by Izabella Kaminska
Wednesday, 7
December 2022
Reaction
10:03

Why is the Biological Weapons Convention not getting attention?

A significant global development has received barely any coverage
by Izabella Kaminska
United Nations inspectors check biological weapons

Given ongoing uncertainty about Covid’s origins and the emergence of Russian disinformation about Ukrainian biolabs, one would think that the ninth-ever review conference (RevCon) of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention might generate a smidgen of media interest.

Taking place all of last week in Geneva, Switzerland under the auspices of the UN, not one mainstream outlet has covered the conference in any detail. This is strange, since this year’s RevCon follows a special consultative committee of the BWC that was called by Russia in September. Such a provision has only been invoked once before in the history of the convention — when Cuba accused the US of a biological attack in 1997.


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What’s more, there has also been a noteworthy shift on the issue of enforcement and verification. As it stands, the BWC constitutes a legally binding international agreement between 184 signatories to ban the use, development and stockpiling of biological weapons. It remains one of the most important tools in the global effort to prevent the proliferation of such weapons.

But it is not a perfect mechanism. 

Unlike its chemical and nuclear cousins, the treaty has never been accompanied by a verification regime. This has been a source of concern for some parties because it has made it difficult to determine whether a state is engaging in prohibited activities.

To date, successive efforts to introduce a verification mechanism have mostly been blocked by the United States due to private sector sensitivities linked to the last time parties engaged in mutual inspections.

In 1992 the trilateral process, as it was known, successfully unearthed a major contravention of the BWC by Russia in the form of its secret Biopreparat biological weapons programme.

But, to convince Moscow to allow American and British inspectors into Russian facilities, then-president Bill Clinton was forced to accept similar reciprocal conditions on the US side. This saw the Russians demanding to visit two private Pfizer facilities. 

David Kelly, one of the biological weapons experts who led the Western delegation to Russia, noted of the visit that:

The intensely negative reaction of the Pfizer Corporation and subsequently the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America to the Russian visits to American commercial sites was a contributory factor in the American rejection of the draft verification protocol for the BWC in July 2001.
- David Kelly

As Greg Koblentz, a bioweapons expert from George Mason University, told me, progress in recent years has been further hindered by documented cases of Russia, China, Iran and North Korea attempting to hack into companies and university labs working on Covid treatments to spread disinformation about these US-developed medical countermeasures. 

Today, the states calling most loudly for a verification mechanism (Russia and Iran) are also the ones undermining verification missions in the BWC’s chemical counterpart.

But with Russia now exploiting the stasis around verification to bolster its own propaganda, it seems significant that US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Bonnie Jenkins, noted at last week’s RevCon meeting that her country is ready to explore what measures, “including possible verification measures”, might be effective in today’s context.

Despite the thawing attitude, it’s clear the road to a formal mechanism remains a long one. A key challenge is that advances in biotechnology have made it far too easy to hide offensive research and production inside seemingly civilian or defensive programmes due to the speed with which processes can be developed. 

That is why we need more in-depth discussion about what is possible given scientific and technical developments and political constraints, which is why the US willingness to have expert-level discussion on issues such as transparency and compliance reassurance would be so useful.
- Greg Koblentz

But that at a minimum sounds like something worth reporting on.

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Tom Watson
Tom Watson
2 months ago

Thanks for this. Good to get reporting on something important I’d otherwise have known absolutely nothing about.

Chris W
Chris W
2 months ago

Also interesting is that the USA refused to destroy the smallpox virus.
Despite the bad press for Russia and China, relating to human rights and free speech issues, it seems to me that the USA is also the enemy of civilisation. This is not a new concept for me.
I think, with all the Woke-Rays coming from the USA, that more and more people will see this ‘civilised’ country as it really is – just a sham of civilisation.

D Glover
D Glover
2 months ago
Reply to  Chris W

If the world had to be dominated by the hegemony of one country, would you prefer that country to be the US, or Russia, or China?
Honest question.

Chris W
Chris W
2 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

OK, thanks for this. Not an easy question to answer. Bear with me, because I am thinking as I write. Of course, the real answer to this question is none of them.
1) As an older person, my whole life, the things I am used to, normality, everything- is bound up with history. I have lived through US domination of everything, from films to pop music to television. So, since the future is relatively short for me, I prefer normality – no change. The USA for me.
2) For my grandchildren things are different. They don’t care about history, even over the last 65 years when I have been around. They think about computers, blogs, phones and apps. They don’t go out unless they have a lift in a car; they think a lot about wild animals in India but don’t even see sparrows around them. If they work, they only want to sit in front of a computer. They think I must be racist and wasteful because I am old. They have 15 minute showers whilst I have 2 minute showers. All of their friends are of indeterminate sex. They are soft. So, for them, for a longer future, I prefer China.

Jim M
Jim M
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris W

We mostly have a garbage legacy. This country deserves to collapse.

Jeanie K
Jeanie K
2 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

Russia. At least they are Christians.
USA = most corrupt country in the World.

D Glover
D Glover
2 months ago
Reply to  Jeanie K

Russian Christians who kill on the streets of Britain using polonium and novichok. Do you really prefer them to Americans?

Jim M
Jim M
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeanie K

Russians are state-worshipping barbarians. They are not Christians and have not been since the 1920’s. You are too simple-minded. The US has a much more religious population than Russia. Stop being reflexively self-loathing. You should leave the west and go live in Russia with your soulmates.

Su Mac
Su Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  D Glover

Maybe we are living through the cusp of change on that question with energy insecurity, civil strife, death of the petro dollar and political wars in USA. Culturally it is hard notto pick USA still and they do have the constitution to fight back. Ask me again in 5 years!!

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 month ago
Reply to  D Glover

That is not an honest question, it shows in its asking you are really smearing America.

”Honest Question, would you rather live in Stalinist USSR, Mao’s China, or under Corbyn’s Labour in UK”

This is NOT a serious question – it is just you and the other poster having a go at the West by false equivalents. USSR killed 40 million, China up to 100 Million of their own people in programs of extermination – China has 2 million in Gulags – Grow UP.

D Glover
D Glover
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

No, I wasn’t smearing the US at all. I was challenging Chris W to say whether he would really want to see China or Russia supplant the US.
I was surprised by his response, as you must have been. It appears that he really does prefer China.
You prefer the US, and so do I.

Last edited 1 month ago by D Glover
Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris W

Chris – have you been out in the world, or just gather info from the flavor of MSM which suites your beliefs. I have seen a lot of the world – and I can tell you USA is the very best Nation on Earth, by far, to be living on.

China is purely a slave state – if you do not know this you know very little. USA one is still free. Europe – not so much, UK – not really. But then I am American now, but from UK and EU, and even the ME, and so I have seen it all, know it to my core.

Sure – you may have been in the ME, in China, South America, Africa, but on a UK passport – so the reality you have is entirely false to what the natives live – – they live a very different reality – and you have no idea how free USA is to the rest of the world, including Europe and all the Anglosphere, obviously.

Biden is fallowing Obama in destroying USA freedoms by taking the security state and trying to turn them against the citizens, but has not won yet.