October 6, 1998


Statement to the Biological Weapons
Convention Ad Hoc Group Session XII
Geneva, Switzerland
(As Prepared for Delivery)

I would like to thank Chairman Tibor Toth for his kind introduction and to express my appreciation at being able to address the Ad Hoc Group on the Biological Weapons Convention today. When I addressed the Review Conference in 1996, we recognized the importance and eventual value of the negotiations you are conducting. You are engaged in an effort to improve one of the longest standing multilateral arms control agreements -- the first to ban an entire category of weapons of mass destruction.

We all agree that biological weapons, twisting the natural scourges of disease into heinous, unpredictable, and indiscriminate instruments of destruction, are rightfully banned by the Convention. We are all aware of the attraction such weapons present, luring rogue states and non-state actors by appealing to low cost, low volume, rapid manufacture, and cheap delivery as a quick mass-destruction capability. Such a threat demands that we exert every effort to conclude means of enforcing this ban with which we, as States Parties, have all pledged to comply.

We all recognize the difference between promises and performance. If all states fulfilled their obligations completely, there would be no need for these negotiations. That is, of course, naive.

We have all pledged to ban biological weapons. Yet over the last decades, this has not eliminated the real danger of these weapons. It has become obvious that we must do more if we are to deter and dissuade any would-be violator of the Convention. If we cannot find the will to codify effective compliance mechanisms to the BWC, we will have turned away from an opportunity to diminish a threat we all face. None of us wants to be a part of such a failure.

These negotiations have a long history. The Review Conferences, which examined the operation of the BWC, recognized the need for more information about activities potentially relevant to the Convention. Confidence-building measures were designed and then enhanced as ways of collecting such information. But that was not enough to fill in the gaps. Only about half of the States Parties have submitted confidence-building measures information, despite agreement at successive Review Conferences to do so. The Third Review Conference in 1991 examined the situation and decided to explore a more ambitious path to improve the Convention's effectiveness. The Ad Hoc Group of Scientific Experts created by the RevCon, known as VEREX, examined 21 measures for potentially strengthening the Convention. This BWC Ad Hoc Group, with a mandate to convert that scientific exploration into a legally binding Protocol to the Convention, is a direct successor to those earlier efforts.

With such a distinguished heritage, we expect significant results from your efforts. The substance in your rolling text suggests this expectation can be realized. While significant issues and hard negotiations remain, the outline of a useful protocol has already emerged under the able leadership of Ambassador Toth and the various friends of the chair who have been assisting him.

However, it is now time to refocus and concentrate our efforts to bring this negotiation to a successful conclusion. The United States believes the following four principles are essential elements of the final product. These will not come as a surprise.

  • First, there must be legally binding, mandatory declarations to provide transparency about activities of potential relevance to the Convention. Transparency must be unambiguous so all can understand what is expected of them. We must all accept that they are a binding obligation, in contrast to voluntary undertakings.

  • Second, there must be means to get investigators on-site, quickly and with a mandate flexible enough to do their job efficiently. These mandates should include responding to legitimate concerns about possible use of biological weapons, or suspicious outbreaks that may be from unnatural causes, or inspecting suspect locations where there is real concern that activities in violation of the Convention are being conducted. Investigations and visits must be conducted in ways to protect legitimate proprietary and national security sensitivities, but they also must be conducted vigorously, to provide confidence in compliance.

  • Third, there must be means to ensure that all sites whose activities merit declaration are in fact declared, and that the declarations are accurate. We cannot allow a proliferator the refuge of simply ignoring the international community and the norms of humanity by failing to provide complete or accurate information about relevant activities.

  • Fourth, there must be a professional organization to implement the Protocol. It must be talented, small, and cost-effective. We cannot afford a bloated, cumbersome bureaucracy -- which would cost too much and have low operational effectiveness.

Another element of these negotiations is how to build on the principles of Article X of the Convention for more effective cooperation and coordination of peaceful biotechnology among States Parties to the Protocol. The Protocol will impose additional, legally binding requirements on its participants. Those obligations must be carried out accurately and promptly. If assistance to States Parties will promote compliance, it will be to everyone's benefit.

These elements must be the core and backbone of your product if we are to achieve our objective and that of the central concern of the Biological Weapons Convention: keeping abhorrent biological weapons out of the hands of anyone who would contemplate using them. That is what the Convention is about, and that is what this negotiation is about.

Considerable progress has been made, but a great deal of work remains. There are unresolved issues, such as the details of declaration formats, requiring intense technical focus and careful scrutiny of specific language. There are other issues of political sensitivity, such as the conduct of on-site activities for which flexibility in exploring useful solutions, plain hard work, and political compromise are still needed.

For our part, the United States stands ready to engage in this difficult task, and will explore the full range of suggested solutions. We will not, however, allow this one best chance to improve the functioning of a Convention as important as the BWC to become an empty shell whose standards are so low it would more likely lower confidence in compliance than improve it.

I have frequently mentioned time -- time to work, time to think, time to explore. All of these elements are needed. Unfortunately, the world is not sitting still.

Your deliberations have established up to now a positive momentum toward concluding your work successfully. It is now time to renew your efforts, and use that momentum to create real solutions. Nineteen ninety-nine should be the year of the BWC Protocol. You simply must -- and you can -- find the time, the energy, and the flexibility to finish.

I participated less than two weeks ago in a very senior-level political meeting in New York on this same topic. What struck me about that meeting was the uniformity, across a wide range of perspectives, of the view that the work here in Geneva is very important and is reaching a climax. All ministers endorsed renewed commitment and dedication in your tasks.

To fulfill this mandate, you must provide yourselves sufficient work periods next year. You must also agree to use every precious day efficiently. The vital importance of your task permits no less.