approach. This debate does not seem to be going anywhere, although it might be revived through the Russian proposal that Ambassador Khan just mentioned. Again, I will not go into detail on that.

A number of states have also expressed interest in discussing compliance on a more conceptual level, that is, discussing what it actually means for the BWC or where we could go with that concept, and also in considering more practical steps towards enhanced assurance of compliance but other than in the traditional notifications of verification. Ideas have been circulated for how parties could improve national implementation of the BWC and, through this, demonstrate their compliance with and their commitment to the Convention. I am referring here to a French proposal of a peer-reviewed process of national implementation and to a concept that was originally proposed by Canada and then joined by other states on the assessment of national implementation programmes. I believe John will say something about those too, so I will leave it at that now.

We might see a potential climate of demonstrating commitment and providing reassurance of compliance, and in that there might be a trend towards more reporting. We have that through the CBMs already. We have it on national implementation, on implementation of Article X. We might get more, hopefully, on transparency steps, such as visits to facilities, and also on other initiatives that exist now or might be brought up in the future. Therefore, if this trend continues, and is supported by more and more states – which I think would be a good thing – there is a chance of more transparency, of more information available and of more reassurance. Yet there is also a risk of less clarity, just due to the sheer amount of information that we can get in various places and formats.

What could the eighth Review Conference do about this? One possibility might be to decide to make better use of the compliance reports, and since not everybody here may be familiar with these reports – which is a telling fact in itself, probably – let me just briefly explain what they are. Ever since the first Review Conference the PrepComs have requested the Secretariat, or now the ISU, to compile reports on states parties’ compliance. These reports were based on submissions by states parties, but there were no formal requirements as to the structure of reports or what they should cover. That was entirely up to the states parties – entirely. Participation rates have been low, with an all-time high – let me emphasise ‘high’ – of 36 contributions in 2011. That was at a time when the BWC had 165 members and 103 states parties were registered as Conference participants. We only had 36 submissions.

How could these reports play a more useful role in enhancing confidence and compliance? In their present form, they probably could not, but states parties could make an effort to enhance their role in the regime. Everybody who is familiar with BWC Review Conferences will know that even such a modest proposal – or at least what I think is a modest proposal – might be difficult, but I still would like to suggest some short-term goals that perhaps could be goals for the next Conference already. States parties could think of including in the final document a call on states parties to submit compliance reports, other than just having the PrepComs request a report that would raise the status of the reports. It would be nice to change the interval, perhaps, and make it shorter than five years. States parties could discuss and possibly agree on a common format for the compliance reports. I think a structure would be helpful. It should be flexible enough to cover all prohibitions and obligations that arise from the BWC, as well as being able to integrate reports on additional activities. I am not thinking of something very rigid, but rather a framework that could cover all the reporting going on plus the compliance reports; that is, reports on transparency initiatives, on peer reviews, on compliance assessments and anything else that might come up could be integrated.

Additionally, and probably the most difficult of the three, it would be helpful to have some kind of forum in a new inter-sessional process, or in any format that could be agreed upon, to discuss further steps, follow-up procedures for analysis and clarification, ways to fully integrate existing initiatives, thus maximising their utility, or any other ideas that are connected with compliance. Such more coherent compliance reports alone would be nice to have, I think, but they probably would not do too much to really assure parties of each other’s compliance, because they would still be unilateral reports. Much more work lies ahead, but I think embedded in a mix of other procedures, such reports might still be a useful tool and a building block in an approach that states parties might hopefully pursue regarding compliance.

To conclude, the final declaration that I mentioned and compliance are, of course, just two of many important issues with which the Review Conference will have to concern itself. I think they are important, because the final declaration helps preserve the norms against biological weapons and biological warfare, and, as we have heard before, currently the norms are strong and solid, but it is still important to keep it that way. The whole area of compliance is one, I think, that if it was acted upon might make the BWC more effective in its very core function, which I still see as being in biological disarmament. Thank you very much.

Daniel Feakes, Chief, Implementation Support Unit of the Biological Weapons Convention
Thank you very much, Una. Finally, I would like to introduce John Hart, who is Senior Researcher and Head of the Chemical and Biological Security Project at SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Dr John Hart, Senior Researcher and Head, Chemical and Biological Security Project, Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme, SIPRI
Thank you. I would like to thank the organisers and say that I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this meeting. Numerous planning documents and policy statements are being generated in the lead-up to the eighth Review Conference of the 1972 BWC. Facilitators will consult with capitals to discuss and clarify understandings of what constitutes a successful Review Conference. This process can then inform the drafting of a Review Conference agenda and help support the work of an open-ended working group or committee of the whole. Such a process typically results in draft decision language and a draft agenda for the consideration and possible modification and adoption by the Review Conference. The facilitator or facilitators and other involved officials will also obtain a better understanding of how the concerns, understandings and priorities of capitals can be taken into proper account, namely to support constructive interaction and outcomes.

Criteria for a successful outcome might include attempting to ensure that: one, the principle of not harming the regime, perhaps inadvertently, is observed; two, preparations are well managed, for example, through constructive consultation among the relevant actors and the timely availability of documentation; and, three, the Review Conference outcome maintains and strengthens the relevance, perceived and actual, of the regime, including to the broader public, international actors and government communities.

Notable developments in the current inter-sessional process include discussions and papers under the rubric of ‘Let’s discuss compliance’, and a joint Belgium–Luxembourg–Netherlands peer-review system to assess national implementation of the Convention based, in turn, on a December 2013 pilot peer-review exercise hosted by France and involving the participation of experts from Canada, China, Germany, India, Mexico, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. The Benelux peer-review proposal is currently being implemented in two phases. One is a written consultation based on a 2015 CBM submission – forms A and E, I believe – and the second is an event in which this information is discussed, which is then followed by on-site visits to ‘installations declared in form A of the host country’.

In 2014, the Russian Federation tabled a proposal at the meeting of experts which called for reconsideration of compliance issues. This proposal was based partly on work carried out in the early 1990s by the Ad Hoc Group of Governmental Experts to identify and examine potential verification measures from a scientific and technical standpoint, otherwise known as VEREX. The Russian Federation suggested renewing discussions on a legally binding protocol to strengthen compliance with the Convention. More specifically, such discussions could, the Russian Federation suggested, cover seven thematic areas: one is the investigation of alleged use; two, the investigation of suspicious disease outbreaks; three, promoting international cooperation for peaceful purposes; four, assistance and protection against biological weapons; five, CBMs, existing or modified; six, national implementation; and seven, science and technology developments.

Verification of facilities suspected to be in breach of the Convention were not included in this proposal. This proposal has generated some positive reaction, including among delegations from the Non-Aligned Movement caucus and a number of Western Group states. The ISU has worked to establish a database with offers and request for assistance, in accordance with the decision by the seventh Review Conference in 2011. In November 2012, only 11 offers of assistance had been made, all by one party, while another party had made a single request for assistance. In addition, no matches or offers of requests had been communicated to the ISU as of late 2012. In 2013, the Non-Aligned Movement group observed that the full implementation of an ISU database remained to be achieved. As of August 2015, the Article X database had 29 offers, including one by the Australia Group to collectively assist on strategic trade controls, and four requests from three states parties. In August 2015, France and India tabled a joint proposal for an Article VII database, which basically means capacity for detecting, reporting and responding to outbreaks of infectious diseases or biological-weapons attacks. If the states parties wish to agree a further inter-sessional process for 2017 through 2020, a short list of operational activities could be developed that are mainly focused on Article I and Article X as a basis for consultations with capitals and other relevant actors.

Such consultations could be structured according to: one, a general discussion and exchange of views reviewing basic questions such as: what is the state of the Treaty regime? What are the preferred Review Conference outcomes? What political cross-linkages are known or likely? Are such linkages constructive and how can they be managed? Two, the balance and nature of Review Conference outcomes, for example, the balance between process- or capacity-oriented activity versus specific outcomes that more closely accord with standard understandings of a decision. And finally, three, the exploration of the feasibility of focusing the planning process on two to three operationally relevant activities that are mostly directed towards Article I and Article X. The results could then be presented so as to facilitate prioritisation and analysis.

There has been periodic interaction among actors having responsibility for supporting the BWC and the CW respectively. Both treaties cover toxins. The OPCW, including the Scientific Advisory Board, continue to monitor changes in the chemical industry that involve the use of biological and biologically mediated processes, as well as the modalities for how such developments can or should be incorporated into the Treaty’s routine declaration and verification system. In 2015, the Director-General of the OPCW outlined actions to implement the recommendations made by the Scientific Advisory Board in its latest report on verification. While the science and technology developments highlighted by the Scientific Advisory Board are less relevant to the BWC regime, a number of the implementation strategies, some of which are process-oriented, as well as principles for measuring outcomes and results, could serve as a useful basis for informal consultations in the lead-up to the Review Conference. This could be done, for example, in the context of sampling and analysis, best practices, nomenclature standards and peer-reviewed consultative strategies directly relevant to CBMs. It could also be useful to consider the appropriateness and desirability of the ISU hosting or acting as a point of contact on a temporary basis for a limited and focused number of biosecurity or biosafety action lines, similar to those implemented by the European Commission’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) under the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace.

I hope this is a useful basis for discussion. Thank you very much.

Daniel Feakes, Chief, Implementation Support Unit of the Biological Weapons Convention
That was great. Thank you very much. Thank you to all participants, in fact, for sticking to time, which gives us a lot of time now for questions and comments from the audience.

Professor Maurizio Martellini, Secretary General, Landau Network-Fondazione Volta
Good afternoon, Ambassador. That was a very interesting presentation. I have been working in this area for many years, even if my professional background is nuclear physics. Honestly, I do not see a sort of leapfrog. The discussion is trapped in, let us say, very important issues, but it is very difficult to communicate any sort of public diplomacy. If you ask me what has been the most relevant result in the nuclear non-proliferation dialogue – allow me to use the term dialogue – is the humanitarian initiative. What the humanitarian initiative teaches is essentially the fact that we need to bridge three issues that are always captured in different articles, as you said, Ambassador, of the BWC, namely the global health, the cutting-edge biotechnology to be used for illicit malicious purposes and the issues of biosecurity. Now there is another language attached, which it is very difficult for me to understand. We are talking more and more about a biosecurity culture, et cetera. I think the BWC must really become a living organism, as Daniel said, but also able to adapt itself to this sort of cross-fertilisation between health advances, cutting-edge technology and non-proliferation.

Of course, there are substantial issues, such as compliance; I fully agree. Yet without capturing, for me, the public opinion, I think it is quite difficult to make a breakthrough. I would like to ask this distinguished audience if there exists any chance in the next Review Conference to have this sort of inter-sessional dialogue among topics and issues, rather than chemical or biological. Thank you.

Richard Guthrie, Coordinating Editor, CBW Events
I would like to make a quick plug to start with, for those who are not following BWC too closely. For each of the meetings since 2006, we have been doing daily reports. If people want details of them, feel free to come and have a chat.

I would also like to make a quick comment about the Russian proposal, and then I have a fairly broad question. The Russian proposal is very interesting because it is connected with one individual on the Russian delegation, and it does not seem very clear to me how much support there is from the powers that be in Moscow. I think they are certainly giving support at the moment because it gives Russia a certain element of prestige in moving forward on issues, but it is not clear whether this support would be substantial, say, over the coming five years. There is a huge opportunity cost. There is not much time in between Review Conferences to hold meetings, and obviously if there is some form of negotiation going on, there is a reduction in other inter-sessional activities. Therefore that opportunity cost might be very severe if it does not produce any tangible outcome.

However, the broad question I think I want to ask – and some of the comments from the panel have touched upon this, but there is a much bigger, broader question – is about what constitutes success or failure at a Review Conference. If you can imagine, you are sitting in January 2017, reflecting on what happened in November or possibly December 2016: what is it that you would want to look back on to say, ‘that was a success’, and what is it you would fear looking back on that would be a failure?

Dr Jean Pascal Zanders, Senior Research Associate, FRS
One question I would like to put, specifically to Una, since she has touched on the compliance issue, is that one thing that puzzles me is that states can produce a number of reports with the hope of demonstrating their compliance, but at the same time the states parties actually decide on what provision of the BWC they want to demonstrate compliance with. Last summer, during the Meeting of Experts, the US organised a side event to explain the whole problem of the anthrax that was inadvertently shipped to Korea and a range of countries across the world, and the way the US representative and experts explained it all had to do with demonstrating compliance in the context of Article IV, and they were explaining the whole investigative process and the new measures in terms of biosecurity and biosafety they were putting in place. The interesting part of the story was that the Russian representative made an intervention, and basically his questioning of US compliance was under Article I of the Convention, namely, why does the US have to produce so much anthrax and why do they have to ship it around to various places and so forth?

I do not want to get into the details of that particular discussion. The point of my question is, if we are going to promote compliance further, how do we ensure that the party reporting compliance and the recipient hearing the message actually agree on the provision, or the part of the BWC, under which the reporting and debate takes place? Obviously the consequences are quite different. Thank you.

Dr Oliver Meier, Deputy Head, International Security Division, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)
Thank you very much. I have two more basic questions. Una and I spent the whole of Monday at a meeting of the German CBW community and spent half a day talking about the BWC and in particular the Review Conference. There was a concern in two regards. One was with regard to the BWC losing focus and this idea, as Ambassador Khan has said, that BWC meetings are there to come together to find every kind of biological danger. There was a concern that the BWC was designed to prevent state-run programmes, and this adding on of additional functions has led to a loss of focus, particularly given the background and the difficulties that the OPCW has faced, which has many more opportunities to address non-state actors, for example. Even there, it is a big question and a big problem to get into these kinds of issues. I would be interested in the panellists’ views on this issue of whether the BWC should move back to the roots of where it started from, and an assessment of this losing focus over the past ten or 15 years.

The second, related question is on process, of course, and the extreme version of the argument that we heard is that it is maybe better to have no inter-sessional process than to have a continuation of what we have had over the past ten years, because there was very little added value, you cannot take any decisions on the outcome of discussions, and therefore this has certainly run its course. We heard this argument five years ago and there is very little prospect of actually reforming this process. I would also be interested in hearing your views on that. Has this run its course or is it worth putting additional efforts into reforming it and making this more worthwhile? Thank you very much.

Mohammad Masood Khan, Director-General, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad
I will make some general observations. The first is that, as we move towards the next Review Conference, we should demonstrate a combination of realism and ambition, because you can have many proposals, but if you do not manage your Review Conference and Preparatory Conference properly, all your proposals could collapse and there would be no consensus. You have to invest in that process to make it successful.

The second point I would like to make is that, of course, it is sponsored by the Russian Federation, but it is not a Russian proposal per se because it is an extrapolation of what was done up until 2001. It is a conventional wisdom that you have already on the table, all of which was a workable synthesis developed by member states, but it collapsed because of the position taken by the US at that time. Yet there have been changes in US policies. There were changes even in 2006, which was still under the Bush administration. But there were changes, and now you have the Obama administration and you have another year to go, so there will be no surprises. There would be continuity in that context. There is differentiation that we have to make between compliance and verification. Compliance is possible and feasible but verification, I understand, is not doable because there was some sort of determination made years ago, and that determination stands in regard to verification.

On Richard’s question about the year 2017 and what, looking back, would be the successes, I would say the expansion of the ISU, and some movement on compliance and Article X. We should not be modest. The regime needs to keep on moving.

There were two other questions. One was whether we should move back to the roots of the BWC. I would say yes. That is not a minimalist agenda. There still would be quite a bit. I would support an inter-sessional process, and I would say that if there are deficits, we must redress them instead of discarding them. Thank you.

Una Becker-Jakob, Research Associate, PRIF/HSFK
Thank you. If you will allow me to, I will start with Jean Pascal’s question about – the question of compliance and how to determine if they are basically talking about the same things or drawing the same conclusions. The example you mentioned and the question you posed shows how important it is to have discussions on that. I do not think it is possible to say: now, this is in compliance with Article I or this is in compliance with Article IV, because these are norms and they are open to interpretation and all that. That is exactly why we need a forum to discuss these things, and not just discuss them once but also to have an ongoing procedure, mechanism, forum or whatever you would like to call it, where these concerns could be addressed in a continuous manner. Whenever something comes up like that, there should be a forum available under Article V, or whatever, to sit down with someone to chair the meeting or moderate and discuss or solve the issue. Right now, that is the only way I can see to deal with these things, because I think that if states parties got into it, issues like that would keep coming up.

On the concerns about the BWC losing focus, I think that goes together with your question or suggestion to make the BWC more organic. I was one of those who said there is a risk of the BWC losing focus if it becomes a forum in which too many related but not essentially contained aspects are discussed. Of course, we cannot discuss BWC issues today without discussing health issues, but it should not be a forum where global health is discussed, because there are other forums for that. The BWC is a disarmament treaty and should remain a disarmament treaty, but of course it does not exist in a vacuum and the BWC community has to be aware of developments elsewhere – of scientific and technological developments, political developments and all that – and there should be interaction, I agree with that, but still I think the focus should be on the security side and the health aspects should stay in the WHO or other forums. I think it would be good . . . not the political aspects or the biological-weapons aspects, but really just the prevention of disease and what we had on the BWC agenda too. Just to be clear, I am not saying the BWC does not have anything to do with health. That is not what I am saying, but I still think it is important to really focus what belongs in the security and what belongs in the health realm.

The question on whether it is better to have an inter-sessional process or not, I will keep that brief. I think that connects with the question of success and failure and I have started to scribble down a list. Basically, the biggest failure I could see would be a failure to preserve existing agreement on the content of the norms. That sounds abstract but I think it has practical relevance. If we have a failure to reaffirm existing agreements in the final declaration, for example, on what the core functions of the BWC are, I think that would be a failure. Whether or not it would be a failure if there was no agreement on a new inter-sessional process, I think that really depends on what the inter-sessional process would look like. I would not like to see no interaction at all before the next Review Conference, but it should be real interaction and, as I said on Monday too, when we think back to why the inter-sessional process was established in the first place, it was to reduce politicisation. Yet, as we have heard now, there is a trend towards more politicisation, so we would have to redesign it, to go back to the original function and not have an additional forum where all political levels can be fought out.

Dr John Hart, Senior Researcher and Head, Chemical and Biological Security Project, Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme, SIPRI
I would like to make three main points. One is that some aspect of a Review Conference outcome should have operational relevance, so two suggestions here would be to try and transform the database principle or idea into something that is more highly desirable or consequential. That would be moving towards greater operational relevance. Another would be to pursue the Benelux proposal to its natural political and technical end point, at least as an exercise, and that could also perhaps change perceptions of political feasibility or desirability of what the regime should look like in future years.

The second main point regarding the inter-sessional process is that if one is to consider not having an inter-sessional process, then it would probably be worth having a special, fundamentally different political-consultation process of a fairly different nature. The political dynamic and level of engagement of this sort of process would be something fundamentally different from the lead-ups to the previous Review Conferences, and it is something which the Treaty deserves, actually, if that is the thinking within some capitals. Otherwise it is probably safer to go with the inter-sessional process again.

My third major point is on just what the purpose of the regime is. One can have many discussions and different sorts of understandings of the extent to which the regime should consist of capacity and understanding, the ability to understand, discuss and take some action based on changes in science and technology, for example. The other would be perhaps more in terms of a framework for specific consultations and clarification, so to what extent can or should the regime meet those two sorts of activities. There has to be some sort of politically realistic balance between the two, and I have no particular special insight into how that should be done.

Daniel Feakes, Chief, Implementation Support Unit of the Biological Weapons Convention
Thank you very much. Now we can take a second round of questions.

Paul Schulte, Honorary Professor, Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security, Birmingham University
One of the major problems with the BWC is it gets very little political attention. There is little public understanding of the issues at play now. Are any of the proposals now in circulation likely to change that? Do you think any of them will get enough attention to turn into political pressure?

Secondly, I think part of the problem, as, in a way, with the CWC, is that the process of verification, or attempts at verification, are what mathematicians call asymptotic: the curve approaches the line of complete certainty about disarmament but it never reaches it, and the closer you come to it the more and more difficult it is to get the necessary detail about the remaining uncertainties. Is that a natural inevitable feature or can it ever be overcome? Part of the problem may be the past. The Ambassador mentioned the baggage of the past: ‘let us not mention the baggage of the past’. I can think of at least two kinds of baggage, and I would be interested to know which kind he meant, but the problem is that if we discard the baggage of the past, it becomes lost. The implications become lost – ‘it was a long time ago, and besides, it never happened’. That is something of the risk here, is it not? We ignore examples of uncertain compliance because they happened and it is not helpful to talk about them, but they do not go away in people’s minds.

Dr Megan Palmer, Senior Research Scholar and William J Perry Fellow in International Security, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University
Thank you very much for your comments. I appreciated especially, Una, your comments on some of the perhaps more process-oriented questions, about how you make reporting easier and more structured, how you improve clarity and not just compliance, as well as discussions around what can be supported by the ISU and just overall expanding the number of people focused on these issues. I was wondering if you could disaggregate for me three different limitations that you might be experiencing. One is just the resources, the pure resources to improve the processes available; the second is the expertise of the people who can help to build those processes; and the third is whether or not its fundamental disagreements that it exposes with respect to whether open or closed processes here make us more or less secure. Where is the primary limitation and where does that go?

Scott Davis, Deputy Director, Biological Policy Staff, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, Department of State, US
Thank you to the panel for three excellent presentations. I wanted to quickly come back to the Russian proposal, because John had it right, but I think there is still a misunderstanding that the current Russian proposal includes verification elements. It does not, so I hope that that is well understood. The original proposal they came up with in the summer of 2014 did, but they have dropped that. Let us keep that in mind. I also wanted to comment on what John said. You made reference to the support for the Russian proposal. I think that in the beginning there was more support, specifically because it did include verification elements. I think that has waned because so many parties are interested in verification, and the fact that the Russians have removed it from their proposal has, I think, reduced support for the proposal.

I wanted to ask Ambassador Khan his thoughts with regard to the informal part of preparing for the Review Conference. We know there will be one or two Preparatory Committee meetings next year. Obviously there will be a Review Conference. We do not know how many weeks total and so on or the formal process, but there will be informal processes starting from the Chair’s and the President’s consultations, other interactions in Geneva and so on; but there is talk, for example, of the possibility of regional conferences, perhaps in one or more of the developing-country regions of the world, and maybe some other ideas that would be possible as well. I would be curious if, particularly given your experience with the BWC, you had any thoughts on what kind of informal preparatory activities would be helpful to move us towards consensus.

Mohammad Masood Khan, Director-General, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad
Firstly, about the informal process or the process of consultations, I think that the dynamics will have changed slightly by 2016, because last time, in 2005–6, there was a very palpable hostility between the US and Iran, and they fought pitched battles during the Preparatory Conference and the Review Conference. I think that hopefully that will be out of the way. But when I refer to informal consultations, what one needs to do – and it is the responsibility of the President-Designate – is engage all important actors, most of whom are present in Geneva. Of course capitals matter, but most of the cast of negotiators can be found in Geneva. If you can engage them productively and if you can persuade them to send the right kind of messages back home, you start a process of consensus-building, and this is very important. I do not want to regale you with the successes that we had during 2006, but it was a daunting challenge, as a matter of fact, because people were very angry. When I was talking about the baggage, there is good baggage and bad baggage, and there was bad baggage because there were these interpersonal differences, and you had to somehow work around them to make the Review Conference successful.

Now, very quickly, I have another couple of points. I think that everybody is clear that the Russian proposal does not have an element of verification or a suggestion for verification, and one thing I would like to say, very quickly, with your permission, Daniel, is that when we are talking about doing away with the inter-sessional process, we are forgetting that we have a very small secretariat within the disarmament establishment of the UN devoted to the BWC. We are all of us saying that there are rapid developments taking place in the field of biosciences and biotechnology, and five years is a very long time. It is an eternity. In the meantime, there are these suggestions about adding to the agenda of compliance and coming up with some kind of monitoring mechanism. If you do that, you need a robust secretariat. At the moment, it is very anaemic. I hope you are not offended.

Daniel Feakes, Chief, Implementation Support Unit of the Biological Weapons Convention
No, I know what you are trying to say.

Mohammad Masood Khan, Director-General, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad
I would say that we should have an inter-sessional process and we should have a strong secretariat, not just adding to the numbers. You must have (a) the numbers, (b) the expertise and (c) the resources. There was a question about what would get political attention. I think three things would get political attention instantly in Washington and Moscow, among other capitals. These are compliance, verification, and resources or the expansion of the ISU. This would get political attention, but not the kind of attention that CWC or NPT get.

Una Becker-Jakob, Research Associate, PRIF/HSFK
On the question of reaching the top line of certainty about compliance, I do not think it is possible to ever be 100% certain. Rather, I think it is a question of getting as close as possible to the line, and certainly closer than we are now. In the BWC, a lot of what we talk about is preventative. It is not about current concerns, but it is to make sure that once they arise, we have something to deal with them.

Regarding the question on processes, resources and expertise, I think perhaps I did not make it quite clear, but what I suggested with integrating all this reporting that is going on, is that there is not much new in there. Most of the reporting is going on anyway. There are people who deal with it and the question is more about making it more accessible. It would not really cost much more resources than are required now already.

Dr John Hart, Senior Researcher and Head, Chemical and Biological Security Project, Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme, SIPRI
Thank you. There are three basic clusters. The first is on the compliance question. There are a couple of old, long-standing discussions. One is whether, if you have one treaty violation, this undermines the viability of the treaty, as opposed to people who argue that the process overall and the engagement that is associated with it is what is important, and you move the parties who are sub-compliant or non-compliant closer towards full compliance. Then there is the other point, that you can never prove compliance 100%, you can only prove non-compliance, and even then, one can imagine that common sense could be disputed.

As for the Russian proposal, yes, I did take the 2014 proposal as the basis. In the written statement I used 2014. I did not look at the subsequent iterations of it and this is my fault. Thank you for the clarification. There was some evolution, but I did not take the time to read the fine print due to lack of time. Maybe I should not say that here.

In any case, the final point is the informal preparation. I think my short answer to that is that one simply has to have a facilitator or facilitators who have good sense and have a certain eminence and standing, and a proper travel budget, and then they do what they do. You cannot predict ahead of time exactly how that process works, but there are people who are very good at it, and one small side point is that actually, in some instances, a mark of a good facilitator is someone who understands what not to say and when it is important to limit the discussion and move along a little further. Diplomats, more often than not, specialise among other things in the sending and receiving of signals, and until there is a higher political instruction to move in a certain direction, there is a risk that the sending and receiving of signals will complicate matters, because cross-linkage of issues is part of the normal practice. Therefore a good facilitator can sometimes see how this operates in practice and perhaps limit some discussions in some circumstances, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is all context-dependent.

Daniel Feakes, Chief, Implementation Support Unit of the Biological Weapons Convention
Great. Thank you very much, John. Now we will have another very brief round of questions and comments.

Dr Maurizio Barbeschi, Team Leader, Health and Security Interface, World Health Organisation
This comment is from me, on my own. First of all, Ambassador, if you say that verification is not possible, that is intrinsically scientifically incorrect. It is possible. It is a matter of political will and how much the party wants to have it done. Verification was a banned word at the end of the protocol, but the interface between medical sciences and security has been in evolution.

In 2004, it was asked why we need a protocol. A young New Zealand ambassador said in Geneva that we have the international health regulations now, and I was taking the shoes and banging on the door, but I was wrong, and now, with the global health security agenda, there is a huge debate about the overlapping, if not substituting. I agree with Daniel that we need a bigger secretariat. But to do what? If the scope is to keep talking for five years, most of the capitals and most of you should be asking what we are going to talk about. As Una said, what really is the content that would render this treaty unique? Otherwise, it is better to keep it as ancillary to others and have the debate outside as well.

My last comment is on the quality or level of the diplomats that are coming in Geneva for this debate, which is getting lower and lower, ergo the significance of the Treaty and the result: trash in, trash out.

These are three points that you can possibly take as a stock to help your work, Daniel.

Daniel Feakes, Chief, Implementation Support Unit of the Biological Weapons Convention
Thank you, Maurizio.

Vesselin Garvalov, WMD Non-Proliferation Centre, NATO
I will continue the dialogue on verification with Maurizio, on verification, outside this forum. I would like to just press the point that we continue to value enormously the strategic value of the Convention, both as an arms-control and a non-proliferation mechanism. My question is probably a question to you, Daniel. Should we expect some good news on universalisation by the Review Conference next year? Or should I say further good news?

Frank Meeussen, Attaché, Arms Control Directorate, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Belgium
I have a short comment. The inter-sessional process is one of the few institutions of this very soberly institutionalised Convention, so I think if you take it out, it should be replaced, because replacing it with nothing is not an option, in my view. Thank you, John, for mentioning the Benelux peer review. I am interested in this. Could you maybe elaborate a little on your suggestions on how to proceed and turn it into something the Review Conference can work with? Perhaps that is also something we can do during the reception.

Daniel Feakes, Chief, Implementation Support Unit of the Biological Weapons Convention
Thanks, Frank. I think we are going to have to pass some of this on to offline conversations, like you said, over a drink, but I will very, very quickly let the panellists have the final word here.

Mohammad Masood Khan, Director-General, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad
I would say that verification is technically feasible but not politically sustainable. You cannot deliver on it. That is what I meant. We would, or should, try to improve the quality of diplomats who are turning up in Geneva.

Dr John Hart, Senior Researcher and Head, Chemical and Biological Security Project, Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme, SIPRI
Regarding the Benelux proposal, I think the only way that I might possibly make some small contribution is in writing. It is easier for me to phrase these things rather than to speak extemporaneously. Thank you.

Daniel Feakes, Chief, Implementation Support Unit of the Biological Weapons Convention
Thank you. Good answer, John. Thank you very much. Vesselin, in terms of universalisation, we have had two states that joined the BWC earlier this year, Mauritania and Andorra. We are hoping Angola is very close. They joined the CWC in the middle of September and the BWC was being considered by their national authorities at the same time as the CWC, so we hope that they will join the BWC very soon as well. The Council of Ministers in Côte d’Ivoire has fairly recently been considering the bill or instrument for them to join. Nepal was very close to joining, but then the earthquake earlier this year has, I think, set things back in Nepal. Those are three that are fairly close. Any one of them might come along by the end of the year, but certainly I would hope that all three would have joined by the Review Conference next year.

With that, I offer my apologies if anyone felt rushed or discouraged from asking a question because of the time. It is great that so many people did ask questions and there was such a good level of interest and a good level of attendance here. Thank you all very much again for attending. We will all go down for a drink now, but before we do that, we should all thank the panellists. Thank you.

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Brussels, 3-4 November 2016

EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference 2016